Stevie Catney

How would you spend your gap year?

Well, if like Stevie, you like to cycle to work with an injured pigeon in your rucksack then VIPPIES has to be the place for you. Bubbling with enthusiasm Stevie said: “I could have done the usual thing like bar work or waiting on tables for a year between ‘A’Levels and Uni but when Jade rang me up to see if I fancied working at VIPPIES it didn’t take much thinking about!”

VIPPIES HQ is a busy place with at least five or six dogs spending the day while their owners are a work or away for the day. The team always likes to give their charges a bit of special time – in between playing with their buddies – and they always give individual walks to dogs who are used to being the ‘one and only’. This is where Stevie comes in, having cycled the almost ten miles from his home, he spends his time walking and playing with the day care dogs while the office team get on with managing the bookings and cuddling their charges.

Stevie first came across VIPPIES as a customer when a family holiday called for knowledgeable and trustworthy animal lovers to look after his pets in his absence. He is a real animal lover but members of his family are allergic to cats and dogs so his pets are less ordinary. As a child he was fascinated by dinosaurs and so when he discovered the close connection between reptiles, birds and the prehistoric a fascination began. He started with exotic birds including the fairly familiar Cocatiels and Zebra Finches to the more unusual Peach Faced Love Birds to name a few, as well as a selection of reptiles and insects, but it was never going to stop there.

The true sign of his love of animals is his long held interest in rehabilitating injured and sick wild animals. He used to take the birds and hedgehogs (the usual casualties) to the Weirfield Wildlife Hospital in Lincoln until the day he arrived to find they had closed down. There was only one thing for it, learn what to do and start to care for the waifs and strays himself. A couple of years on and Stevie has two Jackdaws, a Crow, a Rook, 2 Pigeons and hedgehog to care for as well as his pets. His face lights up as he talks about the joy of taking something that is broken and releasing it back into the wild when it is well again, “wild birds and animals should not be kept as pets, we do enough damage without taking the creatures away from their natural habitat”. Although he did admit to a heart breaking moment when he released a Collared Dove at the end of its rehabilitation to see a Sparrow Hawk take it out within seconds “but the Sparrow Hawk needs to eat,” he said; a realistic rather than over romanticised view of the natural world as favoured by University of Lincoln visiting Professor Chris Packham.

A thoughtful member of the team, Stevie recognises that it is important to learn about an animal’s characteristics so that you can give them the best care possible. His earliest experience of a dog was a Pyrenean Mountain Dog who he likened to big middle aged business man in a dog’s body ambling around his garden! He has learned a lot from Sheena and the team and respects that he is looking after a member of someone’s family – as important to them as their children. His first day as a VIPPIES dog walker involved 3 labradors, a boxer, a chihuahua, 2 border collies, a spaniel and a greyhound as well as VIPPIES boss dog, Max the Lhasa Apso. 

Stevie admits to a particular fondness for the intelligent border collie as a breed, not the easiest of dogs but very satisfying to be with. This fits perfectly with his favourite birds – Corvids, also known as the Crow family; the feathered equivalent of a border collie. He has two such beauties who, because of their injuries, will not be able to be released back into the wild. Dodger the Jackdaw and Scarlet the Crow – affectionate and intelligent companions – are special members of his animal family. If you don’t know how clever Corvids can be check out BBC Winterwatch ‘Game of Crows’ from a couple of years ago.

“Animals are amazing” says Stevie, “I am already planning how my animals will be cared for when I head off to Leeds University later in the year to study Drama.Those in need of special care will go to people who know what they are doing and my family will be able to look after the pets.” However, it sounds like Scarlet the Crow may be going with Stevie if he can find the right accommodation. It is hard to imagine him living without his animals. As to his time with VIPPIES, he will stay in touch, “It is such an underrated service giving that personal care to people’s much loved and cherished pets. I can see me going back to this kind of life once I have satisfied my other career aspirations and travelled a bit.” It is very clear that the animals and the team will miss him, but maybe there are others out there who might have a similar talent to explore on a gap year, whatever their age!