I held my usual Halloween/ Samhain bonfire party on Saturday. Many of my friends, whilst having pagan sympathies, would be a little cautious of engaging in ritual, so the evening tends to be low key, full of food, good company and a large supply of mulled wine. That doesn’t stop the non-pagan people asking where the naked women dancing round the fire are and a certain amount of ribbing goes on, which we all enjoy.
This year’s party, if anything, was by far the best. I didn’t hold one last year – time, enthusiasm and money were absent in large quantities – and the previous two year’s had been held in odd circumstances – the first just before I got married and the two sets of friends were getting to know each other and the second a month before my husband moved out and only one of my friends aware of the situation, which didn’t make for a relaxing evening from my perspective.
This year though, my circle has contracted again to just my friends and family. Although very different and from different walks of life, they all get on well and none are phased by sitting around a big warm fire and quaffing loads of alcohol and food. The weather was reasonably kind and the fire was unreasonably big and hot.
We sat around and discussed our personal news, our families, our animals and a range of other topics. We laughed like mad, even when discussing quite serious topics. My best friend’s pet shop is under threat – her landlady has sold the premises and the new owner wants her out. Through a combination of charm and circumstance, she has some right of appeal, a process which started this week. However, she is not in the best of health. Having seen off cancer, her kidneys are failing and her specialist told her to avoid stress at all costs. A legal battle is the last thing she needs.
But it got me thinking. What if the pet shop closed?
M operates the business well. We live in an area which is a mixture of low income and medium income residences. I was amused to see on Wikipedia that our area is named one of the most deprived areas in London. With deprivation and poor social structure comes poor people care and poor companion animal care. M spends more time advising and rehoming than actually selling things. If her shop closes, the advice and contacts she has will not be available to the people and animals who need it the most.
She could run the business from home. She has enough regular customers to make this viable. However, the true value of her shop in the community can be seen when people walk into her shop with an abandoned animal, or at their wits end because they’ve taken on an animal they haven’t the first clue how to look after. The closure of the shop will be an end to being able to help in this way. Her regular customers tend to be sensible owners and they tend not to need that level of advice and support.
The year’s end is a good time to reflect. If I look at what M has achieved in the last year, despite her serious illness and personal stresses and strains, I find a remarkable achievement from a remarkable woman.
All the local animal charities know her, like what she does and help where they can when animals are left in her care or owners are unable to cope. People come into the shop as they have been told that she will be able to advise them.
Many involved in animal care find animals easier to relate to than humans. M cares for both equally. She’s at times flustered and stressed but her love for animal and humans shines through every single thing that she does. I consider it a privilege to know and love her and I am constantly thrilled that she loves me back.
We don’t get enough time to ourselves – the time we spent together tends to be taken up with discussing situations and problems – but she never fails to be there when I need her. I support her as best as I can – by listening, by advising and by helping out when animals need it.
I couldn’t handle half as well as she some of the people who come in. Don’t get me started on the fraught mother of two who took on a 8 week old Staffordshire bull terrier puppy and who wanted a magic spray to stop her dog peeing on the hall carpet. She lives in a flat and expected the now 12-week old pup to let her know that it wanted a wee, wait for her to open the door and take itself down two flights of stairs and outside and pee on the grass verge. I don’t think I have that sort of bladder control, so I am not sure how she expected the puppy to have it.
Luckily, I’ve learned from M (who wasn’t in the shop when this woman arrived). I was able to deal with the situation and advise her properly, without telling her to go to the library and get a book on dog care and when she’s decided she’s not up to the job, bring the dog to me.
My own reflections of the past year are quite mixed. As with every year, there have been good times, bad times and in between times. I’ve come a long way from this time last year in terms of getting over my (soon to be ex-) husband’s betrayals, coming to terms with the deaths of people close to me and also balancing my work, home and witch life.
I’ve been able to contribute to animal care and rescue, not in the quantity I would have liked, but enough to have made a difference.
So here’s to another 10 years of the pet shop. May M win this latest battle and may she be able to spend many more happy-sad-stressful-funny years in my neighbourhood, helping animals, their owners (and me).