Saturday, April 16, 2016

Adding a Bit of Color: Investing in Animal Related Art

"Alici" is part of the Cat Dreams series by artist Cristina Burns
When I first moved into our rental house in Luxembourg I thought that the walls should remain mostly bare. Although they are painted in various shades of pastel colors like blue, pink, and yellow, I wasn’t inspired to fill them with family photos, famous landscapes, or framed degrees and certifications, as I have done in many dwellings before. Perhaps this decision was a reflection of my feelings of uncertainty that accompanied me like hand luggage on my cross continental journey. Or maybe it was partly due to the fact that I didn’t want to be bothered with filling in holes and repainting whenever it came time to move. Nevertheless, over the years, the walls have remained bare while I found other ways to decorate and express my colorful and creative personality.    

I have never studied art, and for most of my life avoided places like art museums, galleries, and shows. I thought for sure those places weren’t for me, and much preferred to go shopping or pursue extreme sports, like shark cage diving, during my vacations. This particular mindset could have been due to my young age and lack of wisdom, but interestingly enough, nowadays, I find that my interest in and patience for art has changed and I’m excited to explore its multifaceted sides.

Last year my family and I took a trip to Paris during which we visited Claude Monet’s Gardens which is just outside of Paris located in Giverney, France. It was a bucket list item for my stepmother, Marilyn, who is also a Master Gardner, and we were only accompanying her because it was the nice thing to do, not because we truly wanted to go.

Hindsight, I admit that I was truly unprepared for the beauty the garden’s held. I had been to an arboretum in the past, which was what I had in mind, but that was nothing compared to the landscape that laid before me. At the end of the tour while cruising the gift shop, I decided to purchase one of Monet’s paintings of the gardens, despite the fact that I had about a hundred photos on my smartphone. For the first time in my life, having the portrait and hanging it up at home felt like a way to preserve the memories as well as pay tribute to such a talented artist.
Smartphone photo taken at Claude Monet's Gardens
Since that time my appreciation has continued to mature, and I’ve found a way to fuse my newly found passion for art with my undying passion for animals. My husband and I have recently started a web platform called Petopia,that provides vital information for having and maintaining healthy and happy pets to people in the Luxembourg region. One of the areas that we focus on is animal related art where we feature global artists in our Art Gallery who execute their art in many different forms.

When I first saw the portraits painted by Anastasia Vanden Berghe, I immediately thought of my former Alaskan Malamute, Sasha. Sasha was with me for 11 years before she was diagnosed with bone cancer and passed away in 2007. Ever since her death I promised myself that one day I would honor her by having her portrait painted. It’s taken me 9 years of searching, but with Anastasia, I’d finally found an artist whom I felt that I could entrust this task to. With the exception of the size of the canvas, I had no intention of influencing her with regards to how the portrait should be painted. I believe in leaving it entirely up to the artist, my only request being that she try and capture Sash’s loving, devoted, and playful spirit. I sent Anastasia copies of the 5 remaining photos that I had, and then began to wait with breathless anticipation.
One of the photos of Sasha presented to Anastasia
When presented with the final portrait I was humbled. My Sasha, my love, was looking back at me and smiling. I could feel her warmth and presence around me, and my heart felt that she was at peace. Over the years I have seen Sasha in my dreams, and each time she tells me that she loves me, that she is home, and that she is at peace. Now, with great gratitude to Anastasia, the portrait of Sasha is hung in our office across from the desk, and I have the privilege of seeing her smiling face every single day.
"Sasha" 30x40 cm acrylic painting
After having waited so long to fulfill my promise, I am now encouraged to continue in this direction, and repeat this act for our other pets. As art comes in various forms, we decided that the best representation of our active and energetic 8 year old German Shepard, McKayla, was to schedule a photo shoot with Lisbeth Ganer, a photographer who is specialized in capturing dogs in motion. Years from now I want to be able to remember McKayla as she is today – joyful, energetic, happy, and loving, and having these photos will forever provide me with that reassurance and comfort long after she’s gone. 
McKayla's photo shoot with Lisbeth Ganer
Our next investment is to have our 10 year old tuxedo cat, Zoe, painted by another of our featured artists, Margriet Fischer. We like the way Margriet chooses the colors for the animals portrayed in her work and think that her style is best suited to reflect Zoe’s true essence. I met with Margriet in person before deciding to proceed, a luxury that isn’t always possible, but this extra step was necessary to me as these portraits are very personal and connecting with the artist plays an important part. Nevertheless we are looking forward to collaborating with her and are excited to see how the portrait turns out.
"Myntha" acrylic painting by Margriet Fischer
In my opinion, investing in art is a very personal and subjective matter, and one that cannot be rushed into. It has taken time and a change in perspective for me to be able to appreciate the museums and galleries that I once shied away from.  I no longer feel content with the bare walls that have existed for so long, and instead have decided that it’s finally time to add bit of color and bring them back to life. Art is portrayed in many different forms and fashions, but regardless of what style and texture you choose, it’s imperative that the memories are preserved and the history continues to live on.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Perfect Shot: Capturing Dogs In Motion

One…Two…Three…Say Cheese, and give me a BIG smile! Do these words sound familiar to anyone else besides me? I’d classify them as the typical ‘cheesy’ words photographers use attempting to get the best shot when taking your picture. But what would your reaction be if a photographer didn’t count to three, ask you to smile on cue, and told you to simply be yourself?

Lisbeth Ganer developed a love for photography early on, and the passion has become part of her DNA ever since.  Having continued photography after moving from Norway to Luxembourg almost 18 years ago, she’s established a reputation amongst many as a unique, energetic, and brilliant photographer. She strives to capture and reveal the true essence of the individual in her work, and is not afraid to do what it takes to get the great shot.

Lisbeth does not limit her work to only shooting one specific subject, but rather prefers the challenge of variety. Whether it’s family, portraits, sports, or travel, she’s got the experience, although one of her personal favorites is photographing dogs in motion.

She shared her experience of the time when an owner wanted a photo of their dog playing in a field with grass that was over 1 meter high. The dog had a passion for jumping, and Lisbeth’s goal was to capture the dog in mid-air. Days before the shoot took place, Lisbeth went to scout out the area to get a true feel for the elements and the natural light. Just in case the weather didn’t cooperate, as a precaution, Lisbeth and the owner scheduled three different dates for the photo shoot to take place. When the day came, getting the perfect shot certainly wasn’t as easy as counting to three. The hours passed by as Lisbeth watched and waited, all the while encouraging the dog to play and behave as she naturally would. And in order to get the perfect ‘jump’ shot, when the right moment came,  Lisbeth stood in-between the dog and the owner, while they called to her and she ran towards them and leapt into the air.  
This is just one example of the extraordinary amount of dedication and patience that goes into creating her breathtaking works of art. She believes that photography is more than taking a pretty picture, and the end result should unveil a piece of the soul that’s been captured. As a mother, wife, and entrepreneurial business woman, Lisbeth is no stranger to hard work and takes pride in diligently working with the client until they are both pleased with the end result.

Nowadays, one of her favorite pastimes is taking her dog Maya to the forest and joining up with friends and their dogs for long walks. She of course brings along her high powered camera, capable of taking 8 shots per second, a necessity when photographing subjects that never sit still unless they hear the word ‘treat’. She lies and waits for the perfect moments, not caring about the mud on her shoes, grass stains on her jeans, slobber on her hands, and rain in her hair. And when it’s over she stands up, tucks away her camera, walks back to her car, and smiles at the thought of developing the negatives that hold the perfect shot. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rescue Me: A Kangal Dog Saved from a Life of Fighting

Heroic acts are being carried out by ordinary people every single day. All too often our daily news intake is clouded by war, racism, and political unrest, and it’s easy for the good news to get lost in the crowd of confusion and chaos. But every now and then we hear a story that touches an emotional part of us, and we feel inspired to share it and remind others that while good can conquer evil, love can conquer all.

To strangers, Paul Wilson may seem like your ordinary guy, but to his friends, family, and especially to his dog, Poochee, he is considered to be a hero. He has always been an avid animal lover and a strong advocate for their welfare, and over the years has had various pets, some of which he acquired in very unconventional ways.

During his service in the British Military, Paul was stationed on an assignment in Sierra Leone.  One day while he was working, he came across an African Grey Parrot whose wings had been clipped, and was suffering from severe neglect.  As the bird belonged to some of the workers in the camp, Paul needed their permission before adopting it as his own. He figured that by accusing the owners of mistreating the animal, and asking them outright if he could have the bird, the answer was sure to be negative. But if he could somehow persuade them to transfer ownership in a non-threatening manner, his chances of success were a lot higher.  So cleverly enough, one evening he approached the workers with several cases of beer, and invited them to share a drink. It wasn’t long before the laughter and jokes were pouring out smoothly, and the atmosphere was one of relaxation and fun. All the while Paul was waiting and watching, and when the moment was right, casually asked if he could adopt the bird, in which case they agreed without a second thought.  With that simple approval Paul’s mission was accomplished, the Parrot would now be saved, and importantly, the relationship between he and the workers would remain amicable. When his assignment was complete, Paul flew the parrot back to the United Kingdom, where it lived out its life in luxury eating well and enjoying the fresh air while being perched on Paul’s shoulders while he walked along the beach.

In later years, after Paul had finished his Military service and was working as a civilian, he was called on assignment to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2010. During this time the airbase was still under construction, and it was not uncommon to see packs of feral dogs roaming about. The probability that these animals had rabies was high, which was one of the reasons Paul had received the series of rabies shots prior to his deployment.

One afternoon, amongst a pack of stray dogs was a younger dog of about 4 to 5 months old.  The dog was walking with a limp, the fur mangled, his rib-cage visible, and he still had one end of a broken noose tied around his neck while the rest of the rope dragged along the ground. When approached by Paul and some of the people in the camp, his demeanor was timid and nervous, but he didn’t come off as aggressive or skittish like the other feral dogs he accompanied. The perception was that this stray could have been domesticated and was simply following the others in a desperate attempt to find food and water.

In Paul’s mind, all he could think about was getting this dog the help it needed. He didn’t stop to weigh the options, to think about the long term implications of feeding a stray, or the medical risks of being potentially exposed to rabies.  He started off slowly by offering the dog the basics of nutritional food, clean water, and a place to lay his head. In the immediate weeks following the initial arrival, the dog’s disposition became more relaxed and his health began to rapidly improve. He started to put on more and more weight and was noticeably growing taller and gaining statue with each week that passed by. The noose around his neck certainly hadn’t come with a name-tag, and no one had officially picked out a name; but whenever someone asked where the pooch was, the dog showed up. It was because of this apparent association that Paul decided to name the dog “Poochee’”.

On any given day there were around 900 local Afghans working on the camp, and it wasn’t long before Poochee’s physical presence gained more and more attention.  Many people were guessing about his origin and breed, but it wasn’t until the owner unexpectedly showed up on the base one day, and confirmed that he was a purebred Turkish Kangal.

Historically the Kangal’s are known as flock-guardian dogs named after the Kangal District of Sivas Province in Central Turkey, where the breed is thought to have originated from. The general appearance is large, powerful, and heavy-boned and their temperament alert, territorial, and defensive, which is why they were successfully used as guardians against predators. At maturity, a male can weigh between 110 and 145 lbs. and range from 30 to 32 inches, while a female can weigh between 90 and 120 lbs. and range from 28 to 30 inches. The first Kangal was imported to the USA in 1985, but wasn’t recognized by the United Kennel Club until 1998.
Poochee enjoying his backyard in Luxembourg
The man explained to Paul that he had come to reclaim his dog as Poochee was of great financial value. He was a breeder of fighting dogs and Poochee had come from a line of champion blood. Poochee was meant to fight in the arena, and the owner had high hopes of winning due to his stature and family history. Paul said that dog fighting in Afghanistan is a lucrative sport. He described how the event took place every Friday, and that it was similar to a boxing match where there is a referee that determines the winner. And even though the dogs did not fight to the death, they were frequently badly injured. It became clear to Paul that his initial assessment of Poochee had been correct, that he had been domesticated but somehow escaped. But it was also clear, that if Poochee was returned to the rightful owner, his life might soon come to an end. It was then that Paul decided to request ownership of Poochee, and astonishingly the owner agreed without much opposition.

Not too long after the man left the camp, there were two separate attempts by local workers to kidnap Poochee. The first time, one of the workers tried to hide him amongst his belongings and was caught by the guard on the way out. The second time, another worker took Poochee and tied him up next to a maintenance shed, with the intention of taking him off base at the end of the day. Because of these kidnapping attempts, it became evident to Paul that the dog would not be safe unless his status changed.

Paul acted quickly to find a way to officially adopt Poochee and keep him on base while arranging for him to be deported back to the UK. As the only dogs allowed on the camp were working dogs, Paul registered Poochee as one of the contractor’s official security dogs. He then arranged for the medical examinations, blood work, and vaccines needed in order to obtain his official medical certificate that had to be certified by the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture and countersigned by a certified veterinarian. With that documentation he was able to arrange the Afghan Export license and UK import license Poochee needed prior to boarding the plane from Kabul to Frankfurt, and then Frankfurt to London. 

After the arrival in London, sadly the journey was only partially complete. In accordance with the law in the UK, Poochee was required to stay in quarantine for the next 6 months.  Paul had arranged for him to stay in a facility in Berkshire, where he was placed in a 3m x 2m indoor/outdoor cage and wasn’t allowed to leave or visit with other animals. At the time Paul was living in Luxembourg, but faithfully flew back every weekend to visit with Poochee on Saturdays. Living in such confines was nowhere near ideal, but miraculously Poochee adapted without any problems and still managed to keep his loving and gentle personality. At the end of the 6 months, after he passed his physical and psychiatric examinations with flying colors, he was presented with his European Pet Passport, and released to go home.

Reunited at last, Paul and Poochee headed on the last leg of their journey, and made the remaining 7 hour 700 km drive to Luxembourg. From the moment Poochee set foot in the front door he felt home and at peace as if this is where he was always meant to be. There were no issues of acclimation or long periods of adjustment. Poochee had never been house trained but Paul never recalled one accident. Poochee never had to be told not to jump on or destroy the furniture, and instead provided a calming presence over Paul and his partner. As the breed requires a lot of physical and mental stimulation, Poochee immediately became accustomed to the 6 km runs every weekday Morning; the strength and pull training sessions during the 6 km walk every weekday evening and 15 km walk every Saturday and Sunday; and free rein of the backyard in between.  He was no longer forced to scrounge for food, and was instead presented with a large bowl of quality kibble supplemented with pieces of fresh meat and cooked rice, for which he could graze over throughout the day.

Paul recognized Poochee’s intellect and independence and treated him with respect saying “You’re not dealing with a child you’re dealing with an adult. They respect you as the alpha male completely, but then you have to respect him as the warrior he is.”

Paul’s mission has always been to preserve and save the life of the animal first, even if he wasn’t sure where the animals was going to end up. On two occasions he was fortunate enough to be in the position to rehouse the animals with him, but even if he is not the final owner, this doesn’t stop him from performing these heroic acts. The parrot has passed on, but Poochee is now 7 years old and weighs 48 kg. His life is fully of joy and he is surrounded by people he loves and who unquestionably love him back. His favorite pastime is a simple one – spending his days watching and patrolling his territory while guarding his family flock, a luxury he would never have had, unless Paul had intervened. Paul’s unselfish and loving act of kindness saved Poochee’s life. Spending over 8,000 EUR of his own money, dedicating his time, energy, and resources on a cause that be believed in simply because to him it was the right thing to do.
Poochee watching over his territory