Wednesday 26 July 2017

How a stray dog helped Sasha to follow her heart

A former nightclub manager has turned a passion for animals in a dream job, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

No sooner have we packed the Christmas decorations away than we get down to planning the summer holiday. It was ever thus, for there is a time for everything and everything in its time.

I remember many years ago making my way through ice and snow on New Year's Day to take up working in Ireland House in London when, from January 2 onwards, the enquiries for Irish holidays and brochures would flood in. Oh, that it was thus for Irish tourism nowadays! Anyway, holiday promotions will be on all over the world including the Holiday World Show in the RDS from January 25 to 27.

One of the problems for pet lovers, when going away, is who will mind Fido and Kitty! There are lots of excellent boarding kennels and catteries out there, but still we dread the thought of our beloved pets being removed from their environment and not quite enjoying the holiday as much as we are enjoying ours. In our heart of hearts, generally we prefer if the animal can stay at home and have someone call in and feed it, change its litter tray and take it for a walk if such is the case.

Pet Care At Home is the new business venture of Sasha Louis de Canonville, from Stillorgan, Co Dublin, herself a besotted animal lover, who has been involved in caring for and rescuing animals for 30 years. Sasha is offering her services to pet owners living in the South County Dublin area. She will arrive in her little white van and take your pet for a walk, feed him, talk to him, and give him the cuddle he is missing whilst you are away. She will feed him his favourite treats and even, as I asked, will saute chicken livers in butter and chop them up if that is their fancy!

Sasha says she is finally doing what she wanted with her life. It is all about working with and spending time with animals. Sasha is from Killiney, where her parents live, but owes her wonderful surname to her dad, who is from Mauritius. After leaving school in Sion Hill in Blackrock, she did art and design in the Liberties vocational school.

"I then got sidetracked and started just working, the art went to the side. I needed income. I ended up working for a nightclub, Club 92 in Leopardstown, which I ran for 13 years. I got burnt out, the lifestyle was too much for me, it was late nights, it was tense. I wasn't really eating properly, which didn't help, so I took a year out of work to try and get healthy again. I was at a crossroads and thinking what would I do with myself. Then I met my husband, Michael Rock, and I ended up working with him in his family business, Rock jewellers in Stillorgan and in Grafton Street. I was there for about seven years and it just came to me as I was coming up to a significant birthday and I thought, what am I doing? I am half way through my life, and I haven't done my passion," says Sasha.

"Throughout all the years, I have always been involved with animals, in animal rescue, having pets of my own – currently dogs Sean and Teddy, and a cross-eyed cat named Clary. I have been minding pets for everybody I know, been involved in wild cat rescue and socialisation. I worked on my own, I didn't work with groups, because some of their policies I didn't agree with, such as if I needed help with wild cats, they said if I trapped them they would put them to sleep. I said I'm not doing any of that, so I decided to just work on my own."

In 2010, Sasha decided she needed to do this fully, and get qualifications. "I had a lot of experience but I wanted some formal training. I studied with Dog Training Ireland on the dog trainer course and that gave me a passion for the behaviour side of work. I decided to go off and study with COAPE, the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology in England, doing my advanced diploma in Practical Applications of Companion Animal Behaviour and Training. I am tutored by a team of internationally renowned pet behaviourists. I have to go over to England several times a year to do my modules and see my lecturers. I was studying recently in Lincoln University in the behavioral science section. I am qualified now as a pet behaviorist but I am doing a second year, an advanced diploma, and next year I will do case study work. I will then bring this into the business but I thought I would start with dog walking and pet sitting, hands on and get into the field, meeting people and networking."

Sasha says that whilst she doesn't come across as such, she is quite shy and had to overcome this. The last year has been fantastic with a lot of networking which came about in a rather unusual way.

"There was a stray dog in the Sandyford industrial estate, a lurcher greyhound mix, which someone mentioned. I went down to have a look, I found him but I couldn't catch him. I was told there had been people looking for him for months. He was covering a big area from Kilternan down. However, there was now an urgency as he had a broken leg. I put out feelers to a couple of bigger welfare groups who did nothing to help. I pulled a team of people together in the area and I sat watch for a couple of weeks and we eventually caught him. I learned such a lot from this experience. It was massive for me. He brought me really seriously into it, he networked me with a couple of other welfare groups who were fantastic, including the Kildare Animal Foundation. They are amazing, they do not turn anyone or any creature away. They have just set up a wild life unit. So, if anyone is concerned, they say, hold on there, we'll ring around and see if we can get anyone to you, they are amazing, day and night. They took Sandy, got him to the vet and got him better. Between us all, we organised a foster but then it was a 'failed foster' because she ended up keeping him, which was wonderful, we are delighted. Sandy is very significant to me, he called me back in, made me get on with things, and link up with people, and ask for favours and for help."

Sasha has also done Tellington Touch studies, which involves boosting the nervous system through touch. It is good for nervous and anxious animals, those that do not like to be touched, it is a calming influence on animals. "I did this in Positive Dog Training in Sandyford industrial estate, which is another fantastic company set up in 2011 by Suzi Walsh and Liz McDonagh. A doggy day-care centre, groomers, and dog training centre, they also have a shop, and they run seminars and training classes. It's a super place," Sasha explains.

"I offer dog walking for people who, for whatever reason, cannot walk their dog. The new thing nowadays is that a lot of people are keeping their dog indoors all day, they are not putting them out the back.

"There is a lot of fear of dogs being stolen, and small dogs are not able for the cold weather anymore, they are very 'indoorsy' dogs, I don't recommend that people leave their dogs alone for more than one or two nights, it is better that they get someone to move in – I don't do that – I just call in and do the necessary. It is €15 for half an hour, €22 for a full hour, if I am doing it a couple of days a week, there would be a reduction for that.

"I only walk one dog at a time, unless they are from the same household, the second dog is an extra €5. The idea is to keep the animal relaxed and stress-free in their own home. Some people want me to stay an hour, put on the TV, play with them, because they are used to having activity in the house," Sasha says.

Sasha is finally doing work that is her passion.

Sunday Independent

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