Meet Our Animals That Are Changing Lives

Article on Bored Panda

‘The goats are playing the piano!’ you may think it’s a joke but it happens in our house. I blame the cat, our fantastical cat called Thula who helped my daughter with autism in ways in which we humans struggled to and their bond has inspired a movement of special needs parents to see the ways in which these animals can heal and teach our children. So we live in harmony with these animals and in turn they help us with our little charity.

I created an autism friendly club, The Little Explorers Activity Club, that offers Animal Assisted Therapy. A safe and understanding environment to have fun and socialise with other families alongside therapy that is very successful with anxiety, Autism, ADD, ADHD, depression and many other conditions. It has been seen to lower blood pressure, help concentration, calm anxiety and builds confidence. Interacting with animals increases attention spans and has a positive calming effect helping with social interaction.

So to raise awareness about what we do and to raise funds for 2020 I thought I would share a little about our animals, every donation counts no matter how small it seems, we deeply appreciate your help x

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/animalassistedtherapy

CATS

Before all of the drama of the past few weeks Iris’s Granny had bought us all tickets to go to the outdoor theatre production of CATS as an early birthday present for Iris.  I was determined I wasn’t going to miss this and have been trying my hardest to rest up so we could go together.  The perfect antidote to distract Iris from all the worries and stress lately.  

I knew the theatre at Kilworth House would be autism-friendly in the way that it’s outdoors, more casual and family-orientated than your typical London theatres but it exceeded all of my expectations. It is set in a beautiful wood with wooden walkways through the trees, over a stream lit with fairy lights and then the stage itself under a magical tent.  

The story is about a community of cats, all unique in their own way, each given their moment to express themselves through dance and songs. 

The choreography was breathtaking and Iris was transfixed as she watched the dancers move around the stage, she smiled in delight at the flying leaps and slinky moves in the derelict London Underground station. 

During the interval Iris met Old Deuteronomy, he sat with Iris, it was like old friends catching up, she looked at him as if he truly was that old cat filled with Wisdom.

Iris was moved to tears by Grizabella, a reminder of how sensitive she is to it all, how in tune to the actor’s movements, their dress and their character.  Grizabella is a very old mangy cat, no longer resembling the glamorous cat of her youth. Having left the group, she is now all alone with only the memories of her happier days. She returns to them seeking re-acceptance, but her fellow cats are initially repulsed by her and repeatedly shun her.  The dramatic music held Iris with tears building but all is well after her song Memory and they accept her once again as one of them before ascending to heaven. 

Iris clapped with us in the applause after each act, she surprised me how well she managed and her granny and I were bursting with pride.  There was a curious behaviour that at first I thought was a coping strategy by her to manage the intense music and dance.   Every few minutes she looked straight at a little tent beside the stage.  It was out of the way, out of most peoples minds and what I thought initially was a backstage tent for the cast.  After the performance Iris walked over to the tent and it turned out to be the music tent with some musicians, a mini tech orchestra, they kindly let Iris have a look around and it made me smile that all along she knew when none of us did.  

We returned home to our own beautiful cat Thula, lots of hugs and snuggles, we all feel hopeful for a better week ahead.

Prints, Cards and Silk Scrarves Available through the Iris Grace Online shophttps://www.irisgracepaintingshop.com/

A Billion Thanks

We are absolutely blown away by the response to our ‘Help Thula’ fundraiser, at the moment we don’t know how much the vets bills will be but they are estimated into the thousands if her operation goes ahead. Even so, we should have enough and extra to put into savings for any future events where the animals get ill or injured.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/helpthula

The last week has been difficult to say the least but it has been made easier by everyone’s kindness and generosity to help our incredible cat. I have been in hospital with what they think is an autoimmune condition called Migratory arthritis or Reactive Arthritis. While I was away Thula has had an accident, we think falling out of a tree. She has hurt her back leg severely rupturing her cruciate ligament.

The vets are working hard with us to try and help her but already the costs are mounting with x-rays and medication. She may need to have surgery.

We had hoped that you guys would be able to help, my expectations were realistic in my mind of raising some money to go towards her vet care to try and relieve some of the financial pressures on our charity. As you can imagine running The Little Explorers Activity Club and all of the animal expenses is a tricky task but when these extras come in it is very hard. I wished with all my body and mind that after bad luck comes good fortune in the form of kindness from others in asking for donations to help pay for Thula’s treatment, x -rays, operation (if she needs it) and medication. But WOW I wasn’t expected it to be like this, a billion, squillion thankyous, I have had tears of joy and the relief is amazing, you are all amazing! We deeply appreciate all of the donations no matter how small they seem to you. Thula isn’t just Iris’s best friend, she is now a therapy cat to many families that come for sessions here at the club each week.

She is the inspiration for the animal therapy here and has inspired many families to find their own ‘Thula’.

This extraordinary cat has gone above and beyond to help heal others so now we will give back to her, she needs the best care possible for her own recovery. So thankyou to all those who have donated and shared the page.

Arabella x

A sweet friendship refreshes the soul

Footsteps were left in the morning dew plotting a route through the orchard.  Thula climbed the old damson tree to be close to Iris, watching over her as she explored.  Years of work from the Green Woodpecker has left a curious mix of textures, patterns and wildlife. I saw two souls happy to be together, there isn’t and hasn’t been any jealousy from Thula as she has witnessed Iris grow and make new friendships with the other animals.  She takes a step back at times giving her space but then most days checks in with her buddy.  A mirror, a shadow, a faithful companion and a friend like no other I have ever seen.    

https://www.irisgracepaintingshop.com/

Silk Scarf

It has been a dream of mine to create beautiful silk scarves from Iris’s Paintings for a long time now and I’m very excited to announce finally it’s become a reality. 

With the help from the Cotswold family-run company Beckford Silk with nearly half a century of silk printing expertise behind them we have created Iris’s first silk scarf. 

Available to buy through Iris’s Online shop

Their designers worked with us to produce a scarf that is not only visually stunning but also feels exquisite.  As many of you know Iris’s sensitivities to fabrics has been an issue in the past so she was our ultimate product tester.  As she flew around the house and garden with the scarf around her I knew we were onto a winner. 

Iris is in good company, Beckford Silk has an impressive client list, institutions, such as the National Trust, Highgrove, Westminster Abbey, the Tate and the Royal Academy.

The first painting to be printed onto silk is ‘Raining Cats’, I adore her gentle mix of blues and earthy tones, they shine brightly on the pure silk and I hope it will inspire, adding a little magic to those who wear it. Raining Cats Silk Scarf

‘Raining Cats’ features in the Sunday Times Bestseller ‘Iris Grace’ and here is an extract from the book about this extraordinary painting.

In the heart of the garden the three of them sit quietly together: Iris, Thula and Tree Stump. A place to think, to be still and to find peace in a busy and sometimes confusing world. With storm clouds fast approaching I call Iris indoors. Thula follows her best friend and gets into position on the painting table. She purrs as Iris starts to mix some colours on to the paper. The rain starts to fall heavily upon their kingdom out in the garden. They watch for a while from the window as the stump turns a darker shade, soaked from the raindrops. Back in the kitchen, the layers of paint deepen and delicate details immerge as Iris stamps, sponges and scrapes at the surface, uncovering bright colours beneath the dark blue. An image appears: a cat’s face in the shadows. This connection is so strong that it transmits through Iris’s art, a bond breaking through barriers, revealing the brilliance hidden within.’

Leaving Home

Planning travel for Iris has always been about following her interests but also helping her develop skills that she will need for the future.  Learning how to thrive without her team of animals has been one challenge that’s on my mind each time we leave our menagerie at home. What I don’t tend to dwell on in my blogs is the difficult days, those tough moments where I search in desperation, my brain spins trying to find answers to what has disturbed Iris’s world, what was it that upset her or how do I help. Sometimes her abilities to speak or to show me leave her in those desperate times. I have become, dare I say it dependent on a crutch that takes many forms. A cat, a rabbit, and a pony. I am lucky to be surrounded by a team of animal therapists that save the day so when it’s time to leave them at home I do wonder, what will happen? how will we manage?

So far, to my delight each destination Iris is surrounded with an abundance of wildlife and animals that come to our door.  It helps her realise she can make new friendships and get to know other animals and the people that they live with.  It opens up opportunities for learning too about the different environments and what animals are suited to where and why. 

A Crab and jellyfish, Iris was intrigued and these curious creatures encouraged her to be very vocal.

All sorts of conversations, questions and topics can be derived from the newbies.

They also seem to be there just at the right time to help when Iris needs some distraction or comfort.

Millie, the resident cat at Blaeneinion, such a cutie pie

I have always been an advocate for how animals can help our children but usually people associate this with Iris’s cat Thula and their extraordinary relationship that wowed us all.  But there are so many ways in which animals can teach and support us on our adventures.

Jasper the resident dog, friendly, loyal and patient.
The roosters, the noise desensitisation kings, eventually you don’t hear them so much !
New animal discoveries in the books she borrowed on her travels too.

The pictures above are from our last trip to Wales during our travels for the Forests of The World Project

    

Trumpet

Iris’s next Original Painting to be auctioned is ‘Trumpet’ inspired by her time at the orchestra.
The bidding will start on the 30th June and end on the 7th July, good luck everyone! 
Please submit bids to Arabella at irisgracepainting@yahoo.com

Artists Valley

Our ‘Forests of the World’ project continues with our latest trip to the beautiful ‘Artists Valley’ in Wales. Victorian painters fell in love with this part of the world and often came here to capture its beauty and I can understand why. 

It’s a serene and quiet area, carved out in the Welsh Hills by Cwm Einion, which flows down the majestic slopes and into the River Dyfi.

The valley is a wonderful spot for picnics, or splashing about in the various waterfalls and pools. A perfect setting for Iris to learn and explore.

We stayed at Blaeneinion, an idyllic and secluded conservation project set in 75 acres of land at the head of the Valley. This inspiring place is a wonderful educational resource for us all. They have planted over 33,000 native saplings in the past 9 years. There is a young 2.5 acre Forest Garden with 100 fruit and nut cultivars and around 800 small soft fruit bushes.

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/10701603
It was a delight and a first for us to see European beavers 

Thankyou Sharon and all of your team and volunteers over the years for creating and preserving this special place for us to enjoy. I’m sure we will be back x

Prehistoric Tree Stumps

Storms have revealed a mysterious submerged forest off the west coast of Wales near the village of Borth. Iris navigated her way through the miniature mountains. She flew along weaving in and out until one particular stump tempted her to stop.

A greeting and further inspection was needed, for those new to how you greet a prehistoric tree stump here is Iris’s guide – carefully untangle some green seaweed, feel the curious textures, let it fall through your fingers then dip down and collect.

Flick the residue water up high in the air and admire the falling droplets. Smell the sea, taste the salt. Run your fingers down the side of the stump, feel its shape, its contours and appreciate it’s ancient beauty.

A bronze age oak is there at your fingertips, its skin slightly squishy from all of those years buried under peat. Thank those violent storms for uncovering a piece of pristine history preserved for us to see and feel. A historic treat for the senses.

Part 3 of our Storytime

Iris rowed on passed banks of reeds, dragonflies flew in the air like multicoloured dancing fairies.  Thula called out ‘Have you seen a heron flying past here ?’

‘Heron, hmm, Heron, hmm, Heron’ buzzed each one to the other, soon the air was filled with a rainbow chorus of herons, until it changed to another word ‘Harnser, hmm, Harnser, hmm’

‘What does that mean?’ Iris asked Thula.

‘Not sure, maybe his name.  Look they are flying off, let’s follow them.’

Willow Grace‘ by Iris Grace

The dragonflies headed over to an island in the middle of the lake but they disappeared out of sight, too fast and small to see as the boat made steady progress.  A mother duck with her ducklings swam beside the boat.  Iris leaned over the edge and asked if she had seen a Heron called Harnser.  Mother Duck had not but she asked her ducklings, a chain of messages in high pitched voices brought no joy until they reached the last little duckling at the end of the line called Duncan. ‘Yes, I saw Harnser and he had a stick in his beak’

‘thankyou, Duncan, I think that stick is what we are looking for, it’s my favourite paint brush.  Did you see where he went?’

‘over there by the boat house on the island.’

As they got closer it looked less like a house and more like a frightening ruin, it slumped to one side, rotten timbers cloaked it’s skeletal frame in vain.  There was an odd smell like rotting leaves.  Iris and Thula scrunched up their noses.

But why, I hear you ask is there a place such as this in the Kingdom of Colours.  I will tell you – where there is doubt, worry and fear there will always be places like this.  Only courage can change that.

‘Thula, we need to go in, Harnser might be there.’  Thula looked at Iris, this time she didn’t know if she wanted to be the brave one, her body started to shake a little under her cloak and her soft fur seemed to have a mind of it’s own, doubling in size, every strand alive with fear.  Iris stepped over and sat next to Thula on the bench putting her arm around her. ‘This time let me help you, we can do it together.’ 

‘Im not scared, think I’m coming down with something that’s all, a little cat flu, been a lot around lately you know.’

‘I know’ Iris said sweetly and she sat back down in her position to guide them into the old boat house.  Storm clouds gathered overhead and once they were in it was dark and their hearts raced.  There was nothing to see at first, an empty shack, certainly no sign of a giant bird.  Up high above the sun burst through the clouds, shafts of the golden light reached their boat inside its shell.  It lit up like a timber cathedral, the atmosphere changed immediately and Iris and Thula laughed in delight.

A voice croaked ‘What are doing in here?’ Iris jumped as she thought they were alone.  But alone they certainly were not.  Frogs and toads lined each beam with green. 

‘My name is Preu, how do you do,’ ‘Hello, Im Iris and this is Thula’ Thula nodded to the frog, still a little suspicious.

‘you are in time for our rehearsal, stay if you like.’

‘that’s very kind of you but we need to find Harnser he has something of mine. Umm, stay for what ?

‘listen and I will tell you where ol Harnser is’

So they stayed for what turned out to be a Frog and Toad Band – drums,  French horns, Trumpets, trombone and a Tuba.

‘Trumpet’ by Iris Grace

Iris clapped her hands and Thula was much more relaxed after the music, she called out ‘Fantastic, Encore, Encore !’ and they played again once more before taking a break to tell them where Harnser had gone.

Part 3 of Arabella’s short story for Iris, more from this next time.

Iris’s Prints & Cards are available through her online shop