When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and the first lockdown came into force, I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in having a visceral response. Moving was a must. To be prevented from being with my family who lived 450 miles away was devastating. I was luckier than many who lived off island in other parts of the world like USA or Australia or France. I have friends who have family in all those countries, some of whom still cannot travel to meet up. For me, having the ability to jump in the van and head up to Scotland was never in question – before the pandemic.
Previously I’d toyed with moving back to Scotland. I’d rediscovered it’s astounding beauty. Showing it off to my friend Amie on her first trip North of the border, I suddenly saw it through her eyes. The magnificence of Glencoe, the power of Loch Ness, the variety of landscapes and wildlife. I had taken them all for granted. To my shame, and now bafflement, I hadn’t even thought twice about them when I first moved South over 20 years ago.
My Scottish family and friends were what I would miss. And I was right. But I also craved the wildness of Scotland, even though I didn’t recognise this for many years. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve travelled a lot, especially when I was younger. I’ve been to some stunning places. But none could touch Scotland for the emotion and awe it inspired. And so it was that I started making plans to flit – the Scottish term for moving house.
What I thought would be a well trodden and efficient path to selling then buying my new home was beyond naive. The whole system is broken. From estate agents to solicitors and everyone in between it is clear to see why moving home is thought to be one of the most stressful things you can do. The so called professionals I encountered are so entrenched in the broken system that they fail to see it from the client’s perspective.
Buying and selling properties worth hundreds of thousands of pounds is part of the daily humdrum for them. Not so for regular Jo’s like me. So why couldn’t they keep me informed about what was happening? This was my most common gripe, alongside the ridiculous length of time everything took. Keeping clients updated should be standard practice. As should replying to emails or calls. But across the board, none of them did this. The amount of needless stress caused by their poor communication is untold.
I kept comparing their treatment of me, the client, with how I work with my clients. I’d never leave anyone hanging, wondering what was happening. Especially if they’d already expressed distress. Good, open, two-way communication is essential in all relationships, whether between client and service provider or between friends or family. I just couldn’t, and still can’t, get my head around why people would make a process stressful when it was within their gift to alleviate the stress. Anyway, as I’ve written before, my expertise lies in canine behaviour, not human!
Which brings me nicely on to how the dogs, and cat, coped with all the disruption. In short, they were troupers. Right from the get go, they had to adapt. Ridding the house of all tangible signs that animals lived there was the first hurdle. Though interestingly, despite what the ‘experts’ told me, none of the buyers I spoke to were in the least worried about seeing a dog bed or cat bowl.
The girls did benefit from extra walks while we vacated the house during viewings. But they also spent time sitting in the van with me if viewings were during the dark evenings. Ettie was not a fan of this. Ettie whinged if she stayed in the back. She whinged if I sat her in the cab with me. She wanted to be out, doing, not in, waiting.
Once my house was sold, I moved to Scotland to stay with family. This allowed me the freedom to start my search proper (not just online) and be a coveted ‘no chain’ buyer. To their credit, and my eternal gratitude, my brother and sister-in-law welcomed me and three dogs into their immaculate, white walled, animal free home. (The cat stayed with my mum – more on this later.) Having one dog never mind three in your home when you’ve chosen not to have dogs was a huge ask.
The weather turned out to be on my side. Scotland experienced a rare long, dry summer. I can only recall coming in with wet dogs once in all the time I stayed there. The thought of the muddy spray from a trio of wet dogs pebble dashing the white walls of someone else’s home gave me quite a few sleepless nights. But amazingly, it never came true.
Emotionally, my girls proved to be extremely robust. We all, me included, had our moments. But overall, all three girls managed to negotiate their new, temporary circumstances admirably. To help support them, I made sure that we had good walks. Exercise and being outdoors is not just important for people, it benefits our dogs too. Some walks became regular haunts. These allowed the girls to anticipate where to go and to develop favourite sniffing spots. Others were new and fresh, giving more mental stimulation than the regular walks. But all helped keep their endorphins flowing and their minds positively busy.
I had planned to teach them some new skills during our time in limbo. But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t have the capacity to be a good trainer. My mind was elsewhere. I was stressed, worried and tired, mentally and physically. I just wasn’t in a place, practically and emotionally, to give them the support required to learn new skills. Instead, we practised old skills. And I gave them Licki Mats and chews. I groomed them. I provided physical reassurance. And in return they reassured me, giving me confidence and support. Walking them on the banks of a newly discovered loch or wood gave me the time to destress and confirm that I’d done the right thing in moving us back home.
My cat, Pan, probably had the toughest time. He’s a cat who has spent his whole life coming and going, indoors and out, whenever he wants. He might sleep most of the day in the sunny spots indoors. But at night he was out prowling the streets, catching unfortunate mice and voles in the fields or stalking birds on the patio. For over three months he became an indoor cat. Staying with my generous mum in her flat, the closest he got to being outdoors was once when he shot out her front door onto the landing. My mum laughs now saying she didn’t know she still had the turn of speed, needed to grab him to take him back indoors, in her!
Pan had stayed with my mum numerous times in his 14 years. Whenever I went up to visit, he would come. And when I went on holiday, he’d holiday with mum. But he always started to struggle after about 10 days. The prospect of keeping him indoors for months on end worried me. But better to stay in a place that was familiar to him than in an unknown cattery bereft of the intensive one to one attention he needed. The common thread between all my animals is sociability. I select them on the basis of sociability. I want to live with creatures who want to be with me and who adore everybody.
And Pan loves my mum. He’d sit on her lap every night, purring loudly and flicking his tail in delight. But he also got her up early every morning with his loud meowing, or yamming as my mum put it, as he demanded breakfast. When he started to become more distressed at not going outdoors, his yamming got even louder and more frequent. We tried splitting his meals so that he got more dinner times. But this wasn’t enough to help him settle. We gave him toys and mum would swish his wand for him to chase. But that wasn’t enough. By the end of week 4 his toileting was starting to break down and he was becoming distressed.
That’s when I got the Feliway diffuser. This is a device that you plug in to an electrical socket, just as you might an air freshener. It diffuses synthetic pheromones into the air which are detected primarily by the cat’s VMO (vomeronasal organ) The VMO is much larger in cats than in dogs which suggests that cats may have a greater reliance on pheromone-mediated communication. I chose the newest available product Feliway Optimum [affiliate link]. Unlike previous products which are targeted at more specific issues such as scratching and stress reduction, this product contains a mix of synthetic pheromones so that a broader range of behavioural issues can be addressed.(You can read more about this here)
And it worked! Within a day, he was less vocal, less demanding. By day two he was visibly more relaxed and generally more contented. The difference in him when I visited at the end of the first week with the diffuser was astounding. And a great relief. This was working beautifully. So much so that mum could clearly see when the diffuser was empty and needed to be refilled. Once again he’d become more yammy, less settled. Refill deployed, he returned to his laid back self. Proving that scent is just as important to cats as it is to dogs.
But as we got to week 11 of his confinement, he began once again to get antsy. This time I enhanced his feeding time by providing him with a snuffle mat. (Click here to see the one I chose for him) This is a fabric toy that contains lots of strips of fleece amongst which you can hide food. More frequently used with dogs, I thought I’d give it a try with Pan. And yay, it worked. He loved snuffling around looking for his dinner in this toy. Again, scentwork to the rescue. If you head over to my Instagram account you can see him enjoying sniffing out his biscuits.
Finally, on week 14 he was able to join me and the dogs in our new home. Sane, healthy and ready to explore the trees in his garden and beyond.
Now we are all happily living in the beautiful Ayrshire countryside. Quiet, peaceful, the gentle sound of cows mooing floating in the morning air as I enjoy a coffee in our private, safe garden. We are sounded by history and splendour. I’m close to my whole family. And as soon as I moved in my wonderful Southern friends started arriving to see the new homestead. My guest room is already well used and I’m so relieved. As much as I wanted, needed, to come back home, I desperately did not want to lose the many friendships I’d made during the decades down South.
We found our happy ending and landed on our feet. I know I’m lucky. It was a huge leap of faith and at many times during the last 18 months I doubted the outcome. But here we are, happy and settled. Ready for our next chapter. Back home.
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