MANY of us don’t have company when we work from home, but science writer and artist, Susan Mills, is kept company by Peanut, one of her three devoted dogs whom she rescued. Peanut’s sisters are Bonny and Baby.
“Peanut likes to sit in a chair while I paint in my studio,” says Susan.
“At the other side of the room, she has another chair where she sits and watches me write.”
Peanut likes company.
“We soon discovered that she has a sharp brain and can manipulate us humans into doing anything she wants,” says Susan.
Peanut put her owners to work, “When people call for a cuppa, Peanut likes them to look at her while they are talking; she wants to be involved in the conversations, so Barry, my husband, made her a high chair!”
Peanut also likes watching TV with Susan in the evenings.
“Nationwide is a favourite!” says Susan.
Peanut is going to be on the small screen.
“In the New Year we are going to be featured on the programme, which is exciting.”
Susan’s new book, The Human Rescuers: By Animal Lovers For Animal Lovers is, as the title suggests, a book for animal lovers and by animal lovers. She asked people to submit stories about the impact their pets have had on their life, and in return, she painted an image of the contributor’s pets.
What prompted her to publish The Human Rescuers, a beautifully crafted book of animals and animal portraits painted by Susan?
“In 2016, my dog, Lady died and I was devastated,” says Susan. “I was floored by the grief. I decided to paint a picture of her to make me feel a little closer to her and I was amazed when she appeared on the canvas, my heart skipped a beat. From then on, I wanted to devote as much time as I possibly could to painting animals, so I started taking on commissions. I became more intrigued by the human-animal bond.”
She wanted to give people a platform to express as well - “especially when we can back it up with science.”
Where did the idea of the book come from?
“The idea for this book came about instantly after my childhood neighbour and friend, Pam, asked if I had ever considered publishing a book about my art. It came to me fully formed,” says Susan.
“I wanted a platform for animal lovers to tell their stories, to help us understand why animals are so important in our lives, to help us understand the human-animal connection and, of course, I wanted to paint more animals.”
Susan got to work.
“I put out a call on social media, on local radio stations and in local newspapers. I emailed workplaces and put flyers in veterinary clinics and shops.”
The stories by animal lovers everywhere started coming thick and fast.
“Beautiful stories came in, expressing the love and joy that animals bring to our everyday lives,” says Susan.
“Through this love and joy, animals rescue us every day. The bond between human and pet is an intimate one, perhaps the most intimate one there can be. We do not feel the need to evaluate ourselves. Through their eyes we are not compelled to impress with anything other than the love we have to offer.”
Susan’s own three pets, Peanut, Bonny and Baby, feature in the book as well as many other characters like Jack the crow, who was found at the bottom of a garden in an old washing machine. He became part of the Slattery family in Youghal.
“Jack eventually became part of our family,” writes Helen Slattery.
“He came inside in the evenings and sat on the back of the couch in the kitchen, taking flight during the day - but always returning to his home, an orange box, during the day.”
Jack had many talents.
“He became a local attraction with his match-stick trick. For this, he would sit on the table with a box of Cara matches and open the box by hitting it continuously with his beak. Then, one by one, he would flick the matches all over the place!”
Jack liked bling too.
“One day, I came in from the garden and he was about to take flight from the draining board with my engagement ring which I had removed while I was washing up,” writes Helen.
“Perhaps our Jack was a Jacqueline with a love of bling!”
One evening, Jack disappeared.
“He did not return to his orange box. This was most unusual. Several days passed and there was no sign of Jack. The entire neighbourhood was on alert.”
He came to a sad end.
“Unfortunately, he had been shot by a pellet gun.”
Maybe he was up to no good?
“Perhaps he had attempted the robbery of another engagement ring but wasn’t so lucky this time,” writes Helen.
“We never found out. We were all very sad at the death of Jack but his memory lives on and he has become a family legend in our home.”
Interspersed between stories like Jack the crow and the stories of Susan and Barry’s own three dogs, Susan has added interesting scientific findings about animal psychology, animal biology and human-animal interactions that further illustrate the innate intelligence of these creatures.
“We’re not as different as we think,” says Susan. “Although we animal lovers know this already.”
The Human Rescuers features more than 40 animals and other original artwork from Susan’s collection to date.
How did a science writer become an artist?
“I was always good at art as a kid,” says Susan, a self-taught artist. “And I was encouraged by my art teacher at school. My brother David was really good at art and the art teacher said she would love if one of us got into art. After she left the school, I got engrossed in Science. I felt it empowered me, knowing some things that adults didn’t know! I knew I was going to study science.”
APC researcher Susan has a second thriving career as an animal portrait painter. Her natural artistic talent is evident in her debut book.
Chronicling the stories of 43 unique pets, and discovering how they have rescued us as people, the book is a true life account for all animal lovers. Accompanying each compelling story is a specially commissioned painting of these beautiful blends of creatures, including dogs, cats, horses, birds, guinea pigs, George the cockerel and even an African Grey parrot!
Throughout the book, Susan has relied on her passion for science to also share some facts from fellow scientists into animal behaviour and consciousness.
Did you know - that dogs express empathy towards other dogs and humans and horses can read human facial expressions!
“In essence, the book is a collection of personal stories and snapshots about animals that have rescued humans, from young to old,” says Susan.
“They have rescued us in many ways; sometimes their presence alone is enough to help us through our days and this book is an opportunity to announce to the world how much they mean to us.
“I have had the honour of painting each of these animals, the portrait of which accompanies their story,” says Susan.
“I hope the tales of our furry friends presented in the book will touch you, the reader, as much as they have touched the lives of those who love them. I am deeply grateful to and humbled by the contributors for sharing their stories and for caring for our fellow species,”
The Human Rescuers: By Animal Lovers for Animal Lovers, edited by Susan Mills, art by Susan Mills, is €30. Available online at humanrescuers.com and at Lowercase bookshop UCC, Carrigaline bookshop, Crowleys service station, Youghal, and Polymath Books Tralee.