Friday, 18 September 2015

Animania Meets Critterish Allsorts - We Learn About Animals and the Healing Power of Pet Therapy

Me and Stoosh
As mentioned in my previous post Animania sponsors Critterish Allsorts I decided earlier this year to sponsor Critterish Allsorts through my new book Animania. Well last month we actually went to visit Dale and his critters to learn more about the animals and the organization. We had the best day ever and learned so much. It will be a day that none of us will forget in a hurry.
We were introduced to every one of the critters and had a cuddle with a few too. What amazed me was how all of them were more than happy being handled by complete strangers. It just shows how much time and commitment Dale puts into looking after and caring for his animals.
I wanted to explain in more detail what this organization is about, so here is an interview with the man himself.

Interview with Dale Preece Kelly, founder of Critterish Allsorts

How long have you been running Critterish Allsorts?
Critterish Allsorts was founded in August 2010 so a little over 5 years

What made you decide to get into pet therapy?
I got the opportunity to work inside a secure psychiatric hospital with people with severe mental health problems (like paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, severe depression etc) with brain injuries and severe forms of aspergers and autism. I saw the difference my visits made to these people and had psychologists and speech therapists asking how it managed to get the responses it did. The fact I was helping people, well I was facilitating my animals to help people, made me feel very proud and fulfilled. It’s such a great feeling. I decided there and then this was the direction I wanted to follow with Critterish Allsorts rather than the traditional animal man route - this was a really special thing to do. So I set about researching everything I possibly could about pet therapy and realised that nobody else was using the animals I was using in this way, people were just using dogs cats rabbits and horses. That was in 2011, I am now recognised worldwide as a pioneer in the field

How do you become a qualified pet therapy practitioner?
At the time there were no college courses I could attend, no degrees to do, I was the only person doing it in this way with this range of species. I found an online course with the British School of Yoga. It was based around dogs and horses but the course materials and content were excellent. It taught me a lot - the history, techniques, counselling methods etc more importantly it taught me why and how it worked and allowed me to understand exactly what I am doing with my animals. At the same time, I taught the college a lot about using different types of animals in different ways - they were blown away by my assignments and case studies, using skunks and reptiles and insects. I won their student of the year award!! There is now a degree course at a university in Yorkshire, but that too is a distance learning course. A lot of universities teach about my work when students courses touch in animal assisted therapy, and every year I get approached by anywhere up to 30 students who want to do dissertations on my work or come and make academic studies of its effects. That’s a great feeling. I believe I am still the only "animal man"/animal encounter company who is qualified as an animal assisted therapy practitioner. Many companies offer pet therapy, but many give a type of animal assisted activity, they do not practice the therapy side, which has real identifiable and measurable goals. I do both working one to one with patients and mental health professionals, to give measured results to the patients. If it was not a successful treatment there is no way that we would have the contracts that we do with the huge public and private corporations that we do

How many animals make up the Critterish Allsorts team?
Somewhere between 50 and 60 unless the stick insects have babies in which case it can increase by more than a hundred!!

Can you tell us a bit about the healing powers of pet therapy?
There are so many. Animals don’t judge for starters, they expect nothing, they ask no questions. Animals just exude love and thats all that many people need. For psychiatric patients it offers a focus that takes their minds off everything else thats going on, to be able to just sit with their thoughts and feel loved and wanted by another being. The most profound thing I have had a patient tell me came from a paranoid schizophrenic who told me that when he was with my animals all of the voices in his head disappeared and he was free of noise. That made me cry, to think you have done something like that for somebody who has been plagued by voices for decades just blew me away. He was able to have rational lucid conversations with his doctors for the first time. For others its the only session they will attend because it offers them respite from the pressures. Patients who identify with snakes (each person identifies with a different animal as their therapy animal) get 4 dimensions and snakes do wonders for self esteem...imagine feeling really down about yourself and then doing something nobody else is prepared to do. Suddenly you feel like a hero and so good about yourself. I am currently developing a new revolutionary form of animal assisted therapy that will go into territory as yet uncharted but more on that when its developed (thats an exclusive)

What is the most rewarding part about your job?
Seeing what it does for people. When we are educating it’s how it affects the kids. The looks on their faces when they meet and interact with the animals and the interest they take. With the therapy work, its’ just watching in awe at how amazing my animals are, they seem to know what they are there for and act differently in both settings. They make me so proud, and the results that they achieve are phenomenal. Such a satisfying aspect of it. I also love that I am one of the only people in the world doing what I do the way that I do it, it makes me very proud of what I have accomplished. I’ve always said from day 1 that if I won the lotto or for some other reason became a millionaire, I  would continue to do the work but I would do it for free

What future plans do you have for Critterish Allsorts? 

Who knows what the future holds? I have never had a business plan, I just let the universe guide me (try explaining that to a bank manager) but its worked so far. I come into contact with people by chance and they change the direction of my life. I am a completely different person now than I was in 2010...better, more grounded, I have a better understanding of how all sentient beings work, I work personally on a higher plain than I did then (if that makes sense - I don’t mean I’m above anyone but that I understand more about life about what makes me tick and everything the last 5 years I’ve discovered myself), I have also grown with my animals (I am connected spiritually with each and every one of them and we have a true relationship, they are not just my pets, they are my friends, they are my heroes, they are my equals, they are my colleagues, they are me we are one, they speak and I hear – that’s one of the most important and special things that we have and it’s what makes it work so well).....this possibly sounds like a really pretentious answer – it’s not meant to nor is it my intention but its honest. I have no plans for the future I take everything a day at a time, recent events have taught me that lifes too short to plan anything, you just have to live for the now because truthfully tomorrow is of no consequence until tomorrow. Makes living life so easy. I’ve also discovered a spiritual side in the past 6 months that I never realised I had and I am very much in touch with that, and I know from 4 years of believing the universe will see me right, that whenever I am in need the universe will provide (I could cite so many examples of when it has) so long as I lead my life in the right way and think in the right way too (if any of that makes sense)

You are also the author of the life changing book Organic Guniea Pig. Have you ever thought about writing books based on your animals?

Haha...many times Corrina, but I never thought I could write. Then I met Gerry Roberts when I attended one of his talks, completely random decision. Went on my own, took it all in, and got really excited about it. Went away and wrote that book in 3 months !! I am now working on my 2nd book "You Can" which will hopefully inspire people to follow their dreams as I have for the last 5 years - this one is taking me longer to write unfortunately, due to current demands on my time, but its all good it will be written. I also have another 6 which I have titles for. Now that I know how, nothing will stop me !! I love writing.

In terms of writing about my animals....there may be a book about my work at some point.  I did consider writing some kids books about the animals adventures and that would be really kewl, but I had no idea how to do it or how I would illustrate them - Success Skunks has allowed me to become connected with a few children’s authors and illustrators, but I think I'll leave the children’s books to the experts (hint hint!)

I wont write any kids books now, when I had the opportunity the time wasn’t right for me. If someone else wanted to write them, emphasising the great work they do, then that would make me very happy because they deserve the recognition and kids are always so interested in the idea of animal assisted therapy esp in the States. I visited a high school in Virginia last year to take part in a class and debate on the subject with a group of final year students. I became the mentor of the student who organised it all and she graduated with top marks

Thank you so much Dale for such a fascinating and insightful interview. I am sure a lot of people will be enlightened and touched by it, I certainly was. I am also a great believer in the power of positive thinking and trying to live your life to it’s full potential despite what life may throw at you. I wonder if anybody else out there can relate to this spiritual side too. Do you ever feel that sometimes your life is mapped out? I do at times, you try and go down one path and then things happen forcing you down another. I see any failure or disappointment (and trust me, I have had a few !) on my part as a stepping stone to something better. I may not be where I want to be right now but I am quite content living in the now, even if it does get hard going at times. There is a lot to smile about and meeting Dale and his critters was an experience that my little brood will never forget.

I can’t explain why I was drawn to help Critterish Allsorts, I had never met Dale before, I hadn't even spoken to him before yet something touched my heart and I wanted to help. People didn’t get why I was doing it and it certainly raised a few eyebrows. I can’t explain it myself, it was never part of my plan… it just felt right and things just slotted into place naturally. Over the last few months I have got to know Dale well and we are very similar with our beliefs and outlook on life. He is one of the nicest and kindest people I know, it’s another example of how some people come into your life for a reason. 

I have no idea where things are going, Like Dale I am leaving it all up to the universe, yes I will work really hard but not a clue where it will take me. I am just looking forward to what other fun opportunities come up. For now I am really looking forward to Animania and Critterish Allsorts first joint school visit in October at my children’s school. I am sure there will be other collaborations between the two of us in the near future. I would love to think one day we can work on an animal book together, watch this space.

Have you had any experiences with pet therapy or using the power of positive thinking? If so I would love to hear them so please do leave a comment below.

You can contact Critterish Allsorts via:

Friday, 11 September 2015

Don't Let Being an Introvert Stop You From Living Your Creative Dreams

If somebody outlined what I do now to a younger me years ago I would have thought they were having me on. See, I have never been your little Miss Confident. I am getting much better with age but I have always been a very quiet person. I was quite shy as a child and painfully shy as a teenager. I barely spoke a word in my teens. 

Over the years I have overcome this by literally throwing myself at any challenges that come  my way. I try to embrace every ‘scary opportunity’ as an opportunity to gain a little bit more confidence.  I still get scared and hate hate hate public speaking. I don’t think I will ever overcome it fully, but I am much more comfortable in my own skin now. This blog is to reach out to all other introverts out there and say, look,  if I can do it…. anyone can!
As you can imagine being an introvert does not go hand in hand with splashing yourself all over social media and trying to market yourself. If you want to get your product in the hands of people you need to jump out of your comfort zone and get yourself out there. Easier said than done I know, but if you start taking baby steps now then you will start to see a difference and before you know it, you will be ready to embrace any challenge that comes your way, heck you might even enjoy them!
Do you know, most creatives I have spoken to over the years are actually quite shy. They would much rather sit in their studio and just paint, or stay in the comfort of their study writing, I would too! But that isn’t the way you will get your work noticed. You need to get out of your comfort zone and start connecting with other creatives and you will soon see many opportunities coming your way. I am not promising that these tips will make you the next Steven King or Andy Warhol, but what I can promise is that it will build your confidence. You will soon start meeting like minded folk who will want to include you in their brainstorming sesssions, and hopefully make some very special friendships along the way.

So how can you take control and combat those fears?

Found on
When I started out on my artistic rebirth journey one of the first things I did was to discover the wonderful world of social media. Now, this is a great way to connect with people in the comfort of your home and the more you do it the more comfortable you will feel with interacting with others.
The first page I set up was my facebook page and then from there I started signing up to all sorts of art sites and social media sites to get my work out there. I have found that it is best to stick with just a few rather than plastering yourself all over the internet. Try them all out to begin with, then find the ones that you connect with the most and stick to them. When I first started out my top sites were Facebook, Fanart, RedBubble and Deviantart.  was the site that pushed me down the illustrating path and was the most sociable and interactive site I found. You could post artwork on the site and had the option to promote this on their home page. To do this you would have to review other artists work in exchange for member dollars which you would then use to promote your own work. It was quite a time consuming site to be part of, but back then I had nothing else going on so I thoroughly enjoyed it. They even held competitions  and had chat forums, so it was a very social site.
They also had a sister site called Fan Story  where the artists had the option to share their work with the authors so that they could use them for the writing they posted. I will always be grateful for my time on this site, without it I might never have stumbled into the illustrating world.
When I first joined up I was very nervous about posting my work, I was incredibly insecure about what I produced, and I was intimidated by the other art that was clearly of a professional standard. I will never forget posting that first painting and thinking ”please be nice, please be nice”. Well long story short it was the best thing I did and I met some wonderful people through it.
These days my platforms of choice are Facebook and Twitter with Instagram and Pinterest in the background, I really must get back into them. Oh and a little nosey on Linkedin now and again.
I can’t advise which ones will suit you, all I can say is give them all a go and then stick with the ones you like the most, only you will know which feels right.
Twitter for me really opened up a  floodgate of opportunities and new connections. It’s a bit strange to begin with, but stick with it. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing on there at first and thought the whole thing was a ridiculous concept. Try it for a fortnight, follow people, retweet posts you like, look for groups to join and I can guarantee you will love it. Within a month I was meeting all sorts of people and have made some great friendships through it. As a start you can follow these groups which I highly recommend. All are a great way to meet other people with the same interests:
Twitter group for Illustrators:
Twitter group for Authors:

One of the biggest things I have learned over the years is that there are some wonderful people out there who are all willing to share their knowledge with you. I have learned the majority of what I know today through my connections with other like minded peeps. If I get stuck with any technical issues or even get stuck with a drawing or concept there has always been someone there to give me some advice.
Most people love to chat to others and offer advice so don’t feel afraid to reach out to people.  My approach is very much a bull in a china shop, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t he he. You have absolutely nothing to lose so make the first move, say hi, compliment them on their work and show an interest, before you know it friendships will be formed and great connections made. Also don’t take it personally if you don’t get a reply, these things happen and it really is no reflection on you as a person, the creative bunch are ridiculously busy! So the odd snub here and there is perfectly normal. Don’t be intimidated to reach out to the high profile creatives either, from my experience they have all been interactive and have answered any questions I have had. Don’t forget we all had to start somewhere once so don’t be intimidated with reaching out to the pros, they are more than happy to help with any questions you have.

Another thing I did at the beginning was join my local art club. Now I was a bag of nerves as you can imagine, walking into a room full of people I didn’t know was incredibly daunting. I won’t lie, it was scary but at the same time I knew that it would really help me out. Not only to meet other people but also to improve my skills. There are usually local clubs for artists and writers, if there isn’t then why not start one?
I have been involved in all sorts of little events over the year that has lead to social occasions with other artists and meeting new people. Once you start getting yourself out there and start connecting with people who have the same interest, you will soon find a whole new world open up. I can’t comment on the author side of things as this area is very new to me, but I know for artists, there are loads of opportunities out there. Art clubs, local art oganizations, art trails and tours. Have a google and see what’s near you then sign up!

As Richard Branson quoted “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later” This is very much how I do things, what harm can it do after all.  So I have got involved in all sorts of different ventures the last few years and this year is no exception. I was asked to read to my children’s school earlier this year…. Aaaaarrrggh! Me and public speaking are not best friends! But I did it, and you know what….. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had absolutely nothing to worry about.  Ask me again when I have to do it again in October he he. 
The biggest challenge so far was an hr long live interview on The Ron Shaw Show on the 17th of August. I really put my poor little body through the paces with that one. I was in what one can only be described as a “state” on the day itself and the butterflies started a week before. Yes I didn’t want to do it, I was petrified but I kept telling  myself “What is the worse that can happen?” Life moves on and if it really was terrible people would soon forget about it. If it was truly awful then it could probably even work in my favour as it might attract more listeners he he. Anyway I did it…. and you know what?.... I absolutely loved it! Even though everybody kept telling me I would be fine, I really didn’t feel that way on the day, but they were right.
So as the good old saying goes, “There is no such thing as can’t” Yes you will be scared and yes sometimes things don’t go as well as you would have hoped for, but at least you are trying. You can’t control what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow so try to live for the now. Keep telling yourself that you can do this!
I hope this blog inspires other introverts, it is a horrible trait to have at times but it doesn’t need to control you. Baby steps in the right direction is all it needs.

Have you had to overcome the dreaded introvert curse? What techniques did you use to overcome a fear on a particular situation? I would love to know, so please do leave a comment below.

And if you fancy a giggle here is my interview with Ron Shaw: