Samantha Giles may be best known for playing Emmerdale's Bernice Blackstock, but there's something else she should also be recognised for: her staunch support of animal charities and lifelong love of cats. Here, she shares some of the lessons her two rescue cats, Bob and Maggie, have taught her.
1. Owning a cat is a commitment
I've always been a cat lover, but having cats has really taught me that, as an owner, you make a commitment to your pet. This was especially the case when Bob, who's now five, was diagnosed with epilepsy after we adopted him from Cats Protection. I've helped to socialise cats before as a volunteer for the Battersea Dogs and Cats home, but when we first got Bob and Maggie I was surprised by how long it took to settle them in. We just couldn't work out why Bob had so many accidents around the house. After several weeks, he was diagnosed and we finally had an answer: he loses control of his bladder when he has a seizure, poor boy. It took a while to work this all out, and it was a pretty stressful and challenging time. But it showed me that I had an incredible bond with Bob; one that I'll follow through with patience and understanding, no matter what.
2. No two cats' personalities are the same
One thing almost all owners learn is that cats can have very different personalities. Bob is affectionate and tactile, and loves to be stroked and cuddled. But Maggie wants love and attention only on her terms. I've learnt to recognise and respect their different moods and needs, while also making sure that I give them equal love and care. I try to remember to do the same for different human personality types, too!
3. Pets become a part of our families
This fact really hit home when Bob went missing for nine awful days last year. I cried every night when he was gone, and that's when I learnt that I'd do anything to track him down. We searched high and low, put posters up everywhere, and posted call-outs on Facebook. I read that cats find it easier to find their way home if they can follow a familiar scent, so I sprinkled dust from our hoover bag in the streets surrounding our house, put his bedding and some of our dirty clothes on the washing line, and went out late at night with strong smelling food like sardines. Then, out of the blue, Bob appeared through the cat flap. It was just amazing! We've since realised that he might have had a seizure, which temporarily caused him to forget his way home.
4. It's so important to microchip cats
I like to give my cats the freedom to roam. I know that may sound odd after Bob went missing, but he and Maggie love being outside and get so much pleasure from exploring. Maggie especially likes to hunt, and is very proud of anything she catches. I've made sure that they're both microchipped and always wear collars. This way, I can appreciate letting them do what they love, without worrying about their safety.
5. It's OK to slow down
Like so many people, I have a hectic schedule. My acting career and family life with two young daughters can mean that I find it hard to unwind. But having cats reminds me to take time out to relax with one or the other on my lap. They let me know how much they enjoy it with their lovely, content purrs, and I find it soothing to stroke them and share how much I love them.
6. Children learn a lot from our pets, too
I know my girls have been taught a lot by helping me care for Bob and Maggie. It's shown them how to look after other creatures, to put others' needs first, and to be kind and compassionate.