Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If no, why have you opted not to?
I have had animals in my for almost as long as I can recall – the first being a hamster that I begged my mother for when I was pre-school. She spent the bus fare home on it and I had to toddle all the way back, carrying my little brown box with hamster inside. When the hamster died, I had a terrapin turtle in a tank to console me,
Dogs did not arrive in my life until after we left the city, when I was about 9 years old – our first family dog was a Labrador x GSD, named David. He was a bad bugger: both the milkman and the insurance man refused to call at our door while we had that dog. Mother ended up in court over him and he was put to sleep.
That did not deter. Many dogs followed:
- Nina; a crazy Border Collie from the rescue kennels
- Rudi; a pedigree Whippet – gentle as a kitten and very handsome
- Rufus; another rescue – a cross ‘twixt a Red Setter and an Afghan Hound – sleek and glossy at one end, fluffy at the other, and terrified of thunder. Liked to steal hen’s eggs from the run, and put to sleep because of that.
- Bess; from a pup – pedigree Black Labrador, trained to my father’s gun
- Molly; from a pup – a German Pointer x English Springer Spaniel, was the runt of the litter and brain damaged. We had her for 17 years (I took her on when I had a home of my own) and she never, ever grew out of her puppy ways.
Around about Rudi time, Guinea Pigs arrived. Mine was named Gwen.
Cats entered the family home between the arrivals of Rufus and Bess – Mother favoured Siamese cats and she had the most frightening tom, called Simon. We kids were scared to death of him and he bullied us terribly. Once he had settled on a lap, there was no moving until he was ready – the slightest hint of a tremor in a leg and he would bite – and bite HARD! He would attack our legs as we walked across a room too – and we resorted to placing dining chairs across the room so that we could cross the room above ground level. Simon stole a hare, hanging in the larder, once and my furious father tried to drown that damned cat with two buckets of water. Guess who came off worst? The cat lived.
Pharoah came next, then Peter and Zebedee. Suzy Wong was a gift from me, after I had left home. All of them Siamese.
There were birds too, in my younger years. Dad bred Budgerigars and Lovebirds in the attic, alongside his darkroom equipment, when I was very small. When we moved south and lived in the country, he built an aviary and added Cockatiels to the mix. In the house, there was a Mynah bird – name of Charlie.
With all that pet-keeping background, it was scarcely surprising that I would want animal companions in my adult life. Frankly, a house does not feel like a home without them and the hard times have been the ones where pet-keeping was banned or not feasible, when I lived in shared accommodation or above ground-level flats.
A kitten name ‘Gif was my only companion when I was living the life of a not-so-gay divorcee. She grew into a wonderful cat and was something of a soulmate for me. She knew when I was unwell or sad and she never left my side when I needed her.
Dogs and Cats bring different benefits and I am at my happiest when I have both around. There have been a few – some dogs have left my life when circumstances have dictated. Cats tend to come to a stickier end. The hardest loss is when a cat goes out and simply fails to return. That has happened on a few occasions. There is no closure, no knowledge of what is keeping them away. Of all the cats that have deigned to share their life with me, only one has been lost on the road. I have been lucky that way.
We chose the house that we live in now largely for the fact that our three cats would be safe – the house is set well back from what is an extremely quiet road and they can roam on three sides of the property with no risk at all. That’s what we thought, until we lost our beloved Lulu.
Lulu was the first pet that Mr L and I had together in our newly-shared home. We had her from a kitten and she moved with us from a large village south of Leeds, into a Bradford housing estate and she survived that environment, becoming very traffic-savvy in the process.
She travelled to Scotland with us and had a great time ratting in the Southern Uplands for three years. She survived for a year the lunatic lorry drivers tearing past our home in Glenlivet and then came up here to Orkney with us. To our safe patch of ground. She went out one Saturday morning in the summer and we did not see her for a full week. At 1am on the following Sunday morning I heard Lulu – it was the most terrible noise I have ever heard, a strangled moaning. I woke Mr L and I said “Lulu is home…” and as he was responding “Thank Go…” I added “…and she’s not all right.”
Mr L went to the back door to call her in. I grabbed a torch and leaned out of the window to seek her and what I saw is a memory that I would like to forever erase.
The day that Lulu went missing, the field next to our garden was being cut for silage. Lulu must have been sleeping in the long grass at the time. She lost both her back legs and the plucky wee thing took a week to drag herself home and I really cannot write any more about this just now.
Yes, animals bring great heartache with them and I have cried many tears in my lifetime. There will be more yet.
Of course, it’s not just when you lose them that they make you cry – meet Suzie. She came to live with us shortly after Lulu joined us. Suzie was a rescue dog, a cruelty case, from the RSPCA. Her story broke my heart. She weighed only 13lbs when she was rescued so came to live with us very quickly as dogs do better in proper homes. We got her up to 35lbs in a few weeks, She came to us in 2000 and is still with us… and still able to do this:
When Suzie came to us she had no knowledge of how to play and could not even chase a ball.
Back to the cats – Lulu was a Bengal cross. She did not look a lot like a Bengal, except to those who know, but she had a full-on Bengal temperament, which we fell instantly in love with. We elected to get her a pal.
Teddy is a pedigree Foundation Bengal. He was meant to be a breeding cat but he failed in his duty, was neutered, and given to us for his forever home. He has been with us since 2000. Possibly the handsomest cat ever,
almost certainly the daftest.
He got himself into that, by the way (we would never dress an animal up), and he did not panic – just strutted about the place for all the world as though he was on the er… catwalk in Milan. He thought it was the cat’s pyjamas. I thought he looked like the caped crusader. It was safely removed after snapping, don’t fret.
Ted came to us in 2002, I think – he’s 13 years old now and very much still with us. Sadly, he and Lulu did not make friends, ever.
So, we got him another pal. Treacle is another pedigree Bengal but nobody wanted him because he has no spots. He came to live with us as a kitten in 2004. Ted was a bit off about to to begin with, but they have been inseparable ever since.
As I write this (ever-lengthening) post, Ted and Treacle are curled up together in the middle of my bed. They cry for each other when they are separated – Ted in particular panics if he cannot see Treacle.
Griff came to live with us before Treacle arrived. I went to the kennels to find a rescue Greyhound, but came home with the sweetest Border Collie ever.
Griff had been taken up as a stray. To the best of anybody’s knowledge he is about the same age as Suzie. He is ageing faster though and I think he will not be with us a great deal longer. I think his life before us was a hard one. He was clearly kept outside as when we first brought him home he would not come in – he was fearful. After we persuaded him over the threshold he spent several weeks choosing to sit outside all day long, even in a heavy snowstorm. Griff has been with us for ten years now and he still jumps out of his skin at unexpected noises and cowers if he thinks we are raising an arm or wielding a stick. His wounds go deep.
Two dogs is plenty. Two dogs are a pair, three are a pack. I always said I would never have three dogs – it changes the family dynamic too much. However, here is Nell. Nell came to us as a pup after we moved to the island, she needed new parents and I am a soft touch, despite all my common-sense ideas.
Nell is… well, bonkers, but in a good way. She’s funny and bright and always on the go. A typical Border Collie, in fact. Very OCD.
That’s the current complement of cats and dogs: 3 dogs (Suzie, Griff & Nell) and only the 2 cats now (Teddy & Treacle). They are our companions and our family. They entertain us – have you ever seen a cat preserve its dignity after falling from a table? They console us when we are sad. They make us get up and about and take exercise. They are an essential part of our life and, yes, they make things very difficult at times. We can’t take holidays and trips to town can be a logistical nightmare when your 13 year old collie has become incontinent. Let us not even begin think about the costs of keeping animals these days (it is horrific.) The rewards are far greater than the costs however and a home without animals would fell sterile to me.
The rest of our Ménage à dix are out in the garden, and I cannot imagine why we did not take them on years ago. Our chooks! They free range about our acre and keep us in fresh tasty eggs. They are comical and entertaining things and I can lose myself for hours, watching them scratch about and do chooky things. We have two Cochins and three Black Rocks. We started out with four Cochins, but one turned out to be a cockerel and a second suffered a prolapse and had to be dispatched. One of the four Black Rocks that we bought went walkabout and disappeared. It is maybe as well, for our five remaining ladies keep us well supplied.
At least somebody is earning their keep around here!