Pets are part of the family. Most children growing up have one, gerbil, hamster, goldfish or a rabbit seem to be quite popular as a kid’s ‘first’.
Not me. We lived about a mile away from heathland, and my first ‘pets’ were slow worms and sand lizards. Grandad was living with us at the time, and he converted an old birdcage into an enclosure for them, complete with a little pond. I didn’t really know much about them, but made sure they had plenty of fresh greenery (as picked from said heathland), water and bugs to eat. As all kids do, my sister and I wanted to play with them often, and would instigate slow worm races on the back porch. They sort of escaped into the outside toilet when Mum was in there, and you could hear her screams all the way down the road. Sadly, that was the last straw for her, so we had to release them back on the heath.
We already had a cat and a dog. The cat would sit on the wall and wait for the men to come home. Each time he would jump on their shoulder, be carried inside then go back out and wait for the next one. He was a bit of a mouser too, but extremely tidy and would line up his victims in a regimental row on the back step in order of size. They were never bloody, so perhaps he scared them to death, I never knew. Sadly a rat got the better of him and although the wound healed on the outside, it festered on the inside and he had a one way trip to the vet.
I don’t remember much about the dog we had when I was born, apart from being told he was obsessed with guarding the pram and wouldn’t let anyone near me. Somebody pinched him out of the garden and despite notices and a search, he was never found. Our family had a couple of dogs after that, one of which lived to be over 17.
Apparently my sister had a rabbit, but I don’t remember that at all, and the tortoise we found in the hedgerow was lovingly put in a box for hibernation, but when we came to take it out, it had gone. Years later I guess it had died but Dad didn’t want to upset us.
I had a budgie when I was 6. It was black and green, and I think male. He never talked though, but would whistle at the top of his voice when I played the piano. Dad found him on the bottom of the cage one morning and fed him homemade blackberry wine to help him recover. He was still a bit wobbly on his feet a couple of days later, so we put him in a shoe box and took him to the vet.
‘This bird’s drunk!’ he said, so Dad explained what had happened and his temporary remedy. It turned out he’d had a stroke and would never perch again, so one happy but intoxicated bird got an extra strong sniff of ether, and that was that. He was 12.
As an adult, my first dog was a rescue that had been re-homed with my in-laws, but due to mother-in-law’s failing health, they couldn’t look after it, so it came to live with us. She was a 20 something cross and quite lovely. Sadly, she was terrified of thunder so we took her to the vet who gave us some tablets which would calm her down. The instructions were to give her one a couple of hours before a storm. It was the summer of 1980, and we had thunder practically every day without warning. It was terrible to see her when she was dosed up, as she was totally uncoordinated, lethargic and basically out of it. I came home one day to discover the kitchen completely wrecked following a sudden storm in the afternoon. The wires of the freezer were all exposed and it was a miracle she hadn’t been electrocuted or thrown herself through the glass back door. I rang the vet and he said as we were both working, the only thing we could do was dose her every day just in case, but gradually we would have to increase the dose all the time and she would become a junkie dog. That was no life and so after a great deal of soul searching, we did the kindest thing.
It’s funny how as a child you accept the passing of a family pet. Yet this was so different, and it took months to get over it. We did get another dog, but the marriage failed and when I left, I went back to live with my parents and took her with me. They had a dog too, but luckily the pair of them got on OK, though I had her spayed because the last thing we wanted was pups. I eventually met someone else, but his dog and mine could not agree. Mine was really a working dog, not a house pet, so Dad suggested finding her a new home where she could work off her energy. A couple came to see her so we all took her for a walk, after which she jumped in their car as if to say ‘Let’s go!’ We packed up her bedding and toys and a month or so later we had a call to say that she had settled in very well and was enjoying chasing the rabbits on their farm.
When my husband and I first met, I had a german shepherd. She was also a rescue dog, very timid and uneasy around anyone in a white coat. Once I had gained her confidence and trust, she was very loyal to me but barked at my husband! At 10, she developed mammary cancer and again I was faced with that awful decision. We didn’t have a dog for years afterwards, which felt extremely odd having had one in my life for so long. It was nice to have the freedom of being able to go away at the drop of a hat, and much as we enjoyed our little holidays, something was missing and in1995, we came home with 2 border collie pups. Unfortunately, one wanted to be outside all the time and every time we closed the door, became so physically distressed, we had to take him back. Not so his brother, who curled up in front of the fire and went to sleep.
We had some lovely holidays away camping with him, and would take our walks in the New Forest every weekend. On a couple of occasions he ran off and I don’t know who was more relieved to see whom! He joined a group of horse riders once and would have happily continued with them if ‘The Chaps’ hadn’t noticed they had a small four legged beast with no rider in their midst.
Another time, he herded up a pony (no training, just instinct) bringing it to within 5 feet of us, then sat down as if to say ‘What do I do with it now?’
He had such beautiful markings, too pretty to be a dog, so it came as no surprise when everyone thought he was a bitch. In the beginning, thunder or fireworks didn’t seem to bother him, but as he got older this changed, though not to the extent I’d experienced before. We could not comfort him though, and he would take refuge in the bath behind the shower curtain until it was all over.
When we lost him, we weren’t prepared. Only weeks earlier he’d been seen by the vet who said he had a good few years in him yet. That fateful Saturday, one minute he was playing with his football, and the next he was screaming in pain. We got him to the vet within half an hour but the prognosis was not good and X-rays showed he’d slipped a disc. He was only 9 and we stayed with him.
Even after all these years it still hurts terribly to think about it. We had a lovely snapshot of him printed on canvas, and the result was fabulous.
If you’ve read my post ‘Best Friends’, you’ll know what happened next.
So, our pets are part of the family, some more so than others. They weave their way into your heart, have their own little quirks and mannerisms, bring you love, joy and comfort, and we love them. The hardest part of having one though is saying ‘Goodbye’ isn’t it. Be it re-homing, or leaving one behind when a relationship fails, or knowing the inevitable is on the cards with ill health to a sudden loss you aren’t ready for, we love them enough to let them go, then are prepared to put ourselves through it all again.