Posted in Family

In Search of the Perfect Pet

Black cat painted by Laura at the age of 2
Portrait of a black cat by Laura, aged 2

The suggestion of a Pet Show as a new PTA fundraiser fills me with  foreboding: it’s bound to trigger a renewed appeal from my nine-year-old daughter Laura for a cat or a dog.

Our household is currently a  pet-free zone. It’s quite a change from the fur-dominated home into which Laura was born. At that point I had four cats, Posy, Mabel, Dolly and Grace. Laura’s first word was not “Mummy” or “Daddy” but “Cat”, and her first proper painting was  a black cat with yellow eyes.

Before Laura was born, I’d worried for months about old wives’ tales of cats inadvertently smothering new babies by curling up and going to sleep on them. I  even invested in a “cat net” – a flimsy, over-priced bit of net curtain material,  meant to repel cats from cots. But I needn’t have worried. It was soon clear which of the small creatures in our house had the upper hand. All were in awe of Laura,  mostly keeping their distance from her shrill sound effects. The only one happy to linger was Mabel, our tailless white wonder who had survived a close encounter with a car in kittenhood.  (Not so her tail.)

Brownie the guinea pig with Laura the Brownie
Brownie the guinea pig with Laura the Brownie

Mabel was the most good-natured and sociable cat that I’ve ever had. Whereas the others would run away at the sound of the doorbell, Mabel would bound up to the front door to greet whoever was our visitor. It was therefore not surprising that she was also the most obliging in Laura’s games, letting herself be tucked in to Laura’s doll’s pram and wheeled around the garden.

Mabel also had the most caring nature. When my husband was ill, lying on the sofa feeling wretched, she looked at him analytically, trotted out into the garden and returned with a dead mouse in her mouth. She laid her prey gently at his feet. Just what the doctor ordered to build him up again – a high-protein snack.

Laura admires a long-haired rabbit at Puxton Park
Borrowing a bunny

When Grace, the last of our cats, died of old age, Laura was too little to feel real grief, so missed the opportunity to learn a useful lesson about death from her pet. My tears were copious tears. But soon after I’d dried them, I started to notice how much cleaner the house had become without a cat. There was another significant benefit: our cat-allergic friend could at last come to stay.  Helen’s allergies turned into a blessing: they became our main ally in fending off Laura’s requests for another pet.

Even so we weakened around the time of her sixth birthday. Unwilling to take on a house-dwelling pet, we acquiesced to two rescue guinea pigs. Laura chose their names, calling the ginger one, erm, Ginger, and the brown one Brownie, as she’d just become a Brownie herself. Sadly, like all small pets, they didn’t last long. Only Brownie made it through to Laura’s seventh birthday and only hung around for a couple of months longer after that. Again the loss hit my husband and I much harder than it did Laura, and this experience steeled our resolve to remain pet-free.

Until this summer, that is, when Laura came up with a new and effective solution to the problem: she acquired some invisible dogs. Now here is a pet I am happy to recommend. Invisible dogs don’t make a mess, leave no fur on the furniture, cost nothing to feed, and you don’t have to pick up after them when you take them for walks. The only real danger  is sitting down without noticing they’re already on your chair. Fortunately they have a very forgiving nature. I just wonder how the judges at the PTA pet show will tell them apart.

 If you enjoyed this post, you might like another one I wrote about our pets – but this time with my own suggestion of an alternative: Garden Birds – The Perfect Pet

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Guinea Pig Has Left the Building

Brownie the guinea pig with Laura the Brownie
Brownie the guinea pig with Laura the Brownie

Daffodils in bloom – check.  Wild garlic in full pungent flower at the roadside  – check. Tiny white blossoms starring the bare branches of our plum trees – check. Children shrieking as they bounce up and down on the trampoline – check. Spring solstice (and my parents’ wedding anniversary) – check.  But it’s still not officially spring in our household until another important ritual takes place.

In these confusing times of climate change, it’s not always easy to spot the season.  My husband has just invested in a weather station to help us get our bearings.  A neat white plastic box displays the current time, date, temperature, air pressure, humidity, cloud cover and precipitation.  It gleans this information from a smaller white box with which it has some sort of remote communication.  According to the weather station, we experienced a fabulous run of weather the first week after he bought it  – until we realised that the smaller white box was meant to be placed out of doors, rather than on the other side of the kitchen.

But we have a more reliable indicator of the seasons.  It’s small, brown and furry, and makes endearing cheeping sounds whenever we pass by.  The volume increases in direct proportion to the volume of cucumber in our hands.

Brownie travels around according to the season.  In the summer, she grazes all day on the lawn, safe under a vast chickenwire run, constructed by my husband for her enjoyment (he can’t bear to see an animal in a cage). When we go on our summer holiday, out comes her summer palace – a large but lightweight, portable plastic house that just about fits in the back of my Ford Ka.  We take palace and pig to my brother or sister’s house, where Brownie enjoys the materialistic life of a city-dweller, spoiled with treats  from the nearby pet superstore and trimmings from Marks and Spencer salad packs.  Last year she came back from her summer holiday with a red and yellow pop-up tent.  (No guinea pig should be without one.)

Then, when the nights start to get a little cooler, she migrates into the lean-to that we euphemistically call our conservatory.  Once frost sets in, we move her properly indoors, where, in her summer palace again, she takes up residence on the utility room worktop.  So begins a more sociable time of year for her.  We have cheery conversations whenever I’m loading the dishwasher or doing the laundry, and she likes to throw in a few helpful comments as I iron my daughter’s school uniform in the morning.

But as the nights shorten, there comes a point when she must be yearning for fresh air again, and today she got her wish.  I gave her outdoor hutch a good spring clean and doused it with disinfectant.  I lined it with old copies of the Radio Times and a thick layer of hay, before scattering handfuls of the greens that are suddenly growing like Topsy in our back garden.  Brownie squeaked her approval as I gently scooped her up with both hands and took her out the back door.  The guinea pig has left the building.  So spring is here at last.