‘So you would definitely not consider having a pet?’ asked our Social Worker during one of our pre-adoption interviews, as though I was some kind of monster.
‘No,’ I replied, ‘absolutely not’.
Nine years on and we not only have our two adopted children, but a rescue cat and two rescue guinea pigs.
Our daughter loves animals and I mean loves animals. She can explain the differences between a Tiger shark and a Goblin shark or a King penguin and a Rock Hopper penguin. When we are out walking together she will counsel me ‘don’t worry mum, it’s a Jack Russell, some of them can be a bit nippy but this one looks alright’, before petting the thing confidently. Her favourite programmes are ‘It’s Me or the Dog’ and ‘Safari Vets’. She is, it’s fair to say, obsessed.
I on the other hand grew up in the 1970s in a street populated by dogs all capable of ripping a child’s face off. There were frequent shortages of things like toilet rolls and potatoes back then and so dog training classes were considered an unnecessary luxury. Our next-door neighbour’s dog once bit my Dad so badly he had to take a week off work. No one batted an eyelid and the offending dog lived to bite again. I am still haunted by the phrase ‘he won’t hurt you,’ spoken many a time as an owners hound puts his enormous paws on my shoulders and barks and slavers in my face. As a result I would cross the road to avoid a dog and the dog-phobia transferred to other creatures too. So actually keeping an animal by choice did not feature anywhere on my ‘things I really must do in my life’ list.
But thechildren arrived and soon after the nagging started. ‘When can we get a pet?’, ‘Everyone else has a pet’, ‘Look at this Dog’s Trust website, doesn’t Jimmy look adorable?’. The nagging continued. ‘How old will I have to be before I can have a pet?’, ‘I’ll do all the pet care, PLEASE.’
It took about three years before I finally cracked. So one January morning I visited our local RSPCA centre with the aim of checking out the cats. There were all sorts of sad cases there; cats with no hair, cats with loads of tangled hair, scaredy cats, growly cats. But one cat in particular caught my attention: Ronnie. Ronnie was shy and sleek and black and female and had been found wandering the streets.
I didn’t fall in love with Ronnie immediately but our children did. Whilst they followed her everywhere, I ignored her. She brought mice and birds into the house, miaowed all night outside our bedroom door, left black hairs everywhere and pee’d in the laundry basket. I began to wish I’d never given in to the pet thing. Pets were annoying and time-consuming and dirty.
But gradually something marvellous began to happen. Ronnie started to greet me when I came home from work with a catty ‘hello’. I began talking to her in cat language, she would respond. She wouldn’t sit on anyone else’s lap but mine. She would sometimes sleep next to me in bed, wake me up in the morning with a friendly paw. I fell in love. And now I couldn’t imagine my life without Ronnie.
‘Mum doesn’t love us anymore, she just loves the cat,’ is the complaint I most often hear now, because in our family there is the underlying fear that there might not be enough love to go around.
‘Well that should teach you to be careful what you wish for,’ I reply with a smile.
I think it’s impossible not to adopt & manage without pets. We have had 3 cats (one still survives), had 3 chickens, and still have one basset hound and a hamster. My daughter is also fanatical about animals. She likes to mother them.
Pets are so much less complicated to love and care for than humans. My daughter would sooo love your Basset Hound.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
We have three cats. We have two kittens now that we bought for K and an older cat who only loves me. They are a breed (Maine Coon) that love children and can cope with being mauled about (and shut in her toy kitchen!). They are the life and soul of our house and it’s like having 2 extra toddlers around at the moment especially when they are tearing around playing. I am hoping that having the pets will help her with compassion etc. Luckily we love cats and have had cats for the past 20 years. K wants a dog though, bigtime. I’ve said no. Partly because I don’t want the commitment of a dog and partly because we’re adopting again and I’m not sure it’s a good idea at the moment. I’ve said I’ll rethink it when K is at secondary school and she can walk it!! Do you think I’ll crack before then and give in?
Yes, we’ve got ongoing dog nagging, but I’m certain that I couldn’t cope with a dog as well. And I’m not sure any dog would be prepared for life in our house.
Your kittens sound wonderful. Thanks for your comment Gem.
My beloved cat died when my son was still a toddler. Before he arrived I used to lavish attention on her. I’ve been waiting until I feel I have any spare attention to give again before getting another cat, but I fear I may be waiting a while! Perhaps I should just go for it.
Yes, when you feel you don’t have a spare moment it’s difficult to contemplate getting a pet. And even though people say ‘cats look after themselves’ or ‘guinea pigs aren’t that much work’ we all know that that’s not strictly true.
Thanks for your comment.
One of our twin labradors – the bouncier and more playful – twisted his elbow chasing a ball on the very first day our son came to our house, during our frantic introductions period over 5 years ago. His leg has never recovered, he carries on gamely but has an awful limp and needs quite a bit of pain relief.
The dogs have been a massive comfort to us for the six years before he came, during the whole sorry IVF process, then during preparation, matching, introductions and placement. They’ve taken a lot of cr*p from our son during the many bad times but still given him unconditional love, and of course been solid and faithful for the two of us throughout.
Last summer, aware of the hole there would be in all our lives if anything happened to the labs (we think if one of them died, the other would shortly follow, they’re inseparable) we finally took the plunge, gave in to the badgering and bought a little terrier pup for him. She’s mad, feisty, grumpy, affectionate and chews everything. She’s been on the wrong end of his temper too often as well, but again she clearly loves him and he’s very fond of her.
I think the lessons pets can teach all children, but especially those who’ve had such an awful start to life, are invaluable. We can show our son how babies should be treated. We can get him to learn some sort of empathy. He’s starting to pick up on non-verbal cues. Yes, I’ve had my favourite shoes chewed up, many of his toys have been completely destroyed, my phone needs a new charger, the sofa needs re-upholstering and the chair I’m sitting on is about to collapse because the leg has been chewed through. Yes my car smells like a zoo. But life without animals would be unthinkable here
How lovely for your son to have a dog to grow up with and to practice his relationship skills on. You mentioned something interesting – the comfort that you and your wife got from having your two dogs. As someone who was brought up not to be an animal person, the comfort I have got from our cat has been therapeutic. When I get back home after an horrendous term-time morning and the cat is waiting for me, it makes life a little easier!