Regrets? I’ve had a few. Pets? I’ve had ‘em all. Growing up in my family home gave Gerald Durrell’s menagerie a run for its money. My sister was a senti-mental vet nurse (that’s vet nurse, not wet nurse!) and she often brought her work home with her. Over the years, we had four dogs, eight cats, a chameleon, two rats and a load (a bundle?) of stick insects, most of which escaped and went up the vacuum cleaner. (Accidentally, so said my mum.)
One day after school, I came home to find a 10 foot boa constrictor in the front room. My brother’s friend had brought it round, seeing as our house was so friendly and accommodating to all the waifs and strays. My mum didn’t even bat an eyelid.
So when I got married to a man who’d had no pets at all, I thought I may never have pets again. I toyed with the idea of getting a chimp, but we had kids instead. Same difference, we thought. But then came the demands for a pet. First, we said “you can have one when you’re…er…six.” We hoped she would forget. But she didn’t. So when she was six, my husband bought a pond. Fish are pretty good pets; they don’t need to be walked and you don’t need to clean up after them. They don’t even need feeding every day!
But it appeared that the animal-mad gene had skipped a generation. My daughter wanted more. I got a job working on a farm, and for a while, she was happy, stroking lambs, holding baby birds of all kinds and even a hedgehog. My friend with C.F.S. used to foster injured hedgehogs; but after she became more disabled, it became a real problem. She’d probably never forgive herself if she ran over a hedgehog with her wheelchair. It would be kind of ironic, taking them off the busy roads and then…well, you get the idea. Terrible risk of punctures.
Last week, as we said goodbye to our old house (and pond) we knew we’d have to buy our daughter a new pet. And as fate would have it, the day we moved out, one of the fish expressed its disappointment by dying.
Now, I don’t like to admit this, but I’m terrified of fish out of water. When I was a girl, a fish jumped out my uncle’s fish tank and committed hara kiri right in front of me. Remember that scene in Amelie, when her fish escaped and disappeared under the cooker? That was like a horror film to me. So when my daughter presented me with a dead fish in her hand, it took all my strength to put it in a big matchbox and give it a decent burial.
We explained about life and death. She was pretty cool about it, having had all that experience on the farm at such a tender age. But now we have to get her another pet. One that doesn’t involve too much effort or emotion, not on my part, anyway. I’m thinking maybe a tortoise. No hairs, no noise, give it the free run of the garden; easy to catch, if you can find it, that is. There’s only one drawback. I’m terrified that I’ll put it in a box to hibernate over winter and forget where I put it…..
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