My name is Claire. I am thirty-eight years old and I am an animal lover. If I had my way, an unlimited amount of space and a bottomless disposable income, I would end my days as an eccentric old lady dressed in tweed (well, maybe something a little more Vivienne Westwood), taking in all manner of waifs and strays.
However, we have very little free interior space, having converted our loft to house our home office. This has left me with a small, boxed-in corner of the room in which to store Christmas decorations, books I refuse to part with but never read and an array of junk, which will probably never see the light of day, but which I am convinced may just come in handy some time. Oh and obviously, as a writer, I do not have an enormous disposable income.
I am also married to a man who is unlikely to indulge my idealistic dream of playing Saint Francis to every four legged creature who pauses and meets my gaze through our patio doors. My husband does like animals - indeed, I have known him to move snails from footpaths (and certain death) to a safer spot - it’s just that he is a realist and understands the associated responsibilities of pet ownership and until now, working from home, maintaining said home and raising our boisterous son have provided responsibility enough.
Whilst I fully appreciate that pets are for life and not just for Christmas and my heart should not rule my head, it has not stopped me pining for one. My puppy and companion of fourteen years was given to me on my seventh birthday and as an only child, he made me less selfish, more compassionate and proved to be a wonderfully loyal companion. In retrospect though, I would not describe a dog as the perfect pet. Unless you are happy to leave your dog in kennels, then every day out, every holiday, needs to be planned around it. Freedom is curtailed.
Smaller animals - hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits - might offer greater freedom, but they still require maintenance and someone to look after them during absences on holiday. Also I am not clear on exactly what they offer in return.
I had three hamsters in total and as a result, three abiding and traumatic memories. First up, disease. Hamsters in my experience have a tendency to develop unsavoury diseases and die quickly as per my first one. They can also be aggressive little beasts, the only physical contact I ever had with my second hamster being the sensation of its needle-sharp teeth embedded in my thumb or forefinger. During the day, it would variously sleep, play on its wheel or hang off my finger with a Terrier-like grip and in the evening, escape from its cage and chew the carpet in my bedroom, much to my house proud mother’s frustration. You would think we would have learnt from these experiences, but gluttons for punishment, we had a third stab at successful and rewarding human/hamster relations. But alas, our fate was sealed. My third and final hamster scratched his way up to the top of my parents’ corner cabinet and jumped to its death.
As far as guinea pigs are concerned, I can only comment from my one and only experience. My best friend had a pet guinea pig. She called her Caroline (!) Caroline lived in the garage and was rarely mentioned. Enough said.
Part of my husband’s reluctance to acquire a pet cat can be attributed to his own childhood experience with his cat, Sam. Sam was a works cat, used to parading around a factory and unequivocally unused to being domesticated. Consequently it did not recognise the concept of play, would disappear for weeks on end sowing his wild oats, and re-appear briefly to recuperate from a bloody catfight by filling its gut and sleeping solidly for two days, before disappearing off into the wilderness again.
I have therefore had an uphill struggle trying to persuade my husband as to the merits of a pet cat. I am proud of my negotiation skills on this issue. I went in hard, insisting that we should get a dog. I threw in all the standard dog-lover sentiments; loyalty, health benefits, companionship and at the point he began to break a sweat and dig his heels in, I gently floated the idea of adopting a kitten. He acquiesced and borne out of relief that I had finally dropped the subject of dogs, suggested that we go and visit our local RSPCA centre.
The rest is history. Mowzer has been with us for a week and rarely leaves my husband’s side. Given my husband’s reluctance to invest his time and money into a member of the animal kingdom, he now loves this kitten unconditionally. I can say this assuredly because only a man in love would flinch and grimace, but remain silent when a kitten demonstrating his hunting skills claws a rather delicate part of his anatomy!