‘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.