Saturday, 11 February 2012

Pets and the legacy they leave

I'm not an animal lover.I don't try and hide it. I struggle to tolerate my friend's pets. I do that stiff jerky thing if a cat jumps on me. My skin physically shrivels if a dog licks me. And I don't understand how people get all hot and bothered about an episode of Frozen Planet.

However, I grew up with animals.We've always had pets. And there have been moments when I think I might have actually liked them. Only Like though. Let's not get carried away,

Anyhow, shortly after Christmas one of my parents' dogs died (old age), she'd had a good innings and apart from her ear piercing bark, as dogs go, she was OK. This led me to think about pets and the legacy they leave behind them. Foxy Lady, you big ginger, malting pooch, this one's for you.

My parent's have a big terraced house. When we first moved in (I was two) and for the next 5 years, the top floor was a junk floor, to be "done" when they had the time or money. This top floor was Merlin's floor. Merlin, a male black, half-Persian cat, who my mother had got before having kids or meeting my Dad. This black cat would spend its time stalking around the piles of boxes and useless crap that was left up there to be forgotten about. I don't remember him ever coming down, not even for food, but I'm sure he must have. Occasionally, bored, me or my sister would say "Let's go find Merlin" and we'd creep up there, crawl along the dusty floorboards, weave between the  cobwebs and stake him out. He'd flee at the first glimpse of a chalky limb or dusty pigtail. Eventually, Merlin moved out. Apparently he had also been dwelling at an old dear who lived over the road. When she decided to up-sticks, Merlin jumped into the removal van too.

The Gerbils
"They're all boys" we were told.  The arrival of these new pets coincided with my infant school doing a project on pets. Pupils were picked to bring their pets into school for a week (only ones which lived in a cage or a bowl, of course). I got picked! We took them in on a Monday and by the Wednesday my parents had received a phone call asking them to come and the collect the four gerbil we had sent in, as well as the 16 baby gerbils that had appeared over night. Not 4 male gerbils after all.

Cuddles The Hamster
I don't really know who that little girl was who asked for a hamster for her birthday, but I'm pretty sure she had a couple of friends who had hamsters. Anyway, I got one, One who spent its whole existence eating and plotting his next escape. Until the final escape mission, where he squeezed his fat hamster arse under the kitchen units. And that's where he lived. And died. We never saw him again.

He was our first dog. And there is something different about a dog to other animal pets. They are harder work, they need more thought, more care, more looking after, but they give more back... So they become more like one of the family.

Bobby was a big black, shaggy mongrel. He looked like a black Labrador who'd had a bad perm. He had huge brown eyes which peeped out under a shaggy fringe. He would terrorise any one who walked past our house; pouncing onto the sofa with such force, growling, barking and snapping at the innocent pedestrian, his gnarly teeth slammed against the pane, the white of his eyes popping out their sockets. "One day you're gonna go through that Bay Window" my dad would say. And one day he did.

Walking him was a nightmare, me and my sister as teenage girls would often struggle to control him as he tore into any other male dog  who dared to cross our path. If you were stupid enough to let him off the lead he was gone. Many a time I returned home with an empty lead, as did my brother, sister, mum and dad. When we were younger we went for long family walks on the moors. Bobby was in his element here. It was the only time we ever took him out in the car. So if he ever got chance, he would jump into the car and refuse to come out; 3 grown men and a lead couldn't pull him out of there, once he stayed in for 3 hours. People would knock on the door and ask us if we knew our dog had been left in the car, our standard reply was "you try and get him out".

He was also great at escaping, he nudged open sash windows with his nose, used coal bunkers to jump  7 foot walls and went rampaging about town, his final stop was the butchers, where he'd sit outside till they gave him a bone. As a teenager, I was often walking to and from school or hanging out with mates when a streak of back whooshed past "Hey Fran isn't that your dog?"  friends would say. Then they'd ask why I wasn't going after him "because I'll never catch him," I'd reply. Once, when were on a family day trip, he made on of his infamous escapes; we returned home to an empty house and an open window. Unusually, night fell and he hadn't returned. Morning sprung and he was still gone.We feared the worse... But three months later we found him the other side of the bay window, licking the pane, as if he's only been gone a few hours.

His finest hour was in his final years when on a Summer's day he made one final escape, Finding him gone, Dad headed down to the butchers (at this point he would forget about the rampage and head straight there), not finding him sat outside, he headed to the beach, the coast guards hadn't seen him. He returned home with an empty lead once more. That evening as dusk fell on our sleepy town, and a summer day drifted into darkness, a black, shaggy haired dog, sporting streaks of grey, slowly plodded up the middle of the main road, with a procession of 8 cars behind him. These cars were rolling along at 5 miles an hour and been following him up from the beach, Bobby oblivious, plodding along as he finished his last adventure,

In junior school I befriended a girl whose parents ran a cattery. One of their rare Persian breeds had been impregnated by a local Moggy. The result  litter needed shifting to a good home. We took one in, but that cute little, fluffy kitten turned into a narky, scratchy, hissy cat. Eventually, she decided that her Aristo-cat roots were too good for us common folk and moved in with a lady who lived in the big houses over the back.

A beautiful cat; like her namesake, black, elegant and proud. Unfortunately, she came to an untimely death after to drinking the water out of my brother's tropical fish tank. Apparently, the water in tropical tanks is poisonous. Who knew? Not Cleo.

Muffin was Cleo's replacement, she had big paws to fill. However, after Bobby's death my parents got a spaniel (Izzi) who was partial to a good, old-fashioned cat chase. Muffin made it quite clear, if the dog was staying, SHE was not. So she got off the kitchen table, left through the back door and took up residence in the yard. For 10 years she never came in the house. She would mee-ow at the window when hungry and we obediently fed her, otherwise she prowled the high courtyard walls, out of a spaniel's reach.  Ten cold winters (including 2 big Freezes) and never once did she come back inside. Until this year, when her old frail, feline body let her stubborn will down and she reluctantly sought solace of a roof and a Rayburn stove. Once more, her weathered paws strutted back over the Threshold. Her fur matted, ears ripped, eyes sunken and body hunched. Now she wistfully looks through the pained window at her beloved back yard.

Foxy Lady
Named so because mum got her as a rescue dog and she she was so thin and scrawny with a ginger coat she looked like a fox. On walks she would prance through the long grass and startle walkers, as for a brief second they thought they had seen a fox. She was soon fattened up and then looked more "corgi" than fox, so the "Lady" in her name became more apt and that is what she was known as. Apart from my brother, who thought it was a stupid name, so was the only one who continued to call her Foxy. She was as tough as old boots, loving, loyal and very protective. She had lived on the streets, survived a car accident and was riddled with arthritis, but even in her later years as soon as she was out the house she would be prancing through the long grass again.

A black cocker-spaniel. The only dog my parents have had since a puppy - therefore, she gets away with murder! Named Izzi because mt parents drove through a Blizzard to get her. She's a pedigree, therefore has already had one operation and is on medication for her eyes, ears and heart! I think she's more trouble than she's worth; but try telling my Dad that - he's wrapped around her little black paw!


  1. That is an amazing set of pet stories there. Bobby sounds like the kind of dog you want to have owned rather than actually own because of all the problems he causes...

  2. He was a Legend of his time! My Children aren't allowed pets, writing this made me feel guilty about that!