William Morris, Victorian designer and all-round clever clogs said; “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
When our children wanted pets I told them that, adding; “… and never have anything that needs insuring, feeding or exercise.”
It didn’t work for long. First came the fish. They squeezed past me on a technicality. Aquaria are covered under our house contents policy. Feeding those fish wasn’t a problem, either. We began with two tiny angel fish and a big shoal of guppies. That soon became just the two (enormous) angel fish.
We didn’t need pets. We already had too much wildlife. Bank voles in our garden didn’t let a little thing like a new greenhouse being built over their runs spoil their fun. For months, they treated the place like a warm, dry, predator-free fast-food joint. The population exploded, and I got used to covering seed trays and pots with wire mesh against their constant nibbling and digging. When every one of my potatoes developed toothmarks and my onion sets vanished completely (until I put my foot through the ceiling of the voles’ Circle line, and found them stashed away underground), I declared war. I set live-catch traps, decanting my furry fiends into a bucket before releasing them several miles away.
The work involved made it easy for Darling Daughter to persuade me to get a Norwegian Forest cat, otherwise known as The Tottering Towers Pest Control Operative. It was definitely Not A Pet. At least, not to start with—but that was nearly fourteen years ago.
That once tiny ball of fluff turns into a Viking when let out into the garden. He holds territory like a feline Eric Bloodaxe, without the charm and diplomacy. After reducing the vole population to single figures, he got a taste for squirrels and rabbits. Birds don’t rate a passing glance. He’s too busy patrolling the woodland edge for four-footed game.
Son Number One learned to walk by pulling himself up with the help of a neighbour’s Newfoundland. The first sentence he strung together was wanna doggy. His cries that the cat was his sister’s pet and not his chipped no flakes from my flinty refusal.
I’m always telling my children there’s no point getting older if you don’t get smarter, so I could hardly argue when as a teenager, he changed his angle of attack.
A real companion dog
‘You keep telling me not to spend so much time sitting in front of a screen. Taking a dog for walks will stop me getting Deep Vein Thrombosis.’ ‘No dog. No way. No how.’ I repeated. ‘But I’m studying so hard for my GCSEs!’ ‘You? Studying?’
‘I’d study a lot more, if it wasn’t so lonely in my bedroom. A dog would keep me company up there, while I worked.’ ‘You don’t need a dog to help you work, you need a cattle prod,’ I said, then inspiration struck. ‘If you had to pay for a dog—and all it needs—using your own money, you’d soon go right off the idea!’
All right, so it was hardly Portia’s speech from The Merchant Of Venice, but that bit about shelling out his allowance was a master stroke.
I know my son. At least, I thought I did.
Quick as a flash, he presented me with a ring binder. It contained a database of selected breeds cross-referenced with a list of their Kennel Club approved breeders, a spreadsheet of costs and exercise requirements together with an impressive balance statement for an account with the worrying name of “Puppy Fund”. In the face of all that, how could I back down?
As always, OH was the voice of reason (and experience). “You’ll be the one who has to look after it,’ he warned. “No, you won’t,’ said Son Number One. ‘I’ll take Alex out before school, so he’ll sleep while you work.’ So this dog we weren’t going to get had a name. At least he sounded restful and well-behaved. ‘All you’ll have to do is give him his food, then take him outside at lunch time,’ Son went on, ‘I’ll take over again when I get home and you’re cooking the tea. After that, he’ll sleep next to me while I do my homework.”
It was a plan. And after spending twenty-plus years raising children, minding one small, well-bred, perfectly researched and costed puppy for a few hours a day would be —quite literally—a walk in the park.