When the vet started greeting me by name, I knew I was in trouble, says Tracey.
‘Kids need pets,’ my sister told me, when she gave my young children the unwelcome gift of a couple of goldfish. Fortunately for me, either the lifespan of goldfish is mercifully short, or they died of boredom from swimming in endless pointless circles day after day.
A budgie was next, donated by my mother – similarly of the opinion that ‘children need to learn to care for another living being’. One day the budgie took the gap while I was cleaning out its cage and flew into a nearby tree, from where it mocked my futile attempts to recapture it before succumbing (I presume) to one of the neighbourhood cats.
Harriet the hamster lasted a full 2 years – over 700 days. Of those, my children took an interest in her for all of 3, after which it fell to me to provide her with food, water and silly toys, keep her rank home clean, and endure the squeaking sound she made while running endlessly and pointlessly on her wheel all night.
There followed a blissfully pet-free period of about a decade, in the course which I was repeatedly beseeched by my children, backed up by various friends and relatives, to provide them with furry/feathered/scaly companions. I held out.
Then, for reasons I can’t really fathom – but may have something to do with simply being worn down – the pet quotient in our home began, slowly and surreptitiously, to rise. It started with the stray cat that my kids begged me to be allowed to keep – and which needed neutering, deworming, various shots and other eye-poppingly expensive veterinary treatment.
Then that cat needed a companion – which it duly got, from the SPCA; but there was some sort of personality clash, so then the companion (lonely because it was not liked by the resident cat) needed a companion. So it was back to the SPCA and then there were three. And then (and I can’t even remember how this happened), four. My vet began greeting me by name and rubbing his hands when I arrived at his rooms.
In the meantime, some friends had downsized from a plot to a townhouse and were looking for a home for four healthy chickens. ‘You’ve got a big garden…’ they pointed out, and before I knew it I was being woken at dawn’s crack by demented crowing and saying, ‘Aw, cute,’ to veritable legions of Walt Disney-style chicklets. (In case you didn’t know, chickens breed like rabbits.)
But it was when the dogs arrived that I knew I’d thoroughly lost the battle: another stray (‘We’ve got so many animals anyway, Mom, one more won’t make any difference’), then a puppy (‘The dog needs a friend, Mom’).
Sometimes, when I’m in the throes of the daily care-and-feeding routine of our zoo, I wonder about the validity of children needing other living things to care for. Because, generally speaking, children don’t. Mothers do.
What role do your pets play in your family?
Read more by Tracey Hawthorne