I am not an animal lover. Where I grew up, we were taught, for the most part, leave the wildlife alone. Do not mess. It was liable to bite, scratch, swallow or just generally cause you many complications for the rest of your life. Oh, and the cute one, with the little flappy ears and gappy grin? If you were seriously unlucky and out on a game drive for fun somewhere, that one would heave itself out of its mud bath with unnerving agility and ram your car at 40mph, possibly then taking huge chunks out of you using that gappy grin.
I was brought up in a family who were also not animal lovers. Be that as it may, when the cat next door had kittens and kept carrying them across to our house to escape over-eager attentions of the little girl, we gave up and they moved in.
Fluffy and Twink, brothers. Fluffy was named by the little girl and we felt he had already endured enough so left him as he was. Twink was named after the oldest cat in the Guiness Book Of World Records at that time.
Twink related to me. Only I could pick him up, stroke his long, ginger stripes and hold him for a few minutes until he struggled to be let down. I would call him and he would come running down the garden and together, his tail, a waving plume in the bushes, we would explore the rest of the garden.
Unfortunately, one morning we discovered that the wildlife had done some exploring with him as he was found, with no marks that we could see but as cold and as lifeless as a fur-covered stone. Family theory is that he got feisty with one of the poisonous snakes which used to hang out in the bushes and pop their heads out at us from time to time, just to make sure we were paying attention. He is buried in a corner of that garden.
Fluffy carried on being the soppy, affectionate cat who would sit on you every opportunity he got, gradually becoming less and less fluffy and more and more unappealing as he aged. One day, he was found eternally asleep in the house, aged about 14.
I have forgotten my Zulu now so apologies but we then acquired another cat called Tsotsi which means something like “Little Boy”. He was also ginger and he was ok, annoying the hell out of poor old Fluffy.
The house had a long, unmade road leading up to it and then a sweeping drive and one morning there was a knock at the door. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses were standing there holding a very limp and bloodied Tsotsi. “Hello. Can we leave our magazine with you and we have jut run over your cat.”
No, they could not leave their magazine with us. Not at all.
Life happened, we moved out and suddenly, 30 years had passed and I found myself with a husband and two children who all wanted a dog. I held off, it was unfair, I reasoned when there was no one at home all day, to leave a pack animal without his pack. Then my husband began to work from home . “I get lonely. It will be exercise,”he reasoned. So I gave in.
One condition, the dog had to be a rescue. I was not going to have a puppy chewing, crapping and peeing everywhere so we enrolled with a rescue charity and went to their open day where all the dogs needing home are on their best behaviour. Well, some were.
Our dog ran forward, smiling, whilst his sister snarled and yapped. “Um, do we have to have both?” I asked. No, they wanted them separated as he was so subservient and timid.
I had asked for a short haired dog and as I stroked his silky, long and very furry…..fur I thought, he’s made his mind up and he’s coming home.
It quickly became very clear to me that the only person in the household who had any experience of dogs, had had no experience of training them whatsoever but just used to play with them as a child so I packed the dog and the husband off to training. When I wasn’t working night duty, I would come along too. Most sessions, hubby would return saying “He just wouldn’t stop barking so he had to be put in the lobby”. The sessions were in a church hall.
It also became very clear that here was one hell of a nervous dog. Terrified of everything. Bags, men, buzzy things, loud noises, other dogs, electric gates etc. It also became clear as the house was covered in teeth marks, as well as wee and poo from time to time, that he had never been toileted. He and I spent a few nights standing in the garden admiring the stars together until I just gave in and we went back inside.
The neighbours must have wondered what on earth had happened to me as I read everything I could get on training a dog to walk on a lead like a normal being and then watched me trying to out it in practice.
We walked backwards, stopping every time he pulled. We walked in circles and did the same bit again and again, until he did it without pulling. I dropped the lead and just stared at him, as he stared back. I sang songs as he strained and panted, scaring the life out of other pedestrians, as we loomed out of the dark, the dog sounded like a strangulated steam train.
I would eye the tranquilizers he was put on thinking, “wonder if they work for humans too” as he and I would venture out into the Big Dark together.
He is about 9 and a bit now, we don’t really know and has become a very obedient dog. We can do anything with him, as long as he is getting attention. He comes when called and never goes far ahead of us, he always keeps his flock within sight.
If he ever goes out for the day with someone else, I find myself looking over to his empty basket and wondering when he’ll be back.
So no, I am not an animal lover. I don’t coo over him or let him slobber over me. I don’t buy him ridiculous outfits to wear or special food to eat. He doesn’t sleep on the bed or recline on the couch but he is a very important part of our family and I will miss him terribly when he is no longer with us.
If I, as a human, could be half as loyal, faithful, loving and enthusiastic as he is as a dog, then I would be a very fine person indeed.