Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Do Your Kids Have Pets?

I've not had good experiences with pets in the past.  In fact, my childhood exposure to animals should probably have scarred me for life...and to be honest it very nearly did!

The first pets I remember were our tortoises.  Back in the day when they were not considered exotic pets, we kept them in our garden, in a home made run and boxed them up for winter according to the annual Blue Peter hibernation tutorial.  Many tortoises came and went.  Osmo was an escape artist, Gemini got crushed in the shed mid hibernation and Crusty Pie failed to survive over winter. It was always heartbreaking to lose them.

We had fish who faired no better.  As a very young child I decided to feed the goldfish who inhabited the little bowl in our front room, with a pint of full cream milk.  Needless to say, it didn't go down well.  Another time, whilst having their tank cleaned, a fish made a break for the sink and ended up going down the plug hole.  My dad grabbed a net, ran to the drain cover in our garden and tried to catch him as he swept past.  His rescue attempt was not successful.  Our fishkeeping skills must have become common knowledge in the piscine world.  We actually had fish commit suicide by jumping out of the tank.  We'd find then stiff and dry on the floor in the morning. Very depressing!

Our rabbit Sweep was our first foray into the warm blooded variety of household pets.  My parents swore that it had been attacked by a rat and got rabies, but in hindsight I think he was a little boy bunny who needed "fixing".  He was very aggressive and raped everything within shagging distance.  Teddy Bears, slippers, me.  My mum honestly thought that she was putting him out of his misery when she opted for a DIY method of "putting it down".  Money was beyond tight back then, we had no car to transport him and even if we had vets were considered an extravagance.  It wasn't pretty.  I won't go into details, but clumsily euthanasing a family pet in front of your pre-schooler is not something I'd recommend.

We didn't learn from our experiences and we became mice owners.  I picked out a lovely brown mouse that I called Ben.  I sang the Michael Jackson song to him and loved him.  We decided to get him a friend...cue the beginning of the end!  The "friend" turned out to be a female and within a fortnight we had 24 mice.  We tried to sex them and separate them, but we weren't very good at it.  The population explosion was epidemic.  At first we had a deal with a pet shop exchanging baby mice for pet food.  Soon they were inundated and our outlet for baby mice closed.  We had escapees disappear into my bedroom, into the airing cupboard and beyond.  Another misguided idea followed as we liberated our family pets in a local beauty spot.  I waved good-bye to Ben believing he was about to become King of Mouseville.  Instead in reality I'm sure they became the bottom layer of the food chain.

Hairbear the stray cat was our next animal acquisition.  My eldest sister Carol was at Polytechnic and had adopted the black furball, feeding her Smash and Angel Delight (she was a student remember).  Carol bribed me to turn on the waterworks so my dad agreed that I could keep her at our house.  He could he refuse the sobbing child clutching at the little pussy cat.  She later had a litter of kitties that I watched be born. We found good homes for the kittens and had her spayed as by now we more aware about petcare and our responsibility to our animals.  I left home leaving my cat with my parents.  Things were going well until Hairbear developed a massive tumour on her tail.  She was put to sleep on my birthday and I was only told after the event. I was more upset than I would ever had expected.

At 18 I was given Stick Insects who I found fascinating.  I thought I'd found the ideal pet...low maintenance and easily looked after.  One day I decided to get up close and personal with my biggest sticky pet and held him in my hand.  All was fine until it started climbing up my arm.  I went to take it off, but his feet stuck firmly. As I tried to remove it I was horrified to realise he was stuck fast and the more I pulled the more I felt like I was going to break its legs clean off.  I started to panic and it developed into full blown hysteria.  I was hyperventilating and in a real state, needing to be rescued.  I've had an phobia of bugs ever since.

I steered clear of owning animals for years until we adopted a very grumpy 8" long catfish called Bart, which my parents had acquired through buying a built in aquarium and contents as part of a house purchase.  They wanted pretty guppies and tetras, not a big brown fish that lived under a rock.  We looked after him and loved him in spite of the fact that he gave nothing in return barring the time he attacked Ian when being cleaned out which was very funny!  We went away for a few days when I was heavily pregnant with Kizzy.  Unfortunately the filter and heater in the tank broke while we were away.   We returned to find a stinking, floating Bart on the surface of the festering tank.  In my delicate state I was heaving at my poor pet's unfortunate demise.

That was over 8 years ago and no other pet has found its way into our home....until last weekend.  Kizzy has always had a very nurturing soul and longed for something to take care of and have responsibility for.  Freddy discovered the joys of animals on a visit to a farm and loves shouting "manimal" whenever he sees anything with fur. So I felt the pressure to deliver an animal related experience for the two littlies.  I offered Zhu Zhu pets and Fur Real Puppies but they just wouldn't do. We went to a pet shop just to have a look.  I don't consider myself to be a soft touch but one look at my kids cooing over the cute creatures and I was sold.  We settled on a gorgeous little Syrian Hamster which we named Ripley after the Aliens' character.  She is a delightful, inquisitive, energetic little bundle and the children are so in awe of her.  I'm glad we have opened the door to the world of pets.  The children treat her with such respect and they love the new addition to the household.  They can learn so much through a positive experience of caring for an animal, and with all my experiences under my belt, I can steer them in the right direction!


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