Thursday 20 August 2015

A (Not So) Brief History Of Pets I Did Not Want

I never really wanted pets, let me make that clear from the start, I had rodents as a kid, all of them met unpleasant ends, one rabbit fell from the roof of its hutch and broke its back, two of them got set free by a stoned fourteen year old (might have been me) and were shot by the neighbour, and the guinea pig committed suicide by throwing itself from a chair. Unperturbed, I went on to have two gerbils I quite liked. Despite my accidentally cutting one of their fingers off, we had a nice couple of years and then they died. My then girlfriend bought me two more to cheer me up. This set a pattern for my life, they were not nice, and they had sixteen babies. They ate eight of them.

I always say we had dogs as kids, but the truth is that our first dog ran away when I was three so I barely remember her, and my parents gave the second one to my grandparents when I was about six, as they had no time to look after him. So I did not really want a Dog when I was 21. My then girlfriend (different one to the gerbil one) and I lived in a third floor flat above the pub we ran with no garden, it was not a sensible place to have a dog. She really wanted one though, and when he sauntered over and gave a half-hearted woof in the middle of all the other leaping, barking, attention-seeking dogs before buggering off back to his bed, I realised that Rambo was probably my real soul-mate, rather than the girl.

Truthfully it took longer than that. When we broke up and I asked the 'who gets the dog?' question, I was half-hoping that she would say 'you can't take my dog!' as it would make flat hunting much easier, and I could be mobile again, rather than dog-bound. Sadly, she said 'I don't have time for him, you'll have to take him' and it was lying in my parents spare room, listening to his plaintive howls from downstairs as he spent his first night sleeping away from me (no dogs upstairs at Mum's house) that I realised he was the one for me, not her.

Rambo was the first animal to properly break my heart when he got old and died (in my arms, at the vets) probably because it was just me and him for quite such a long time. I could probably write a book about him and all the stuff we did, my old house mates will fondly remember the time we thought he'd eaten the stash. He hadn't, he was just tired, it was down the back of the sofa. The old neighbours will remember wanting to phone the police over a domestic row that turned out to be me and Rambo having a bit of an argument after I got drunk, and so on and so on. But this is not just about him.

Me and Rambo moved in with the current Mrs Doesn't-Write-Anything-Ever and the kids, and discovered we now had three cats to put up with as well. We didn't like cats, the local cats in Bideford used to bully Rambo when I wasn't watching as they knew he was scared of them. Duchamp, Dali and McCartney were no nicer to him. He bore it well, as did I. It took Rambo dying for me to develop a bit of a fondness for cats, and McCartney (hereafter known as Carty, cos that's what we called him) in particular. He was also old, black (well going brown round the edges) and a bit grumpy, just as Rambo had been. He refused my constant invitations to him to sit somewhere other than under my coffee cup, and we bonded.

Duchamp and Dali (that's them in the boxes up there) couldn't have been more different, despite being from the same litter. Dali was a tortoise-shell who was allergic to her own spit. Whereas Duchy is a beautiful tabby cat and always spotlessly clean, Dali was usually scarred, ridgy, losing bits of fur, and relentlessly skinny. She would not leave anybody alone, and would generally push at you furiously with her head while miaowing as if you were pulling her head off. We often described her as having no redeeming features but meaning well. Duchamp on the other hand, doesn't really like anybody. He had a couple of bad experiences with a hot sausage and a skipping rope when he was little, picking up a few trust issues, but he does tolerate me, and almost nobody else. So much so that he tends to hide if anybody comes round, and people think I have imagined him and only own two cats.

Apparently I didn't get used to cats enough, as after a year of no dog, Netty decided I had to have one or I would drive her nuts, so she made me get Rizla. She is a collie, she is now 10 years old, and she was proper crazy. I had never had a puppy before, she was the first animal I had to train, it was hard. She got stood on a lot as she ran around my feet, I tried to squeeze the wee out of her at night so she wouldn't wee on the floor (almost literally), I once spent 3 hours in the middle of the night sitting on the kitchen floor with her, a toy monkey and some leftover chicken because she looked sad, and when she had to wear the cone of shame after being neutered I spent a week sleeping on the sofa with her so she wouldn't be alone. I am clearly a dog person right?

Then came Schrodinger, a waste of a good name (that's him with Rizla above). He was a wedding gift I didn't ask for from my mate Gez, Netty was pleased as she wanted another black cat. Carty was very upset to see that we had got a little black kitten, he thought we were replacing him. The kitten thought it was a dog, he played fetch and did massive shits in the middle of the lawn. And then he got run over. I was not terribly bothered, as at this point, I was still not fully cat converted, we didn't even have him for 5 months, and I was in London at the time and missed the initial unpleasantness. I did have to bury him twice though, due to a new fence post having to go in the same place as him.

We lost Carty eventually, he got a brain tumour, it was terribly sad, as we always had to stop the car on the road and put him in the house before parking on the drive, as he used to walk round in circles there, unable to stop. He also looked like he was wearing a funny hat, but I stopped making jokes eventually. I had to go into the vets with him, and he died in my arms. He didn't break my heart like Rambo had, but then he was Netty's cat, not mine.

Apologies to Rudi, but this is the only photo of Carty I've got.

Bam Bam's family were moving to Saudi Arabia, so Netty adopted him. He was so very surly, and arrogant, and gave not one fuck about anything. It did not take long for him to worm his catty way into my heart. Every time he bit me for stroking him, every time he nicked bits out of my sandwich, every time he clung resolutely to the window sill refusing to go outside, I liked him more. Eventually Dali and Duchamp grudgingly accepted him. They had to, the pair of them were always natural followers, whenever there has just been the two of them they have had no idea what to do, a bit Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to various Hamlets.

We moved from the housing estate to the moor, and Bam Bam was in heaven, he brought me dead mice every day, disguised as bunches of flowers. Then he suddenly developed a terribly rare cat disease and died the next day, once again, in my arms at the vet. It had finally happened, a fucking cat broke my heart. I decided that Duchamp and Dali were in fact devious murderers, and had probably pushed Schrodinger under that moped as well as poisoning Bam Bam. They were nothing of the kind, they were homely cats without a leader again, they had looked at the moor from the window and decided it was nicer on the radiator.

This is Bammy, caught looking at himself in the mirror again.

Last year we decided that since Dali and Duchamp were getting on a bit, we needed to get kittens. This is the only time in recorded history that it has been my idea to get an animal, rather than having it forced upon me. So we got Heisenberg (not Breaking Bad, he was named for the Schrodinger reference) and Kahlo. Duchamp and Dali were grateful not to be in charge of themselves any more, and immediately acquiesced to Heisenberg as the kingpin he was (I think he thought he was named for Walter White). And then they destroyed everything, they got everywhere, they left live rabbits in the living room when they were bored, and they once managed to push my telecaster into their litter tray.

I began to give all the animals Indian names as well, Rizla has been known as ‘The Bear’ since the day we got her, so she became Running Bear, Duchamp is Crying Owl, Dali - Crazy Tortoise, Heisenberg – Tiny Air Raid Siren, and Kahlo – Startled Batman Face. Though Kahlo is still called Bitey more than anything else, while Heisenberg was mostly known as Twatface until he decided that me putting magnetic locks on the food cupboard to keep him out was a step too far, and got himself run over in protest. I am not naming any more cats after physicists, finding his sad little corpse outside the house on a damp monday morning confirmed my newfound cat person status.


This was when we found out that it was Heisenberg that did all the bad stuff, Kahlo is pretty good really. She does bring in a lot of dead stuff (but where are the heads Bitey?) she costs me a fortune in all the collars she loses on the moors and she comes for walks with me and Rizla all the time, miaowing at us constantly as if she is hating every minute (Heisenberg used to come with us too, I think she is just doing it in memory of her brother). She goes out in the rain and the mud, and then comes in and jumps on me for a cuddle, and runs off again once she's dried out.

After Dali died of kidney failure (I was again, overwhelmed, I was beginning to think she was some kind of immortal demon, but I do miss her) Kahlo and Duchamp really bonded, they spent all their time curled up together on the sofa. Mostly because Kahlo likes to lick everything she can get her paws on, and Duchamp likes to be clean. He used her like a hotel shoe polishing machine. But then we got George Orwell, and it all changed again.

Whenever there is some kind of calm and equilibrium among our pets, we like to chuck a new one in to make it crazy again. So Netty got me George Orwell, another little tabby cat, for my birthday (briefly known as Hugging Leopard, now Screeching Pterodactyl). Duchamp is annoyed at being replaced, Kahlo is sulking about not being the littlest kitten anymore, and Rizla's pleading eyes are begging me to stop forcing animals on her. She has an enlarged heart now, and is supposed to avoid stress, is only allowed short walks, and is on medication for the rest of her life, so she felt that making her put up with another kitten might be a step too far. But I still catch the two of them cuddled up together all the time. Rizla loves everyone, because she is a doggy slut.

George Orwell does not come for walks with us, he is scared of everything, which is good. As if me, Rizla and Kahlo were inclined to play at being the three musketeers on the moor (we would naturally all want to be Aramis, but they would make me be boring Athos, and Kahlo would have to be Porthos as she is the most murdery) we would be glad not to have an over-enthusiastic D'Artagnan running around after us. Not that we would do such a thing.

And that's my many pets, none of which I asked for (except for Bitey). Apart from the chickens and the ducks, and the guinea pigs, and the rabbit, and the fish, and all the hamsters, mice, stick insects and various other things I have probably forgotten. All the furry people who I share my life with, and probably talk to more than the real people in my life. It's been a bad couple of years, we've planted 3 cats in this garden and we've only been here for two years. I'm preparing myself for the worst with Duchamp and Rizla, while simultaneously planning what to get to replace them. I realise it won't be my decision, but I long ago stopped planning what I might do if I had no animals getting in the way.

My advice, get pets, or at least, get people who force them on you, they will drive you mad, and make things difficult, but even when you're wading through a kitchen full of dog piss with a kitten leaping through it to take a crap off the side of the litter tray into your flip flops it is possible to see the funny side, and enjoy it for what it is. Honestly.