I was thinking about Ollie when I woke up today, and that led my mind to remembering pets I have had during my life. I began to list them in chronological order, thinking back to when I was very young. Not just those pets I have had in my own home, but those of my Mum, which I became responsible for as I helped her visit Vets, or took them to be put to sleep.
My earliest pet memory is of a family dog, a black Labrador unimaginatively named ‘Blackie’. I recall little of him being around, or taking him for walks, but I clearly remember that we had to find him a home, when we were re-housed in a nice new maisonette where dogs were not allowed. My Dad found a great place for him though. He was adopted by The Royal Air Force, to be used for something I wasn’t told about. I like to think he had a good career as a sniffer dog, on an airbase in the countryside.
For the next seven years, we were pet-free. This bothered my Mum a great deal, as she badly missed having a pet dog. When it was announced that we were moving to the edge of Kent, buying our own house just outside the London suburbs, she was overjoyed. It meant she could get another dog. Along came Sandy, a friendly Beagle cross who was full of fun, and enjoyed playing with his toys, especially a double-ended ‘puller’. My Mum loved to take him for walks along the nearby lanes, picking blackberries to make her jam, as he trotted along next to her. He proved to be very loyal, and was very much part of the family, until he died from a swollen liver. In that house, my Dad decided to also keep rabbits. Not for food, but for show. He bought long-haired angoras, real pedigree rabbits, and built impressive hutches for them both. They needed daily grooming to deal with all that fur, and that was my job after school. He also built an extensive aviary, stocking it with an assortment of finches, canaries, and other small birds. Most evenings, he would walk around in that aviary, contemplating his life.
After my parents split up, I moved with my Mum into a family business, an off-licence back in South West London. She got a kitten, a multi-coloured ball of fluff she named Louise, for some strange reason. Soon after, she decided we needed a dog. Something to keep us company in the long hours of the shop-opening, and perhaps to deter robbers or burglars too. We bought a pedigree pup, a long-haired German Shepherd, with huge feet. Mum named him ‘Skipper’, and he soon grew into a very formidable dog indeed. He loved us, and was good with family. But he wasn’t too interested in strangers, or other dogs. Walked daily on Clapham Common, well-fed and looked after, he was admired by everyone around.
When I got married, we were both too busy to have pets, and it would not have been fair to leave them for so long. But I did win a goldfish at a funfair, and decided to keep it. It was so small, I named it ‘Tiny Tim’, and bought it a large bowl plants, and gravel. Because of its size, I thought it was very young, and might live a long time. But sadly, it didn’t see out the summer, and was found floating in his bowl one evening. He received a decent burial in the back garden. A few years later, the urge to get a pet came over me again, so I bought a Guinea Pig, a long-haired Pedigree Sheltie. He was a lovely golden beige colour, with beautifully soft fur. I had just seen the film ‘The Tin Drum’ at the cinema, so named him ‘Oskar'(with a ‘K’) after the lead character. My uncle built me a stylish hutch, for him to live outside in. We lived at number 8, and I even got him his own door number, ‘8A’. For harsh weather, we got an old tropical fish tank, stored in the dining room. He came inside in that during the winter. I cared for little Oskar lovingly. I would comb him, and stroke him, enjoying the ‘chirruping’ noise he made when he heard me arriving. As well as his dry food, I picked dandelion leaves for him, which he really enjoyed. He lived for over five years. The local vet told me he had never known a guinea pig to live that long. He was buried in the garden too, and I was genuinely sad when he died.
When I split up from my first wife, I was destined to have no pets for decades. But my Mum made up for it, with a succession of dogs and cats. Most times, she had two dogs and a cat living with her in the small one-bed flat she had moved to. When they were ill, I would drive over and take them to the Vet. When they were dying, I took them to be put to sleep. Walking back to the car with an empty collar and lead. This happened so regularly, I decided that I would never have a pet again. Losing them is just too upsetting.
But then I moved to Norfolk, saw baby Ollie, and couldn’t resist him. He has been my companion since 2012; my constant shadow, and a source of comfort and joy. I can only hope he outlives me.
Let me know about your cherished pets, in the comments.