My Pets

Many readers will be aware of Ollie, my dog. He is the star of this blog, and my constant companion, since 2012.

But long before Ollie, I had many other pets. I think of them as typical ‘childhood pets’, though one was owned when I was much older.

When I was around 8 years old, I volunteered to take the class hamster home, and to look after it during the summer holidays. It was a lot smellier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed watching it spin around in its wheel. Of course, my Mum ended up being the one who cleaned it out. I just enjoyed holding it, feeding it, and watching it scuttle around. But I had forgotten about our usual two-week holiday in Cornwall, so we had to enlist the help of my Mum’s sister to feed it and care for it while we were gone. After school started again, I took it back, but it died the following day. I didn’t know how short-lived they were, and was convinced that I had somehow hastened its demise by neglect.

My next pets were some goldfish in a bowl. It didn’t occur to me that it was rather cruel to keep two good-sized fish in a small bowl, and I soon became very bored with watching them constantly swimming in circles. My only interaction with them was to feed them, and so I overfed them, unintentionally. One day, they were both dead, floating on the top of the water, which was not much more than a cloudy soup of nutrition by that time. My Dad flushed them down the toilet.

Dad decided to get a ‘feature tank’ instead. I chose the tank ornaments, including a large clam shell, a pirates’ treasure chest, and an arch that they could swim through. My Dad bought plants to help aerate the water, and we had six fish of different sizes. But they constantly attacked each other, and took chunks out of each other’s tails and fins. Before long, three of them were found dead, and the rest lasted less than a year.

Everyone had a tortoise in those days. They often had their names painted on the shell, and some owners drilled a small hole in the shell too, to tether the poor thing to a long string, so it didn’t escape. I loved to feed our tortoise, and would also stroke its head when it popped out for food. It didn’t die in our care, but we had to move to a place with no garden, so it was given to a relative. It lived for a very long time after that, but once we moved again, I lost touch with it.

When I was 15, we moved to a house with a big garden. My Mum got a dog, and she also acquired two angora rabbits. They lived in hutches outside, and she would brush them carefully, saving the soft hair that came off. She later used this fur to knit things, and produced some incredibly soft knitwear. My job was to feed them, and clean them out. I adored being able to stroke them, as they were unbelievably soft. But the big male was very aggressive, and managed to injure all three of us at one time or another. They lived less than four years, and we never replaced them.

In 1978, I was 26 years old, and had just moved to Wimbledon. I didn’t want to be tied down with a dog, but thought it would be nice to have a pet. I got a long-haired guinea pig, called a ‘Sheltie’. I named him Oskar, and my uncle built me a pine hutch for him to live in, in the garden. During the winter, he came inside, and stayed in a huge old fish-tank, in the dining room. I looked after him really well, fed him all the best things, and brushed him every day. When we went on holiday, my sister-in-law looked after him. He lived for over five years, until one morning I found him dead in his fish-tank. He is buried in that south-London garden.

But there is no doubt that Ollie has been the best pet I have ever had.

Ollie’s first rabbit

Another post about Ollie ‘hunting’, from 2014. Apologies to those of you who remember it.

beetleypete

When I am out with Ollie, he likes to chase things. Other dogs of course, as well as cats, deer, pigeons, pheasants, and even ducks in the river. Squirrels are a difficult option, as they rush up trees, leaving him frustrated, looking skywards into the branches. On the beach, large seagulls seem to be fair game; but they always fly off as he arrives, only to land tantalisingly, a few feet further on. It always seems to delight him, even though he never catches anything. Watching him do this for almost two years, it always seemed to me, and to other onlookers, that his sole intention was to play with whatever he was chasing. His demeanour was happy, and his body language playful, never threatening.

Over on Beetley Meadows, there are lots of rabbits. On quiet days, or late in the afternoon, they summon up the courage to leave their…

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Ollie’s first rabbit

When I am out with Ollie, he likes to chase things. Other dogs of course, as well as cats, deer, pigeons, pheasants, and even ducks in the river. Squirrels are a difficult option, as they rush up trees, leaving him frustrated, looking skywards into the branches. On the beach, large seagulls seem to be fair game; but they always fly off as he arrives, only to land tantalisingly, a few feet further on. It always seems to delight him, even though he never catches anything. Watching him do this for almost two years, it always seemed to me, and to other onlookers, that his sole intention was to play with whatever he was chasing. His demeanour was happy, and his body language playful, never threatening.

Over on Beetley Meadows, there are lots of rabbits. On quiet days, or late in the afternoon, they summon up the courage to leave their burrows, and can be seen on the grass, enjoying a feed, or running around in the sunshine. Locals tell me that these rabbits are infected with myxomatosis, and it remains in the rabbit community here, due to inbreeding. I have seen the occasional dead rabbit, but have no idea if this disease was the cause of its demise. For Ollie, the sight of their fluffy white feet, or their ears protruding above the long grass, is a signal to chase. He will tear after them at breakneck speed, paws pounding on the turf. He is never quick enough though, and they always escape into their warren, or seek shelter inside some unusually thick brambles, or inaccessible undergrowth. Ollie is left to run around crying, as if lamenting the loss some good playtime.

If he has no other dogs to romp around with, I will take him into the area where they live, and suggest that he search for ‘Bunnies’. He doesn’t seem to understand ‘Rabbits’, though he certainly recognises the word ‘Squirrels’. His preferred command is ‘Bun-Bun’, something that pricks up his ears when heard, and sets him off investigating the normal rabbit haunts. This affords a diversion on his walk, and kills some time when he is bored, in the absence of other dog playmates. Occasionally, he will flush one from the long grass, but the turn of speed that it musters, and the possibility of a considerable hop, guarantees that the bunny will find sanctuary before Ollie gets to it.

Yesterday afternoon, he had been walking around with two of his friends, Toby the Jack Russell and Bruno the Pug. They left, and towards the end of our time out, we were at the far end of the Meadows, near the junction with River View. In the middle of the cut grass, is a large area of grass and weeds left in a natural state, forming a substantial square. Ollie suddenly took off in this direction, breaking into a determined gallop. At first, I suspected he had detected the presence of another dog nearby, then I spotted what had caught his attention. A full-size rabbit was sitting at the edge of the longer grass, apparently just relaxing. As Ollie drew nearer, it suddenly realised the folly of being in such an open area, and it obviously panicked. Instead of seeking shelter in the thick grass nearby, it ran the ‘wrong’ way, straight onto the open parkland, easily visible on the short grass. It was heading straight at Ollie.

At the last minute, the animal realised its mistake, and swerved violently. Ollie had to make an extreme twisting turn, skidding on the wet grass as he did so. The rabbit thought that a zig-zag manoeuvre would confuse the dog, but this only succeeded in slowing it down. I was running towards the pair, shouting for Ollie to leave him, but as the bunny got back into the long grass, Ollie caught his back leg. The piercing scream surprised both myself, and my dog. It seemed far too extreme for what was little more than a nip, so I must assume it was more from fear, than from pain. Ollie looked at me, confused. I suspect he thought that the rabbit would enjoy the game, and turn and run again. When he let go, on my command, it hopped into the grass, attracting Ollie once again. This time, he pounced onto it, and I saw his mouth begin to close around its abdomen. I shouted ‘no’, and he let go, looking at me with obvious frustration.

I went deeper into the undergrowth, looking to see if it was injured. I could see it creeping slowly away, some distance from me, so I didn’t get the chance to see if it was hurt. Reluctant to distress it further, I took Ollie home. He strutted with a proud gait on the trip back. He had finally caught his first rabbit.