Family means everything to me, from my husband and sons, my parents and sisters, my wider family, my chosen family of friends and, in my case, our fur and feathered babies too.
I grew up with pets around. When I say I grew up with them around, what I mean is that they were an integral and vital part of our family. Our menagerie included dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, fish, cockatiels, stick insects, tortoises, the list goes on. There wasn’t a single moment of my childhood when we didn’t have a creature of one variety or another in our family. My mother regularly rescued wild animals too, giving them a safe place to recover or overwinter (in the case of hedgehogs) before carefully releasing them. I realise with pleasure that our sons are now having the same experience of considering furry and feathered friends part of our family and embracing every aspect of looking after them (including wild creatures too!). Our time is filled with caring for our pets with as much compassion as we look after each other, indeed our cockatiel is the very same that my parents bought for me when I was 12. Now at over 20 years old he is certainly showing the benefits of a large dose of love, care and attention!
It doesn’t surprise me to read that animal assisted therapy is a well-considered treatment. Putting to one side the arguments over the quality of the scientific evidence, that emotional development and well-being in children and adults can be supported and indeed flourish with the introduction of an animal friend seems entirely possible and logical. In the right environment our encounters with animals can be positive and mutually beneficial. On the days when I wake with yet another cold (thanks boys!) and feel a bit, meurgh, my morning is instantly brightened by a quick snuggle with my dog or cat. I am happy, and so are they. To me it is the same reaction as I have lying on a secluded beach or reading a good book, tucked under the comfort of our winter duvet. Just over a year ago we extended our family to include a beautiful puppy. Bouncy and full of that infamous puppy energy she brings us joy every day. Shortly after she joined the pet contingent of our family, our eldest son said “I thought we were getting a dog, but she’s not just a dog, she’s a super dog and I love having her in our family”.
Dogs are long known for being capable of becoming assistance dogs to aid those with disabilities, and more recently some are being trained to support children with autism connect to the sometimes frightening world around them. It is not uncommon to find dogs being taken into retirement homes now too. There have also been stories of dogs spending time with their owners in hospital.
Beyond a creature devoid of personality, pets, if you have them, should be treasured as a family member. I know people who don’t share this view, but having lived with animals of many species for 35 years I can recall the differences between my first gerbils, both sisters but one more outgoing and than the other. I remember with great fondness the guinea pig who knew his name and would come galloping across the garden when called. The stick insect who lived happily in her tank until I introduced a stick insect friend who had a taste for biting through the netting over their cage, thus expanding their ability to explore throughout my bedroom. The rat whose favourite sleeping place was under my pillow. The rabbit who would love to travel by train with me, meeting new people.
I couldn’t imagine a household without the sound of hay being munched, a cat’s purr or a dog snoozing. Whilst it might not be everyone’s preference, to me there is something remarkably tranquil about it, and I wonder if in another 20 or 30 years’ time our boys will share that opinion.
A few photos of our many pets:
Sprite was so much fun. She lived as a house rabbit and made up a game with a bell which she would ring to let her friend, Orinoco, know where she was.
Jonsi was our first family cat, although both my husband and I grew up with cats around. He is happiest snuggled with me or my husband, or sitting in the middle of the chaos in the playroom!
We used to call Orinoco Ori for short, which came up as MPH on the predictive text on our mobile telephones. Very apt as he was super speedy when he got going, kicking his heels up and shooting up and down the stairs!
Charlie has lost some of his flight feathers with age, so chooses to spend much of his time in his cage now. Although he has always had a cage for shelter and feeding/ drinking, he used to fly freely around my bedroom when I was younger, sitting on my head when I got home from school, grooming (pulling at) my hair.