Róisín Ingle on . . . a pet hate

Sat, Oct 5, 2013, 01:00

I’ve always felt cushioned from both extra-curricular expenses and additional domestic hassle by the fact that as a family grouping, we generally don’t do pets. We had two dogs as children, but never turned into Dog People despite Sam, a loveable mongrel who died when he got a tumour and a yappy little (possibly, but I can’t be sure) terrier who got lost when someone left the door open.

Since then I’ve taken the lead (ha!) from my three sisters. Between them they are raising a clutch of well-adjusted, happy children up to the age of 20 while managing to totally resist the intermittent pleas about pets. No cats. No dogs. Not so much as a budgie has crossed the threshold of these homes despite the mounting of seriously heart-wrenching campaigns for various household animals over the years.

Pet People (there are an awful lot of you out there) may regard this as a cruel denial of a child’s basic right to care for and love an animal in their own home.

I regard it as basic common sense.

While I wish animals well, enjoy wildlife programmes and sometimes stop to pet the cuter looking ones in the street, I don’t want to share my home with one. I find it hard enough to walk/feed/groom/keep alive myself and the children without adding another, hairier, character to the mix.

In my experience the more evangelical Pet People will often blatantly ignore your stated anti-pet stance. These people will passionately try to persuade you to get a pet in the same way some parents try to persuade child-free individuals that they should have children. But just because you enjoy having a pet/child doesn’t mean everyone wants to be up to their oxters in doggy doings/nappies. “I don’t like the smell of them,” is a fitting rebuttal in both cases I used to find.

It’s true that, of my seven siblings, there have been some who’ve caved. Interestingly, it’s when they moved to other countries that they discovered their inner Pet Person and voluntarily brought animals into their homes. One brother had a cat called Smokey in London and another brother keeps dogs – including Felix, an emotionally damaged stray and Lola, a pedigree pug– in North Carolina.

But my Dublin-based sisters? They were my cast-iron example of perfectly contented pet-free homes when people tried to convince me I was depriving my children of a vital life experience by saying no to cats/dogs/guinea pigs/piranha fish.

Now? Well now I don’t know what to think. In the space of a few months, separately without any prior consultation, my three sisters have suddenly sanctioned the entry of pets into their homes.

Exhibit A is Jaws, a goldfish “accidentally” won at a funfair that keeps staying alive, to the surprise of my youngest sister.

Exhibit B is a tortoise called Tortoise. Or Tortoisey to give him his full name, a moniker which will not trouble the Imagination Police. (This sister has pledged to have nothing to do with the upkeep of Tortoisey, showing at least some allegiance to the anti-pet fraternity.)

Exhibits C and D are the as yet unnamed marine tropical fish that are about to make themselves at home in my other sister’s house.

Exhibits E, F, and G are the accompanying snail, cleaner shrimp and hermit crab. It’s a veritable pet invasion.

I was at my sister’s house at the weekend watching my first GAA match on the television. (Main observation: never mind hurling, that Shane O’Donnell should be in Hollywood). Over half-time scones the subject of Clownfish, the ones that look like Nemo, came up. A meticulous researcher at the best of times, my sister has been in deep discussions with the staff at Seahorse Aquariums in Ballymount about the imminent arrival of the fish. Despite myself and my virulent anti-pet feeling I found myself fascinated.

Apparently, when Clownfish are young they are always male. When they arrive in my sister’s house, the fish will go in the tank and then the pair of them will have a bit of a row, with loads of fishy aggro and tail biting. Then something amazing will happen. One of the fish will roll on his side and start rapidly twitching, as though he is having a seizure. This is his way of saying “I give up”. The other fish, the one who proved himself to be dominant, will then turn into a female. She will rule the tank growing larger and more dominant and basically breeding and bossing everyone around.

“Did you hear that?” I asked my boyfriend when we got home, the surprising biological revelation almost tempting me to consider sharing my home with a Clownfish.

“Hear it? I’m living it,” he said.

What a pet.


roisin@irishtimes.com

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