Paws for thought – Alison Healy on pets

An Irishwoman’s Diary

It’s always a surprise when an animal pops up in an unexpected place. Last week I heard a cheeky chirp as I perused the pink prosecco in the supermarket and looked up to see a sparrow fluttering around the higher shelves. She appeared to be particularly interested in the premium champagnes, so I stepped away quickly in case she capsized a bottle of Moet and left me to pick up the expensive pieces. I hope she went on to investigate the birdseed aisle and not the fridge full of birds chilling.

Lucille Ball would not have been happy to see that sparrow. The actor was deeply suspicious of birds, following the death of her father when she was a small child. She recalled seeing grey sparrows at the window on the day he died and always associated them with his death. Her phobia was so bad that she ordered the removal of expensive Japanese silk wallpaper from her Beverly Hills home when she noticed shadowy outlines of birds in the design.

But I’m happy to note that the sparrow in our local supermarket didn’t send anyone running from the shop screaming, nor did it herald a sudden rush of unexplained deaths in the area.

There are less pleasant ways of discovering animals in unexpected places. I’m thinking of the unwelcome furry sensation I felt as a child when I plunged my foot into a wellington and discovered that a mouse had arrived before me. This was when I learned that sensible people always turn their wellies upside down before putting them on.


At least the rodent scampered away to live another day. We cannot say the same for a more adventurous mouse. Relatives had moved into their newly built house and had spent a few days happily trying out all their new appliances when they noticed an unusual smell coming from the toaster. Upon further investigation, they discovered a thoroughly toasted mouse at the bottom of the appliance. How many slices of bread had nudged the mouse before he was discovered? It was not a question they wished to explore in great detail.

Run Run is another animal who found himself in an unexpected place. He was purchased at a pet market in Lima in February by a family in search of a cute puppy. The seller said he was a Siberian husky, and the Sotelo family had no reason to disbelieve him.

But, as Run Run grew, so too did their concerns. He seemed unusually interested in chasing small animals and embarked on a reign of terror which culminated in a bloody trail of dead chickens, ducks and at least three large guinea pigs.

Before the family could seek help from wildlife experts, Run Run lived up to his name and ran away. Perhaps he realised that his luck had run out and his real identity had been rumbled.

It transpired that Run Run was an eight-month-old Andean fox and had been the unfortunate victim of wildlife trafficking.

Peru’s national forest and wildlife service captured him last month and he will live his days out in Huachipa zoo as the most famous Peruvian animal since Paddington Bear.

We had our own encounter with a pet fox back in the 1970s when my father found an orphaned cub and brought him home.

My abiding memory of Roy is that he liked to nibble at our bare feet at bedtime.

Between the mice in the wellies, and the fox after our toes, it’s a miracle we emerged from childhood with all our digits intact.

Roy was released back to the wild when he grew stronger, and the nibbling got a little bit too enthusiastic. Of course, we now know we should never interfere with wildlife and Roy would have been fine on his own.

Just like Le Le was. This pregnant cat was left home alone in an apartment in Wuhan in January 2020 after the entire family was hospitalised with Covid.

Afraid to ask neighbours to feed her, in case they got Covid, the owners opened two large bags of cat food, left water on the balcony, and hoped for the best.

When the father of the family returned from hospital 40 days later, he found four kittens running around, an empty fish tank and a considerably thinner Le Le.

The cat had achieved two miraculous things – providing a good news story from Wuhan, and emerging from lockdown thinner than when she went in.

Now there’s one cool cat. I’m willing to bet that the sparrow circling the champagne wouldn’t survive an encounter with Le Le.

Run Run might take his chances though.