I try and remain positive about pet ownership in general in the UK. We are, after all, alleged to be a nation of animal lovers. However, I sense that in recent times that this cannot be held to be true.
Whilst there are plenty of people who look after their animals well, feed them properly, keep them safe and stay loyal to them even when they are old and incontinent and not as much fun, for every good pet owner I see, I see two bad ones. I don’t just mean pet owners who are just not all they could be. I mean absolutely, categorically awful, people who should not be in charge of another life, whose carelessness, sense of superiority or capacity for indulging their anger mean their animals have little chance of having safe, happy lives.
I thought I’d write a fairly tongue in cheek article in October, after months of seemingly relentless rescues and anger. So here goes – this is how you become a Pants Pet Owner (This is what not to do!)…
(i) Get a pet that is likely to live longer than you. Make no provision for it when you die. Parrots especially develop lifelong relationships with their owners and can be traumatised when separated from them, so do you best to change your parrot every couple of years.
(ii) Get a baby snake. Decide you want something really macho like a python. Get a small vivarium and all the bits. Hand feed it so it never has to learn how to catch prey. Show it off to your friends, especially by feeding it live baby mice. Then one of two things happen – it either bites someone, in which case the best you can do is stamp on it and kill it; or it outgrows the vivarium and you can’t afford to get a new one. If this happens, release it into the forest to die of starvation and cold in winter.
(iii) Get a goldfish. Just one. Get one of those silly round balls to display it in. Don’t get any more goldfish or plants or anything of interest, just let it swim round in circles until it dies of boredom or madness. Even better, just before it dies, throw it into the loo and flush.
(iv) Get two kittens, one boy and one girl. Forget to spay them. Act surprised when the girl cat has kittens. You can do one of three things here:
a. Get all your friends to buy a kitten from you. Then breed some more as you have found a way to make tax-free money. Do this till your cat collapses from exhaustion or you run out of friends who want to buy kittens. Then dump the mother and any current kittens you still have.
b. Get the kittens to about four weeks and try and sell them to a pet shop, saying that they are six weeks old. You’ll strike lucky at one of them.
c. Wait until things get right out of hand then dump the kittens on the nearest piece of wasteland, as you have heard that cats hunt instinctively and they’ll be alright.
(v) Be contacted by a rescue organisation, a volunteer from which has scanned your cat who has been found at a local railway station, living rough, following anyone who displays an interest in him, getting on trains, and going off the platform in front of them. Be told that your cat is in danger and airily reply that he comes home every couple of weeks and is okay, he just doesn’t like your two new dogs and so you feed him and his brother out the front where any idiot can get at their food and they have no shelter.
Explain that you used to have two others but they died – one was run over and one eaten by a dog. Have your neighbour rescue the cat several times off the train and tell you about it and shrug your shoulders. Be offered a place for your cat at the local sanctuary. Decide not to take it because you love him too much. Leave him where he is, especially now winter is on its way.
(vi) Declaw your cat so he can’t defend himself and can’t climb to get away and then let him outside.
(vii) Let your dog run around the streets in an urban area without a collar and lead. Tell everyone who remarks upon it that its okay, you’ve got a licence and they haven’t got a licence for the cat your dogs have just chased, or let the concerned person know that you don’t give a flying fig about their opinion. Cry when your dog takes fright and gets run over, or bites someone and has to be put down.
(viii) Get a cat and realise that she prefers to be indoors rather than go down a flight of stairs to the sunless patch of cement you call your garden. Give her to a friend with a garden for a couple of weeks as it isn’t natural. Your friend forces her outdoors where she is immediately attacked by a feral cat and is left traumatised and injured. Your friend doesn’t get immediate medical treatment and your cat dies two days later of fright and septicaemia. Cry buckets because you loved her so much.
(ix) Get a cat or two. Then get a dog, preferably a fully grown one. Don’t introduce them properly and just let them get on with it. Laugh when the dog chases the cat. Insist they are just playing. Be surprised when your dog chases your cat into the street and the cat is hit by a car.
(x) Get an animal, any animal, but preferably a caged one that can’t source its own food. Feed it a poor diet. Complain that it smells and is always sick and give it away to someone else, preferably someone who has never owned this type of animal before and has no intention of learning about how to look after it properly.
That’s just a few examples of How To Be a Pants Pet Owner and what not to do!
As I write, it is getting on towards Samhain, bonfires and fireworks. I repeat myself every year but I’m going to make no apology for doing it again … in order to safeguard your animals and wildlife:
(i) Keep your cats in over Halloween and the weekend nearest to it.
(ii) Keep your animals in over Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night, even if they have not shown fear of fireworks before – you have no control over what fireworks are set off during this time and an animal can take fright over a noise that is a small issue for you, but a great deal for their sensitive hearing to cope with.
(iii) Check bonfires carefully before setting fire to them – hedgehogs and small rodents love bonfires as they mimic the type of environments they nest in and if you don’t chase them out, they’ll burn to death.
(iv) Keep emergency vet and wildlife hospital contact numbers close to hand so that if anything does happen, you do not waste time by searching for these.
(v) Don’t let your children play with fireworks and keep them locked away at all times apart from when you want to use them (the fireworks, not the children!). Discourage children from playing with “crackers” which are the commonest form of firework used to do damage to small animals.
(vi) If you have very highly-strung animals, stay indoors with them over this period and consider sedating them. You don’t need to spend a lot of money doing this – dried valerian root and valerian essential oil are both very good.
(vii) Do NOT sedate your animal and let it outside or give it an opportunity to escape outside.
I thought I’d end off with a Samhain ritual to bring you closer to companion animals who have passed over. I find it hard to do this type of ritual without feeling the pain of loss again and if you do this ritual and have a similar experience, my advice is to give yourself time to feel it before carrying on.
Samhain is about remembering those who have gone before – not just the fact that we have lost them, but also to celebrate the joy and learning they brought to our lives. Without my cat Suzy for instance, I may never have had cats, never experienced the joy and companionship and sheer craziness that is involved in loving and being loved by furries with very distinctive personalities, wants and needs. The ritual can be as long or as sort as you need, although I would take about 10 minutes at the very least. Here it is:
You will need:
A picture of your pet
A white candle
A lighter/ matches
A quiet space, preferably cleansed and blessed before you start
Tissues if you think you’re going to need them
Optional – you can include an item that belonged to them (such as a collar) or an offering (catnip if this was a treat of choice, or a dog biscuit or other food token)
Start by sitting comfortably, lighting the candle and looking at the photo. Think about your pet and all they meant to you. If this upsets you, give yourself time to be upset and then move through the emotion. Think of all the happy times you spent together and any funny things they got up to.
If you have an item that belonged to your pet, pick it up, close your eyes and think of them. Let them know how much they were loved. If you have any unfinished business or if you feel guilty about something, let them know and ask for their forgiveness. You may feel a connection with your pet at this point. If you do not, do not despair – connections between us and the passed are tenuous at best and not everyone can feel when a connection has been made. Just because you cannot feel a connection doesn’t mean that your pet cannot hear or sense your thoughts and feelings.
If you have a treat or food, let them know and explain that you are going to leave it outside for them.
Close by thinking again of the happy times you spent with them and thank them for all that you shared, as well as everything they taught you. Blow out your candle and put any treats or food outside.