Our families and other animals

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith

Mothering Heights - Claire Smith - Credit: Archant

I’ve noticed that over the past few weeks, as well as comments about the weather and those stupid “Like this picture or Grandma dies” postings on Facebook, loads of my friends have been getting pets.

It’s strange because the common thread seems to be that it’s the families who have two or more children but no longer have a baby. Just at the point where the parents are starting to get their lives back a bit, they decide to introduce a new family member and one that requires work – usually, a puppy.

I’ve been trying to figure out why my friends are doing this. Is it that even though they are so ‘full up’ with hectic work schedules, family life, kid stuff – they are not quite full enough? Do we, as parents, have a need to be pushed so much that there is no time left to remember how are lives used to be? Before all this fullness? Or is it simply that our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet? Perhaps a great gift that animals have to offer is that, even though our children challenge us and we sometimes feel not in control, we’re always seen as the dominant leader in our pet’s eyes.

Now I am what you might call an animal lover. In fact what I generally like most about people is their pets. I will always happily look after a friend’s dog when they go away on holiday, but I’m much more reluctant to have their child for two weeks. Children might rile you emotionally and get on your nerves to the point of breaking, but with a pet at least you never have to pretend to like it.

So whilst I was pondering about this sudden influx of pets, it dawned on me that I needed to look at my own pack for the answer – because it’s exactly what we did. We’d done having children and, I guess, were looking for that “What now”? That feeling of having accomplished so much that there’s a sudden need to do something above and beyond. Mix it up a little bit further.

At first, when my kids started asking for a pet, they wanted a dog. I didn’t because I’d already taught three children how to use the toilet and was still working on their table manners which still, to this day, resemble a chimp’s tea party. I came up with that whole parenting ‘future’ strategy of “You can get a pet when you’re 12”, hoping they’d forget but, like elephants, they never did. It’s when they started barking at each other and licking everything that I finally caved. There are only so much pretending-to-be-a-dog games this mother can take. And when the push for a pet comes from the mum, the dad finally reaches breaking point because, after all, a whining pet is much more bearable than a moaning mum.

And so we got a dog. We were fortunate to find the perfect rescue and because she was six months old, we didn’t have to go through that whole crappy puppy stage. Instead, we had two weeks of intense training where everyone had to learn the pack order. There was, initially, some confusion because not everyone knew who was dominant and who was submissive. Of course my husband challenged me for the role of Alpha by raising his heckles and bearing his teeth, but once he realised that it’d be me taking care of the dog daily and that my leadership was not open to challenge, everything settled down pretty quickly.

Most Read

From a parent’s perspective, a new dog has the temperament of a toddler but the added value of being able to be placed in the garden/downstairs loo/on the leash whenever you want. It goes to bed when you tell it to, eats whatever you feed it, fetches stuff when asked and sits/stays on demand. You can even lock it away in a cage. In fact it does whatever you ask whilst showering with affection, no resistance and, above all, no backchat.

Also, it’s great fun going to Pets At Home and giggling over the chewing toys. Pet stores have an adult section too, for the pet owner’s special drawer, it seems. I have sniggered plenty over the Kong Extreme. I think “Great toy!” then snort and have to leave the store.

From the children’s point of view, whatever badness they get up to, they can always make out that the pet did it. Pets become the patsy. Our dog has stuffed toilet paper down the loo, drawn on walls, spilt juice, even messed up homework. In fact, it’s an evil genius because we parents never catch it in action.

There came a time eventually when things settled down with the dog, everything once again got easier, so we went out and bought a fish. A flipping pregnant fish. One week in and the fish became a mother to eight tiny fry. Which she promptly ate. Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from this, but I’m saying nothing.

But I will say this – go ahead and get that pet - but be warned. No matter how much the children have begged, pawed and rolled over, within weeks they will care not for that pet. It will be up to you to look after it, feed it and clean it. In fact, you might as well have had another baby, the amount of your time it will take. Our dog went to the pet minder last weekend and the kids didn’t even notice.

Which reminds me of the story my dad tells of a little girl (me) who pleaded for a rabbit then promptly forgot about it. I finally remembered about that poor bunny, after my parents had given it away six weeks before.

Husband, if you’re reading this, take note. If you’re a bit fed up with this family and fancy jetting off somewhere – just make sure you book for less than six weeks. Because, chances are, nobody in this pack will even notice you’re not around.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter