When I was growing up we were banned from having pets, the excuse from my parents was that five children was enough to be dealing with. I always used to think this was unfair, unreasonable and just plain untrue. Then I joined the world of adulthood and got my own pets.
It started off in France with 2 female cats – Dany & Ruby – that I got with my French ex-boyfriend; when we split up I got custody of them both. When I met Hubs there was no question of the cats going anywhere, which means he is definitely a keeper, as they used to sleep on my bed when we met (I lived in a house that had no interior doors so there was no way to keep them off it), and he is allergic to cats (and dogs). As if that isn’t enough, when we first got together I think Ruby was feeling a bit territorial one morning as she bit him. On the most fragile part of a man’s anatomy. And he still stayed. And didn’t kick the cats out.
Fast forward a few years to when I was pregnant with L, our eldest, and at the end of my first trimester Dany was hit by a car and killed. I was inconsolable. She was my baby and the first pet I’d ever lost, coupled with the hormones of the first trimester, I took to my bed and cried and slept all weekend.
Within a month we ended up adopting a dog who had been abandoned – it was far earlier than we wanted, as we were in a new build with mud for a garden, and no fences to keep a dog from running away, but he would have been put down within 12 days if no one took him on. Again hormones running wild I couldn’t bear the thought and Courage (pronounced Koo-rarj) became part of the family.
I was worried about how the pets – Courage in particular – might react to having a baby around, but they were, and still are, fab with babies and children.
Three years ago, in the space of a month, we made the decision to move back to the UK and then moved. At that time animals needed to wait 6 months after having the rabies jab before being brought into the UK, so we had to find someone to look after them for 6 months until they could join us. So we were separated from them from July 2010 until January 2011.
When we first arrived in the UK it was very hard for me. I had no job and no home. I moved my husband and daughter in with my parents, into my childhood home; despite it being our decision, and knowing it was for the longterm good I felt a failure. Then Hubs got a job and we moved into our own (rented) house in London. And I felt very isolated. Hubs was at work 5 days a week, L was on a waiting list for the local nursery school and we only knew my brother who lived locally. Although I am a very upbeat person in general (the glass is ALWAYS half full and ready to be toasted and drank down with friends or family) I did go through a period of feeling down. I wouldn’t say depression as that’s too strong a word, but definitely lower than usual.
So I convinced Hubs that we should get two black cats. Black because Dany was black and I’d always said I would get a black cat one day in memory of her. Two cats because then they’d keep each other company when I went back to work. It seemed like perfect reasoning, and Gavin and Smithy joined the family.
That all went very well, I loved having two kittens around. Then I got a job, went out to work and got happy again. A few months later it was time for Courage and Ruby to be put on a plane at Nice airport, in order to join us in London. I was delighted to have all my 4 pets under one roof and amazingly there were no fights. In fact Courage and Gavin have a bit of a love affair going on, in that they’re always cuddling/kissing/nuzzling each other, it’s very cute.
The problems started when C was born in November last year. We’d been used to living with someone else who could help out with dog walking or pet feeding – my cousin lived with us in Nice from July 2009 – July 2010, then when we moved to London we had an au pair until I went on maternity leave – so for the first time in 3 years we were home alone as a family. Suddenly the responsibility of dog walking and feeding 4 pets got far weightier.
A few weeks after C was born Hubs had to go away with work, so I had to get my mum to come and stay, as I had no idea how I could walk the dog with a newborn and a 6 year old. Since then we’ve found various ways around the problem but with the arrival of our second child our 4 pets have become more of a burden than a pleasure.
It is hard to find someone to walk the dog when we go away, I don’t want to impose on friends/family who live nearby and kennels/dog walkers are extortionate. Also we’re very busy with both children, my change of career and Hubs working full-time, which means the twice daily dog walks are very much a chore now.
The cats now have a cat flap so there is no litter tray to have to worry about, but again when we go away we need to find someone to come in and feed them.
In addition, now I am working as a childminder (and with a 9 month old crawling everywhere), I need to constantly be cleaning up the animal hair that 4 animals shed. I have to vacuum downstairs every day and put covers on the rug and sofa every night to try and minimise the mess.
It is a LOT of work and extra stress, for what seems like not much in return. I don’t seem to spend much time actually ENJOYING our pets anymore. I just seem to spend my time and money on them with no pleasure in return.
So more and more I keep asking myself the question – are pets worth it?
I think it is great for kids to grow up around animals and that is what’s making us keep them at the moment, especially as C is besotted with them all, and L is not showing signs of getting bored with them yet. But Hubs and I are uttering the words “shall we get them adopted elsewhere?” more and more often these days.
Has anyone else gone through this before? Any advice you’d like to share?
This post has been in my head for a long time, but the “Pets” prompt from Tara at Sticky Fingers for this week’s gallery has pushed me to actually sit down and write it. Click below for some (no doubt happier) pets’ posts and pics: