Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday 7 May

 Blog Every Day in May - Pets

 Our circus cat

There have been very few periods in my life when there were no pets. When I was born, my parents had a 6 month old red setter, called Yakir (or Toffel as he came to be known). He was the sweetest, most laid-back dog I remember. He had to be put down when I was 12 because he had epilepsy and was having daily fits. It was the first time I saw my dad cry. Toffel was definitely my first dog love - if I see a red setter (or any setter) now, I'm instantly taken back to memories of him. 

Not my pet and it took a bit of persuasion for me to have him on my lap!

We also always had cats when I was growing up. So many that when mum and I talk about them, we sometimes don't quite remember which cat was which. Vosje, the grey and white cat who died of old age in our kitchen. Pluis, the grey fluffy cat which one day just appeared on our doorstep as a tiny kitten. Pien, the cat we got from the cats rescue place where we returned two days later to get Poeka, the one we couldn't find it in our hearts to leave behind. Oscar, the cat who walked into our lives and was brutally killed by farmers in our village six months later. 

Our two cats in their favourite spot

As I mentioned earlier this month, when I first left home I lived as an aupair with a family in Surrey for a year. They had a smallholding with sheep, pigs, chickens, dogs and cats. I was in heaven, specially when during the first week one of the chickens disappeared and returned a few days later with a string of fluffy yellow chicks behind her. In fact, one of their dogs was a red setter, Scampi, and she had the unnerving habit of sleeping with her eyes open. As their house was the last house at the end of a rural road with miles of fields around, I used to walk the dogs a fair bit during the day when the boys were at school. Happy memories. 

Dog loves posing too

I spent another year in Britain as an aupair, this time with another family who had two Siamese cats. I wasn't having a very good time - we just didn't click the way I had done the first year - and I suspect that due to my unhappiness my eczema, which I've suffered from since babyhood, flared up very badly in response to the cats. I returned to Holland to do my degree and had several allergy tests done, even though I already knew I was allergic to pets. The flare-up lasted for years, becoming so bad that I would spend hours scratching, showering was painful and I wouldn't wear short-sleeved tshirts in summer. After my degree I returned to Britain but my eczema put me off having pets. Also, J. suffers badly from hayfever, which is a related allergy, and the chance of our children having some form of allergy was about 80%. As I knew what it was like to have eczema and didn't want my children to have to go through that, we took the decision not to have pets in their early years. 14yo developed hayfever when she was about 4 years old and gets it worse than J., having missed days off school when the sneezing and itching just get too much; 11yo has rather dry skin but no itchiness or infections. I'm very relieved that neither of them have any more than that.

Marley trying to catch up


But, I did miss having a pet. My eczema disappeared miraculously after 11yo was born (in fact, it got worse throughout both pregnancies and with 11yo I knew I was pregnant before doing the test as my skin became so bad all of a sudden), but soon after that J. left and looking after two children on my own was hard enough work without having pets as well. We did have a few goldfish but it's not the same as a cat or a dog.

The black panther of Norfolk

Then I met B. who had the biggest black and white tomcat I had ever seen, called Bodog. I was a bit worried my eczema would return, but that wasn't a good enough reason to stop seeing him ;-) Bodog couldn't ask for a better place to live - a farm with lots of fields, meadow, hedgerows, cat food and an Aga. He was the best ever rabbit catcher and loved sitting on the edge if you were having a bath. Shortly after he died of old age, we spotted a few very small kittens in one of the barns. There were always mostly feral cats around and of course they're notoriously difficult to catch and have spayed, so often there would be kittens about. A few weeks later B's daughter managed to catch them and smuggle them into the house (they were living with B's dad at the time who was refusing to let the cats inside). And that was how we ended up with two cats, Token and Snickers. One of the other kittens disappeared and another one went to B's dad's cleaner just around the corner. The mother cat then had another litter and after that B's dad managed to catch them and have her spayed. The mother cat and the half-brother of our two now live with him, and they are all so similar that we all have trouble telling them apart from time to time. Like Bodog, they're living the life of Reilly in the acres of fields with wildlife to watch and catch and a warm Aga to come home to. A cat's life couldn't be much better.

B's dad's cat Tinks, who desperately wants a cuddle but is always a little shy still

And then of course there is 'parttime dog'. Marley is a cross between a golden retriever and a collie and belongs to my elderly neighbour who is too frail to walk him. I finally got to know her after Marley escaped into my garden one day and I went to return him. I asked if we could take him for a walk occasionally as he was obviously overweight and we used to go for short walks after supper anyway. In summer he gets walked several times a week, in winter it's a bit less so, but he is always happy to see us, even if the walks get longer all the time and I need to start taking into consideration that he's no spring chicken anymore (14 in July). A walk wouldn't feel right now without Marley with me, and as I don't feel I could give a dog of my own the full time and attention it needs, it's the perfect solution.

So there you have it, my life with animals. Maybe, just maybe, one day, I'll have my own cat or my own dog. I hope so!