Pets? You ask me about pets? Well, WordPress does, in today’s instalmemt of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’:
“Menagerie. Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you. If no, why have you opted not to?”
Are there animals in my life? Living, as we do, in the depths of rural France ‘yes’ can be the only answer. We are surrounded by farm animals: sheep principally, with horses and cattle thrown in for good measure. Plus the occasional rabbit, sanglier (wild boar), deer and so on. We also often see the coypu that’s living in the ditches along the track we use to get to the main road.
There are various other untamed creatures, some – red squirrels, for example – more pleasant to have around than others: notably the fouine (stone-marten) that had set up home in our roof-space and made our lives a misery for six months after we first moved in. Bastard.
By and large, none of these impinge particularly on our tranquilité, although more than once it’s been the case that a car journey has been delayed by some renegade sheep that have managed to dig their way out under a gate or trampled down the wire that’s supposed to keep them penned up. And, being sheep, if one gets out you can be prety sure that the rest will follow.
This is not a universally popular decision.
There have been pets around in my past. I vaguely remember a black mongrel called Scamp from when I was about ten. Then all of a sudden he had gone. I don’t know why, but it was probably my fault. There followed a less ambitious hamster but it died pretty sharpish (hamsters are not nature’s Methusalehs). There was a black poodle during my teens and early twenties.
As for pets of our own (I say ‘our’, because I can conceive of no possible circumstances where I would ever choose unilaterally to have a pet), there was a cat for a good while. He was okay and then he died. Then there was a psychopathic boxer who left a trail of destruction for a couple of years (it may have been longer; it certainly seemed like it).
Since then – and that was over twenty years ago – nothing, thank you very much.
For the ten years we spent in a high-rise apartment in Abu Dhabi, a pet was not a practical proposition, although we knew some people who would stop at nothing. In some cases, it seemed to me, not even the welfare of the animals in question.
Here in France, there’s plenty of room for a pet, but I have remained firm in my refusal to countenance such a thing. A cat attempted to foist itself on us a few years ago, but thankfully gave up after a while.
Nonetheless, I am regularly presented with images of puppies that some people apparently find appealing. Presumably, this is in the (vain) hope that my loathing of anthropomorphism in all its forms will somehow succumb. It won’t.
I have a stock response to these appeals to a better nature that, when it comes to animals, I entirely lack:
‘It’s a dog”
So what have I got against dogs, you may ask – assuming you’re not too busy getting a contract taken out on me, of course.
First of all, they’re not people. By and large, they don’t pretend to be, which is perfectly decent and honest of them. It’s not a fault, and even if it was it surely wouldn’t be theirs. Unfortunately – and here’s my stumbling block – a lot of real people think that dogs (and cats) are real people too, and treat them as such. In literary terms, this is called ‘the pathetic fallacy’. How appropriate.
As even their most ardent advocates admit, having a pet – particularly a dog, because cats can look after themselves – is rather like having a baby or small child in the house. I can see the merits of this theory. on the basis that they both cost more money than you think, reduce your personal freedom to a mere husk of its former glory and also, especially in the earliest years, display a complete lack of responsibility at one end a loud noise at the other (interchangeably).
However, I would argue that in fact pets are even worse than babies:
- At least you can put a nappy (sorry, diaper) on a baby with reasonable facility
- Babies don’t shed hair on the furniture
- Although babies may well also chew the skirting board and your light fittings, by and large this is less destructive than the results when a dog really puts its mind to it
- Babies don’t smell of wet dog
- Or partly-digested dog food
- Your pet won’t live long enough for you to be a burden to it
So no pets here, thank you very much…Oh wait, there’s some goldfish in our pond. Will that do?