When I was a little girl (no jokes about how long ago that was) all I wanted was a wombat for a pet. I’d read a book by Nan Chauncy and the girl in that had a wombat, so I became determined to have one. My dad, God love him, took me seriously, found out some information about keeping wombats – destructive tank like creatures with their impressive teeth and claws – so he build a concrete and corrugated iron house behind the washing line for my wombat, complete with window and door. I was excited and happy.
But – yes, you knew that was coming – I did not get my wombat. Further advice was taken from a zoo keeper who said it really wasn’t possible to have a wombat as a pet, despite my father’s building and my desperation, it was deemed an idea destined for disaster.
Gentle reader, I did not get over this, despite appearances to the contrary. A few years later there was a TV show in Oz called A Country Practice and on that show the doctor had a pet wombat, called Fatso. I was a very-very unhappy girl – how could this be so, when wombats were not pet material! This injustice remained all my life, so when my baby girl said she wanted a pig for a pet when we moved from Darwin to Deviot in Tasmania, well, there was no way she was being denied the way I had been.
Rosie could easily have been a wombat. She too, was a tank of an animal with that powerful snout and aggressive trotters. She turned her pleasant undulating enclosure into dirt and mud in a matter of months. She had a concrete and corrugated iron shed, with an open door, and a view over the river.
But she was never quite the pet we imagined in our promissory conversations. She escaped regularly, only enticed back by food; she killed the odd chicken who came into her space; she frightened the life out of Zanz when he was brand new; she bellowed for food and seemed on the whole not a very happy pig. To be sure we made many errors and would do it all differently now, but, and this is the key – Pallas loved Rosie and it’s fair to say Rosie loved Pallas back. Pallas was allowed into the enclosure to change straw, rub her tummy (as was Dave) and generally be with her. Rosie knew whose pig she was. And Pallas knew her parents loved her enough to get her the pet she wanted, despite the many and varied challenges Rosie presented for all of us.
In the early days of life with my beloved I had two cats and he had one. There were pecking order issues, but we rubbed along together. Siska, my abandoned fluffy white beauty, was not that fond of other people. But she took a shine to Dave and her affection for him, when none had been present for any previous boyfriend, was one of the main reasons I knew he was the ‘one’.
So, we have had a range of animals and children since we took up together all those years ago in gorgeous Gove, a place no-one whose lived there ever gets over. Our first Shepherd was a ‘give away’ on the Gove notice-board and Persia was the sweetest, gentlest thing, who coped with toddlers shouting at her and rolling over her, bashing her with their little fists. My beloved and I were heart-broken when she had to be put down. Since then we’ve had more cats, dogs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, fish and rabbits.
There is a large body of research about the benefits of pets, for the young, for the ill and for the elderly. Pets help in the recovery from illness; they help the old and lonely feel connected and wanted; they help kids learn responsibility and sadly, about death and loss. Pets love you, no matter what. They ask for very little: food, grooming, a walk (perhaps not your tortoise or hedgehog, or fish), affection and attention – yes, they need time and the right space for their needs. A pet doesn’t shout at you, gossip about you; they forgive you and love you unconditionally. A pet does you far more good than you do it.
Animals get to you, they get inside your lives, your hearts and minds and when things happen to them it is like something has happened to members of your family. I remember when Siska died in 1986, from kidney failure. I was alone in Darwin, on some in-service, and all I could do after I’d spoken to the vet was cry the night away. An over-reaction perhaps but she and I’d been through a lot together. She (and Bundy, her kitten) were my first pets; she’d followed me to uni a couple of times and managed to get herself lost, and then found; she came to Queenstown with me and then to the NT. She was my mate, my fluffy, huffy gorgeous girl and I cried buckets. Attila, Dave’s cat disappeared in Darwin, never to be seen again, so we were left wondering… Not nice either.
This is the downside of pets. They die. You outlive them. Despite all your hopes of immortality for them, they expire before you do. And it’s hard. It’s horrible but it’s not enough reason not to have them.
Last week we nearly lost Zanz. Out of nowhere he seemed to age 10 years over-night, he was listless and completely devoid of energy – he was absolutely not himself. After some discussion and a terrible walk to the park he went to the vet. His spleen had ruptured and he was hours away from death.
Happily the surgery was completely successful and after a terrible night of worry and anxiety he came home to us, big scar, shaved tummy and very quiet. But a week later, he’s on his way back to his Tigger-bounce self. He’s nearly nine, so his life is nearing it’s end (big dogs live less than little dogs) and it may be sooner rather than later. But, he’s one of us, a central member of our family, he came from Australia with us, travels to France with us, loves us to bits as we love him. When he finally goes I will cry an ocean for him and be sad for a long time. But I’ll never regret having him. He has brought nothing but joy and happiness into our lives.
Looking after another creature is good for you, it shows you care, it makes you less selfish, a better person. Stroking a pet is a soothing, calming thing, caring for a pet, no matter what sort, connects you to other living things, reminds you of your place in the wider world. Caring for pets improves/maintains your social skills; helps your mental health and, I think, increases your capacity to love and be loved.
Pets are powerful creatures and don’t you need more power in your life? (Images courtesy Private Collection)