Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

The Power of Pets

March 1, 2014

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’.

siska and dave

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.

attilla and dave 1

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)

How Many Faces Do You Have?

September 8, 2012

No, I’m not talking about madness or hypocrisy, although we could come close in this discussion, but consider the faces you wear to get through your day. Are you yourself, your true self all day long, how many masks do you wear?


The truth is most of us wear different faces for different occasions – Eleanor Rigby ‘wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door’ to which Lennon and McCartney then ask – ‘who is it for?’ For years I was bamboozled by that lyric, loved the intrigue of it but now it makes perfect sense: most of us have faces we keep in jars all over the place. Perhaps the jar by the door is where her face for the rest of the world resides?



I work in a profession where you present a certain version of yourself to an audience every day. Yes, teaching is too akin to performing to avoid the actor/audience analogy. By the version of myself that my students receive can’t be too far from the real thing or my lack of authenticity will shine on through and I’ll fail miserably with them. But I can’t be who I really am; it’s not appropriate for them and a bit too exposing for me. Some of me does not belong to the rampant teenage beast.

As I interact with my colleagues it also holds. A level of professionalism must be brought to interactions. I can’t joke, gossip and swear my way through the day. I can, at times, with colleagues who are trusted friends but for the greater hierarchy I must put on a face that approximates who I am, that suits them and doesn’t compromise me. This is hard but necessary. The world of work is a precarious thing, despite what some might like to believe, it is personality driven. I need to work so I present a version of myself that suits the circumstances. When I can no longer live with that version of myself in that workplace, to wit when I have become too personally compromised, I must move on.

It’s one of the eternal struggles: who am I, how should I behave? My lovely baby-girl is caught in this struggle at the moment: a wish to be more assertive, to be less soft. She wants to grow a harder shell, but for the world, not her friends or family. Is that what Eleanor Rigby’s jar holds, a harder shell, a mask as she moves from the security of her home?



We are different people in different situations. It is as it should be. Our true self is something precious and wonderful and it does not belong to everyone. We are cautious with some people, mistrusting and therefore present a resistant face, a position that allows us to wait, judge, consider before we reveal more or even all of ourselves. Remember falling in love, or making new friends – you try out different bits of yourself with them, testing, checking before committing your true self to the relationship.

Animals tell it as it is. Cats mistrust the world, they only go to laps they want to sit in. You may pick it up, but if it doesn’t like you it won’t stay. Thus my beloved came to be the one, as Siska, my fluffy white Persian bucket of mistrust, preferred his attentions over other suitors and to mine! Dogs are the same. My big woof is the gentlest, most divine thing around the house and out walking. But get a post-man or a God-person knocking on the door and his inner beast arises. He’s not that fond of little yappy dogs either and ignores them with disdain.



Knowing ourselves is hard: sharing our true self with others is a fraught business. Think now, how many people can you trust to be absolutely you, in all your glorious contradictions and foolishnesses? They are your true friends. And you know what, they are being true with you too. It’s the only way true friendship and love can endure.




Keep your face in your jar, have a collection of jars, a range of masks; it makes sense. But don’t lose yourself. Remember what Judy Garland said: ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.’ Make sure your faces are authentic versions of you, keep your true friends close and you will remain intact, a person of integrity: someone who can live with themselves and that, my friends, is really quite something. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)