To read a little bit more about the bigger project the following is an excerpt from, click on over to January.
Otis is our first family pet. Growing up, we had so many pets, I don’t think I could accurately recount them all. I mean, the big ones, I remember. We had, over the years, six dogs (two of which had a litter of eight puppies, entirely unplanned) two horses, two rabbits and somewhere near forty guinea pigs (my sister and I bred them quite successfully for a time). Then there were the slightly less memorable ones, the smaller pets that have all merged into a series of tanks and cages – mice, finches, budgies, fish and yabbies (my brother’s domain). Although I remember Morris the budgie, he was green and my sister wanted to train him. There was also Claire the Peachface who nearly died laying an egg. We rescued ducklings from the pool when it rained too hard, swallows fell out of their mud nests, too small to help. The dogs deposited, unharmed, baby rabbits at our feet and we once found a whole litter of mice that the parents had abandoned momentarily (while we were clearing out the stables). We tried to raise them in a cardboard box in my sister’s bedroom, but it didn’t really work, much to our devastation. I’m sure there were others that have slipped my mind: certainly there were native birds wrapped in tea towels and popped in boxes to rest, stunned by a collision with a window. There was the occasional possum we then passed on to WIRES. Our cattle dog once brought up a tiny sugar glider from the bush and gave it to Mum. We couldn’t quite convince mum to let us get rats or ferrets, not for want of trying. We also tried to order ducklings once, over the phone, except our best friends’ mum walked in on us and we had to abort the mission. But we had enough going on: the stables overflowed with hutches and kennels and Sundays were spent cleaning them out and giving the pigs and the rabbits some time on the grass. Often, one or two of the guinea pigs would break out, make a run for the bush in which they most certainly wouldn’t survive. They’d fight, too, sometimes – I stuck my hand in once to separate them and copped a huge bite in the soft fleshy bit between thumb and forefinger. On days that required a little extra excitement, we’d make one of the dogs (the faster one) chase the horses and fling ourselves out the way at the last minute, Sally or Tally cantering past, trying to lose Max at their heels. Animals – our pets, and the ones in the bush – were a part of the fabric.
Over the years, many of our pets met dramatic ends. The finches were attacked by rats or magpies, not sure, but I found them, headless on the floor of their cage one morning, before school. One of my guinea pigs (Tabitha) had eight still-born babies, and I found them, still in their sacks, on Boxing Day. After that, I always made my sister check the newest litters, just in case. I remember standing with Mum in the paddock as her horse, Tally, died. He was thirty, she had bred him, been with him since he was a foal. He kept trying to get up, instinct kicking in, but he couldn’t. Mum kept him calm, this huge animal, right at the end of a long and happy life. He listened to her voice, he knew she was there. Max the cattle dog had to be put down the morning before we all got on a plane to go and visit family in the USA. Jackson, the English Pointer died three weeks before I was due home back in 2012. I’m still not over it. Losing these animals has stayed with me as much as having them and I think, perhaps, that’s what is so essential about growing up with a pet – loss. Of all the things children have to navigate with their pets – responsibility, fear, love – loss is the hardest of them all.
My husband, meanwhile, had a cat. He made it to seventeen and keeled over on my birthday this year. He was small, cranky and adored. His name was Grauchen.