We’ve recently acquired a rabbit, and with the two guinea pigs, that makes a crowd.
We’re constantly being told about the benefits of keeping pets – they minimise the risk of developing allergies, lower our blood pressure and teach children empathy and a sense of responsibility.
In our house, pets have merely raised our blood pressure and created conflict.
We started off at the bottom of the evolutionary chain, with ‘Sea Monkeys’. Having read the instructions I wasn’t hopeful that these little larvae would add much to our lives.
The packaging clearly stated that anyone over the age of 35 would not be able to see the eggs without the aid of a magnifying glass. That excluded half the family from the excited anticipation of imminent new life.
But Hannah was enthralled and keen to measure out the correct amount of water, mix in sachets of powder, and observe the floating specks that she insisted were sea monkey eggs and I suspected were stray nits.
Every day she carefully aerated these invisible particles of detritus. If you haven’t experienced the joys of Sea Monkeys, this involves pouring the contents of the little plastic container into a jug and back again, three times. This, it says on the packet, will give them plenty of oxygen.
Evidently not enough, in our case.
Next rung up the evolutionary ladder were Stick Insects. You don’t get much for free these days but a neighbour was giving them away. Sadly they’re only slightly more endearing than Sea Monkeys and are over-enthusiastic breeders. I fear Jersey Royal potatoes may be facing a new pest in the years to come.
We realised we would have to move onto something warm-blooded, so after a carefully orchestrated war of attrition we agreed to the two guinea pigs for our son’s birthday. They are furry, they don’t bite and don’t live for more than 8 years.
On the plus side they are relatively maintenance-free. You can take them on the ferry to France and no-one bats an eye-lid.
But they’re scared of their own shadows. They endure being handled, rather than like it. They’re simply not affectionate in the way that children demand and you can’t escape the fact they’re a bit, well, boring.
So with the next birthday we took another step up the double helix. A rabbit this time, for our daughter. She’s still a relative novelty (the rabbit, not the daughter) but so far she’s been a big hit. She definitely likes a cuddle.
We’ve even introduced her to the guinea pigs – a little sniffing and the newcomer was accepted as an oversized member of the cavey club.
Until the dawn of the mating season.
In the last few weeks I have had to remove an amorous bunny from a furiously squeaking guinea pig countless times, and we are anticipating it will take a hefty vet’s bill to dampen her ardour.
All three animals may be female, but internet pet forums confirm that this matters not a jot when Spring is in full flood. Any port in a storm.
For now, we think the rabbit has plugged the pet-gap, but they still complain that Sunday walks would be more fun with a dog and I fear the barriers are crumbling. I’ve even been heard arguing the merits of standard poodles.
And I don’t have a leg to stand on. I grew up with cats, dogs, goldfish and tortoises, so how can I deny my own children their turn?
Of course once the initial excitement has evaporated and we’ve managed a summer’s worth of willing walks, guess who will be getting up early to give the puppy its morning constitutional, clearing up after accidents and dealing with the vet’s bills.
dog’s Mum’s life.