Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Fur and whiskers

A lot of people have pets as substitutes for children or lovers, but since I've never wanted children and I already have a very affectionate lover, a pet is not on my shopping list.

When I was a child, my parents had a Scottish terrier but the poor dog was driven neurotic by my super-strict father who would punish him for vices like not sitting patiently in his basket while we ate.

In his later years he would pad around nervously and cringe whenever my father approached him. My father used to say it was the dog's fault for being rebellious.

I know several people utterly devoted to their dogs or cats, which clearly enrich their lives and give them immense pleasure.

But I find it odd when pet-owners say they prefer animals to people, that animals are always loyal and friendly while people are treacherous and two-faced. Well so they are but they do have their attractions too - you can't have a conversation with Rover about the emotional impact of Mark Rothko or the narrative skills of Ian McEwan.

I feel sorry for pets that are treated like accessories and playthings and denied their proper dignity and respect. At one time it was the height of fashion to dress dogs in fancy coats and I would see all these humiliated tartan-clad dogs trying desperately to make themselves invisible.

Worse still, the dressed-up dogs might then be trained to do party tricks like standing on their hind legs or jumping through hoops, while their owners beamed with pride at these demeaning feats.

And as for the trend towards ever-tinier miniature dogs, so small you trip over them and their fragile bodies are subject to nasty afflictions like chronic arthritis, that's a sort of canine equivalent of Chinese foot-binding.

No, I love watching the neighbour's ginger cat prowling our garden imperiously, sniffing for traces of alien cats invading its territory. But one of my own? No way. I still prefer rock and paperbacks to fur and whiskers.


  1. I cannot imagine not having pets but I've never said I prefer them to people. Mr. M and I had two cats and two dogs and now we're just down to one dog. The rest dead from cancer. Pets are a small tragedy waiting to happen.

  2. Maybe a big tragedy and not just a small one. A pet's death can be as devastating to its owner as a human death and I think those of us without pets can sometimes be very insensitive about it.

  3. As a long time pet owner, I have to allow you your pet-free status. for myself, they have given me far more than I've ever given them.
    Right now I'm slave to a rescue collie-husky mix that arrived into my life just over two years ago, 1-1/2 years after my previous beloved had died. I allow her her dignity and she allows me mine and I would never even put a bow on her not to mention other paraphernelia. She protects me and guards me and I feed her and walk her and tell her how great she is. Works out pretty evenly :>)Great post Nick.

  4. That's great that your pets have given you so much, and great that you respect their dignity. Lucky them, when pets are so subject to the good owner/bad owner lottery.

  5. Oh I saw one the other day in town - a tiny black hairless thing clearly bred that way - It was appalling. Looked like a big rat!

  6. One of the few sights that will make my heart smile every time is one of my cats chasing something in the garden. Sometimes they feel like the only touchstone in my life.

    But I won't put collars on them or keep them indoors, pets are animals. They deserve food and water, shelter, vet trips and training and affection, then to be left alone as much as possible to do their own thing.

    The way we treat our pets in the West often makes me wonder just how pampered a civilization we might be judged to be in future history books!

  7. Con - sounds hideous. How could you show any affection for something that looks like a rat?

    Bell - the only touchstone in your life - that's quite something. But not all pets are so pampered - those stories of houses full of neglected, whimpering pets sleeping in their own pee are depressingly frequent.