Christine’s post in response to Jake’s challenge this week started me thinking about pets, and my relationship with them. I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I would be unable to live anywhere that would force me to forego the pleasure, and companionship, of a pet. Throughout my life – wanderlust notwithstanding – they have been the constant. Further, while I may enjoy my own company and love to be alone, there’s a predicate to that assertion of independence: with my animal beside me, or waiting for me when I come home. Let me introduce you to the animals in my life, and perhaps then you’ll understand how it is that I have come to these conclusions.
Ruggles was only six weeks to my toddler status when we first met. For a while I was bigger than him, a fact, which I’m sure, I exploited mercilessly, in the manner of older siblings. You will understand his satisfaction then when the unfortunate Rosemary arrived one Christmas to take his place at dress-ups, and in the pram. Good naturally (or was it because he was permanently on duty?) he would escort us as I sallied forth from our Willow Tree House by the dam to take the air, wheeling that battered perambulator up and down the dusty driveway, as far as the cattle ramp, down by the road. He was my playmate, my first friend. He was the first being on whom I consciously lavished love. (Of course I loved my parents, and showered them with hugs and kisses whenever cheeks were proffered for that purpose, but parents lavish love on their children, not the other way around, during those years of self-absorption.)
Almost 20 years later, returning to Canada to set up house after a year in a van in Europe, a little grey striped tabby singled me out at the ‘pound’ to be followed, miraculously, by her matching number in solid colours, an unwanted bundle of joy from a neighbour’s litter. Why was it that, even in Toronto the Clean, it wasn’t mandatory to have cats (and dogs) de-sexed in those days? Thea, the tabby, was an aerialist, routinely climbing up and down shingled or brick walls, leaping from roof to roof, from our third floor attic flat. Gaia, as you can imagine, was more rooted to the hearth. It was R’s first experience of pet-fatherhood, and those two girls were shameless; they quickly turned him into their slave. Luckily they did the same to his sister, whose house they invaded when we returned to Australia in 1983.
Amber and her friend (and eventual adoptive brother) Red ruled our lives in Sydney, going to live with their father after the divorce. Like many childless couples, we had the romantic notion of ‘letting her have a litter’, which she did, insisting on the tent under the sheets as her birthing room. A little lilac girl was driven all the way up to Queensland to brighten the lives of her grandparents, but that didn’t turn out well. Never fear, several years later my little sister Nangi and I came home to look after them. Ma was a terrible snob, and was heard telling that understanding animal that she wasn’t nearly beautiful enough to win her over. But Ma hadn’t counted on the fortitude of that very Buddhist cat – the more the old lady turned away in disdain, the more comfort that little moggie gave in return.
And you know the Misses Kotte: Maggie, Mischief and Podi the cat.