If you’ve ever had a pet, then you’re intimately acquainted with death – especially if you grew up with one. This piece you’re reading now (as opposed to a completely different piece you may once have read six years ago) is about having pets, loving pets and losing pets, with a few detours along the way to incorporate things like the Rat Jesus, inter-species murder and mafia slayings. I lost four of my pets this year. Three rats and a dog. This is their tribute, delivered the only way I know how: not very well.
One of our first family pets was a budgie called Paddy; he lived during the height of The Troubles, and he was blue. I’d like to think that the act of naming him was some sort of artistic comment on the futility of Scottish sectarianism, but it’s possible that my mum was just racist, and had to fall back on her second choice of offensive racial nickname after Sambo was vetoed.
Anyway, Paddy didn’t live long enough to have much of an impact on global race relations, as he was tragically murdered. Who’s your number one suspect? A cat, right? Tsk tsk. You bigoted cattist. And don’t even think about telling me that all of your best friends are cats. No, you feline fascist, the perp wasn’t a cat; although in your defence history does tell us that cats and small birds have been mortal enemies since time immemorial (Bros, Warner., 1963, Sylvester & Tweetie Pie). As far as rivalries go it’s a bit of a one-sided enmity (kind of like the rivalry between the sun and asteroids), and, yes, I’m willing to concede that the cat’s usually the aggressor. What I’m saying is, I can understand the root assumption from which your flagrant cattism sprouts. But you’re wrong, friend. Paddy didn’t meet his maker at the jaws and claws of a cunning cat: he died a statistical anomaly, having been snuffed out by an over-excited dog. What a twist.
The dog came bounding into our house with its visiting owner at the same time as Paddy was enjoying one of his brief periods of liberation, free from his cage and happily toddling and hopping about the living room floor. The spaz-tongued, slobbering beast pulled free from its owner’s grip, hurtled in to the living room, and gave our feathery little fella the gift of a massive and fatal heart-attack – as I suppose creatures fifty times the size of you are want to do. A little while later, after the requisite period of budgie mourning (two hours and eleven minutes) we got Paddy II. A little truer to expectations, Paddy II was skillfully – and lovingly – eviscerated by our first cat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the family declined the option of a Paddy III. As my mother put it: “I’m not having a bloody horse coming in and trampling this one to death.” Also, my mother well knew that the final installment of any trilogy is usually the shittest. She’s right… isn’t she… Spider Man 3? Stop your smirking, Godfather 3, you’re next!
I think it’s weird that we keep pets (especially fish. They’re excruciatingly boring. You might as well keep a brick as a pet). Sometimes I look down at my pet cat as it brushes against my leg and think, ‘How did this happen? This is surreal. Why is this four-legged creature living in my house?’ You could argue that keeping a pet is a ridiculous, pointless and incredibly wasteful act. Look after your own genes, or the genes of another of your species: don’t invest your time in the well-being of a creature that shits in a box and licks its own arsehole. Sure, you could argue that case. I’d counter that our ability to indulge in these seemingly pointless acts of nurturing might just be one of the more important stitches in the patchwork-quilt of our humanity.
Having a pet can teach you about compassion and selflessness. It can also, as I’ve glibly demonstrated, teach you about death. Perhaps, in a strange way, we’re nothing but masochists. Owning a pet is like saying: ‘I don’t believe that I’ve been subjected to quite enough in the way of human loss and agony. I’d quite like to experience grief and heartache through a variety of different species, please.’
In a world crammed with suffering, the greater share of which happens unseen or unimagined by mankind – i.e. the never-ending reclamation of flesh as carbon through tooth and claw – why do we desire to bring a proportion of that invisible suffering into sharp focus by ensnaring an animal, developing feelings for it and then observing it as it gradually dies before our very eyes? What a curious species we are. In this year alone, during which I’ve wept not a centiliter of ocular fluid for a single fallen human at home or abroad, I’ve cried genuine tears of grief over the bodies of three rats and a dog.
This piece you’re reading serves as both obituary and commemoration for four special creatures that were plucked from their ancestral destinies within the animal kingdom’s brutal pyramid, and placed – plump and cosseted – upon a man-made pedestal. And loved with a deepness not often seen between two different species outside of underground German movies from the early 1980s.
So RIP, you wonderful, fun-filled, furry little fuckers. I’ll always remember you. You may have spent most of your time eating, shitting, pissing and sleeping, but, collectively and individually, you still lived more worthwhile lives than the cast of Geordie Shore.
CLICK BELOW TO READ THE NEXT PAGE OF THE ARTICLE