A pet is for life says Karen Kay

PUBLISHED: 11:10 02 May 2014

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..


If pester power worked, we would have a pet by now. But we don’t. And it makes me feel bad.

There are many reasons mothers feel guilty: we do too much for our kids. We don’t do enough for our kids. We discipline them. Or we don’t. We give them too much sugar. We work. Or we don’t.

Just being a mum comes laden with the burden of culpability for our every action. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m desperate to do the right thing by my daughter. But, guilt is a heavy load to bear, and hauling it around day in, day out, weighs you down. And nobody is perfect. If I realise I’ve made a mistake, I do my utmost to learn the lesson, put it behind me and look to the future. Relatively guilt-free… except where pets are concerned.

Because pets tug at my heartstrings, too. I have happy memories of Pickle, our first cat, making furry figures of eight as she wrapped herself around my spindly six year old legs. In later years, I loved it when the black bundle of fur that was Purdey curled up on my lap as he purred along to Lesley Judd and Peter Purves on Blue Peter.

My little sister diligently cared for a guinea pig and rabbit, sweeping droppings away and replenishing bedding with handfuls of carefully laid out hay. She wanted to be a vet and relished the rituals of caring for these tiny furry beasts, and I adored that in her. She inherited a pony, a beautiful creature which had belonged to our cousins. Come rain or shine, she would cycle to the stables every day after school to muck out, brush and feed him.

But that was her. I was in awe of her ability to give so willingly. I was, and still am, different. I can’t find the time to look after myself properly, let alone an animal. Some days, a canine companion appeals: the sun is shining and I imagine grabbing a lead and heading off into the woods on a walk. But when I’m under pressure at work, and have housework preying on my mind, the idea of a rain-soaked ramble with a reluctant mutt is just not on my wish-list.

When, in moments of madness, I have fleeting fancies of a Newfoundland bounding around in my life, I’m brought back down to earth when I think of them slobbering everywhere. I find hamsters and mice in cages rather repellent and certainly couldn’t countenance reptiles, birds or other beasts in my life.

But I’m not completely coldhearted. I confess, I would dearly love to have a cat meandering around our home. I like their sense of self, their lack of need. They give and lap up affection in equal measures, but conversely, they’re content to fend for themselves when you forget to feed them as you rush off on an overnight trip.

So, I’ve coveted a short-haired grey – a ‘Sheba’ cat – for many, many years. But it’s not to be. In my twenties, I developed an allergy to cats and horses that has left me hospitalised on a couple of occasions, and in severe discomfort on others. The only pet I feel an emotional draw to is off limits.

But then I had a child, and her needs and desires come into play. It is no longer about ‘me’, but about ‘us’ as a family. And, without a sibling at home to keep her company, I understand her wish to share her days with something small and furry. She reminds me of my sister as her smaller self, with her sweetly nurturing character and aspirations to be a vet. And my heart warms when I see her little eyes sparkle as she cosies up to her aunt’s lovely Labrador.

I can’t cope with a canine in my life. I’d fail the poor thing on so many levels, and I’d never forgive myself if I had to drop it off at the Dogs Trust, with a Paddington Bear-style missive to care for it better than I could.

But I’m coming around to the idea of something more manageable. A rabbit perhaps. Something that we can care for together, while our six year-old reaps the benefits of her bunny friend. I’m not immune to their fluffy little bodies, and I can see that our daughter would take great delight in such a cute addition to the family.

You see, here’s the thing. I feel guilty denying her that rite of passage: that innate need to give part of yourself over to caring for something more vulnerable and dependent. I can’t be the one to say she can’t be as loving to a pet as my sister has always been, because she has that compassion for animals in bucketloads. Who am I to tell her that she must put that to one side? What kind of a mother would that make me? And who knows, I may become a better person for it

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