The more my kids’ childhoods look nothing like my own (living abroad; live-in maids, backyard swimming pools and so on) the more determined I am to draw some parallels with my own upbringing.
Which brings us neatly to my latest lesson: Pets are fun, and then they die.
Just before Christmas, Family Little City expanded. After years of occasional but persistent requests from the kids, we decided the time was finally right to welcome our first pet into the family.
Having just moved to the UAE we thought there wouldn’t be a better time. The act of getting one at all sends out subliminal messages to the kids that we’re settling down and will be here in Abu Dhabi for a while. Getting one also encourages responsibility and develops skills in caring for another living creature.
But in the main, pet ownership is a lifelong series of lessons in Innovative Ways That Small Creatures Can Die: trapped under things, electrocuted, drowned, eaten, squashed…the list is endless. It’s an excellent way for kids to discover that Sometimes Bad Things Happen For No Reason.
Mrs LC comes from a dog family, with the occasional cat thrown in for good measure. My brother’s asthma prevented us from having ‘regular’ pets, so we had to think outside the cage.
He kept tropical fish for a while (fun to look at; tedious to clean) and then a chameleon which he proudly reminded me that he managed to keep alive longer than the author of a book on “How to keep your chameleons”. This despite losing it on holiday in France and almost freezing it to death in Norway.
My sister had rabbits, at least one of which she discovered minus its head one morning before school, thanks to a neighbour’s escaped ferret. There was also a Canada Goose with a broken wing that we took in for no discernible reason; his fate is unclear.
I had a couple of hamsters, the first of which was called Hannibal (back when Hannibal was a series of books about a lovable brave pet, and not a series of books about a psychotic cannibal).
He got stuck in his bedding and died of suffocation; his feeble replacement (who I unimaginatively named Hammy, almost as if I knew he wasn’t going to be around for long) died of heatstroke on one of the UK’s rare sunny days.
As you’ve probably already discovered, hamsters make shoddy pets – their hearts give out at the slightest provocation. You’d only have to say “Qatar’s raised the price of petrol by 30% overnight!” and it would probably drop dead of shock.
With all this comedy gold in my own childhood, it would be churlish to deny the same opportunity to my kids.
So we took a pre-Christmas trip to the German Veterinary Clinic in Khalifa City. (They’re a great clinic but like so many vets are also pretty pricy. It’s fair to point out to local readers that other vets are available, and we’ve heard very good things about the Australian Veterinary Hospital too.)
We told the kids it was just a visit to their monthly adoption open house, and we may not find anything we all liked. And we can come back another time. But none of it mattered.
This mewling little thing made a beeline for Amnesiac the second she set eyes on him, and that was pretty much that.
Our rescue cat already had a name – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert! – which is a fabulous stroke of genius, but also a bit of a mouthful as well as being mildly inappropriate for this part of the world (yes, yes, I know Priscilla’s the name of the bus, but still).
So we headed home, and had shortened it to Pip before we hit the first roundabout.
Mother of dragons
Pip’s new year resolution is to not trash any curtains if left alone in the house on Christmas Day again.
Returning home with Abu Dhabi’s finest roast turkey (from your friends and mine at the Fairmont Hotel) imagine my surprise to discover she had brought down two sets of curtains and a curtain rail in some kind of festive feline fabric frenzy.
She was so traumatised by the whole experience (the curtains must have looked like one of Daenerys’ dragons from Game of Thrones swooping down to eat her as they plummeted earthwards) that she spent the entire Christmas weekend hiding under the sofa.
Since then she’s started to relax, although she remains highly skittish. The kids are learning basic lessons in feeding and cleaning up after her, and all is well with our newly-extended family.
Until the inevitable tragedy…
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PS Everything you need to know about families and pet ownership can be found in under a minute of the original Poltergeist, when the family’s pet canary dies (“Tweety, couldn’t you have waited for a school day?”)
The backyard burial – a shoebox, a prayer – is played out with one sibling rolling their eyes, the other wanting to see the bird’s bones; the dog licking its lips and then starting to dig up the box as soon as the humans’ backs are turned; and then the glorious punchline: little Carol Anne (whose bird it was), turns, shrugs her shoulders and breezily asks “Can I get a goldfish now?”