Aunty’s mum and dad’s cat of 19 years, (yes, you read that right – Sammy Cat was 19) just passed away and my mum has tidied up all his toys.  The cat door has now been removed and Sammy Cat is no more.  Sammy was not just any cat.  He was the light of my parents’ life.  They rescued him from an animal shelter 17 years ago.  Some human had mistreated Sammy, (what gives humans the right to hurt any animal?) and the vet didn’t expect him to live the month out.  My parents took him home, cared for, brushed and fed him.  He grew into New Zealand’s answer to Garfield. At 10kg, with inches of hair, he ruled the roost.  He was a truly beautiful cat.  My partner does not like cats at all.  When we visited my parents, I think Sammy sensed hostility.  What better way to overcome haters is there but to confront them head on.  Sammy heaved his bulk up onto my partner’s now frozen lap and started to purr like a tractor.  “Oooh, what is it doing?” partner asked in horror.  I couldn’t believe that he had never experienced the pure pleasure of having a cat purr in your lap.  The noise, warmth and softness helps to relax and calm the recipient while keeping them firmly in the present moment.  Lovely.  My partner did not appreciate this at all.  He sat frozen for the duration until Sammy decided that enough was enough and moved onto the next and more welcoming seat.

Interacting with an animal not only offers relaxation.  We had a sheep dog many years ago.  We called him Boo because he was terrified of his own shadow.  Now Boo wasn’t very bright.  He simply loved to run and this was the reason the farmer got rid of him.  He would run at the sheep but instead of stopping to herd them to the new location, Boo would keep running and scatter the stock.  So we ended up with him and our house sat on 1.5 acres.  Boo would run around and around the house.  He had so much energy and no brains.  Run, run and run some more.  It was hilarious.  We didn’t need to throw him a ball – he would entertain himself for hours.  He eventually wore a deep track around the whole house.  I think Boo eventually passed away due to pure exhaustion.

Then the children came along and begged for a pet.  Knowing that a pet doesn’t ask for anything, gives unconditional love, can provide that calming effect and keep a family laughing, we eventually decided on a Rainbow Lorikeet.  We called him Charlie.  Now there are a few things you need to know about parrots.  Firstly, we didn’t realise they live around 25 years in the wild and longer in captivity.  They make a bit of a mess since they are fruit/nectar eaters so poo everywhere.  But the key issue was that birds like Charlie mate for life and don’t want a stack of mates.  In fact, they feel threatened by others around.  This translated into Charlie loving my then husband and hating me.  Any time I would come near, the bird would attack.  Charlie also liked my 13 year old son and hated the 8 year old.  He would be happily sitting on son no. 1’s shoulder, nibbling away gently at an ear or two then, suddenly spy son no. 2’s little chubby bare foot across the room.  In a flash, Charlie would descend to the floor, run across the carpet and chomp onto that foot.  Another painful scream meant Charile had to go.  But what to do?  Our friend had fallen in love with Charlie so we gifted the bird to friend and his wife.  It was an ‘appro’ arrangement.  We would give them Charlie complete with cage and food and toys and they kept him for a month.  If, after the month, we wanted Charlie back, (we didn’t) or, they decided they didn’t want him, our bird would be returned.  After the month elapsed, our friend’s wife asked how long Charlie would live.  She didn’t like Charlie at all for all the previously mentioned reasons.  Apparently he had already chomped her more than once.  We replied that we really didn’t know – probably 5 years?  A quick Google search revealed the 25 or more years and the friend’s wife was apoplectic.  But hey, a deal is a deal.  Charlie will outlive all of us, I’m sure.  The learning here is, before you acquire a pet, do your homework and go into welcoming the new family member with eyes wide open.

So now we had committed to further research and preparation.  Same children, same nagging for a pet.  This time they wanted a dog.  I told the two boys that, if we were to get a puppy, for a month before the pick up, they were to get up at 6 o’clock am, put a bowl of water and one empty bowl onto the floor, walk around the block for 30 minutes, return home then clean and put away the bowls.  If they could do that for one month, I would get them a dog.  The two boys laughed at us.  No dog was purchased.

Years later, I had thought that once full time work was a forgotten memory, I too would love a West Highland White Terrier.  A little cute girl puppy who would be my constant companion and provide me with lots of fun and unconditional love.  My mum advised me that getting a puppy now would be like having an enthusiastic toddler around for the next 17 or so years.  She would never grow up, organise her own food and water nor take herself for a walk.  She would never get a job nor leave home.  At that thought, I realised I couldn’t make that commitment.  Instead, we feed a family of four magpies.  And I love seeing and hearing them every day.  It is wonderful.  Again, go into acquiring a new family member with eyes wide open.

But we don’t need to own an animal.  We are fortunate to have wildlife parks where you can interact with animals.  I’ve had snakes draped around my neck, held wombats and cuddled wallabies.  Petting an animal is great for the soul.  They are trusting, honest and want nothing from you except some love, food, drink an exercise.  Their love is unconditional.  Nurturing an animal teaches our children to be gentle and to care for another.

Pet, watch or visit an animal.