My family … and other animals

2009-03-09 00:00

This is no reflection on the members of my family — honestly, they are delightful, all of them — but the more time you spend at home, the closer you get to your pets. The four of us, a couple of dogs, one cat and me, get along famously. They perhaps see me as the vital link in their food chain, while I have come to appreciate that they are not joined at the hip to a laptop or by the ear to an iPod, and two of them have the good grace to wag their tails when I tell them why the Sharks should win the Super 14.

The cat is a red Burmese with the disdainful approach to life of a Siamese but without the sound effects. He is fairly normal except he thinks he is a dog. His very first trick was to chase after things and bring them back. I wish he would teach the dogs — I find fetching tennis balls tiresome and it looks silly.

Our cat also likes going for walks, but he can’t jump for toffee and he has no sense of balance. He keeps falling off things.

Nowhere on his CV would you find any mention of an ability to catch birds or nasty rodents. Food is served regularly from the kitchen and often in response to knocking over the box of cat biscuits and then waiting for my response. Pavlov apparently had a theory about this.

He likes travelling by car and occasionally takes off with visitors. An Automobile Association mechanic, after one of his regular calls, was driving up the driveway when he found our cat under the front seat munching on his lunch.

The most recent addition to the household is a big black dog of uncertain extraction. He was supposed to be a goldfish. The family had trekked off to the pet shop to replace the latest dead guppy, only to return clutching a puppy.

“He’s a cross-Anatolian shepherd dog,” explained the wife as if she had pulled off a major shopping coup. “He comes from Turkey and he kills wolves and things.”

The Anatolian puppy, Google said, would grow into a small horse (gulp) and there is a certain romanticism to the breed. In Namibia, they are in the frontline of the cheetah conservation programme. They live with the livestock and drive away the cheetah who were being killed off by angry locals. This would all be jolly if our dog was indeed an Anatolian shepherd. But he is not. The pet shop sold us a dummy, something between a border collie and an Irish setter, but with the backbone of cooked pasta. He will bark but only if it is safe — when he has backup and is protected by the fence — and he would be hopeless if faced by a cheetah, a leopard or, to be honest, an ageing Jack Russell. He is, at heart, a gold fish.

The senior member of the pet brigade is a dignified border collie. Bevis came via Jack Haskins, head of the SAP Search and Rescue team and he is, I’m afraid, a sacked police dog. He was trained to sniff out drugs but, intimidated by big, noisy Alsatians at the police kennels, he failed and was retrenched. He hates loud noises. The sounds of Diwali, Guy Fawkes and thunder reduce him to a shivering wreck. Obviously police work was not for him. You just can’t have your police dog taking refuge with the fleeing robber every time a policeman discharges his firearm.

Much of the excitement has gone out of Bevis’s life. He is now nine years old and, in his own way, has also settled for early retirement. Our feather duster, for some obscure reason, is his only real source of excitement. It clearly takes him back to his younger days on the force and he chases it around the garden with gay abandon.

But he is one dog who has most definitely had his day. Shortly after he arrived as a sprightly, handsome youngster just out of his teens, the bitch next door went into heat. Fresh from the confines of boarding school, Bevis thought he had found his doggy heaven as his new suitor came a-calling and a-calling and a-calling. Not once but twice our exhausted but smiling hero, literally out on his feet, had to be carried home.

It has been largely downhill for Bevis since those heady days, his mundane life is now little more than a battered feather duster ... and fading memories of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll.

It’s the story of life, really — the rooster of today is the feather duster of tomorrow.

• John Bishop has recently retired as sports editor of The Witness.

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