I haven’t kept a pet for a long time. There’s Boris the undercouch spider but I’ve had to evict him twice and if he’s come back again, he’s keeping out of sight. Can’t blame him I suppose. He’s not a real pet anyway. More a roommate.
As a teenager I had a budgie called Fred. A blue male budgie with attitude. He couldn’t fly, never bothered to learn, and he had a bald belly where his seed gut hung over the perch. His cage was on one of those chrome stands and when I opened the cage and stood well back, he’d climb out, slide down the stand like a fireman’s pole and terrorise the Dalmatians.
There were two Dalmatians. William and Jason. Lovely dogs but thick as shit, even for dogs. They wagged their tails like an Egyptian pyramid builder’s whip so they always had a plaster on the end where they’d whipped a kitchen cupboard. Every bath time was the same. “We’re in the house. We’re inside. We even get to go upstairs! Oh fuck, it’s the bathroom”. Too late boys, it’s scrubbing time.
They were terrified of Fred. He’d waddle out from under a chair and screech at them and even though they were big enough to splat him with a paw, they ran.
Okay, everyone was scared of Fred. He outlived the Dalmatians and set to scaring my mother’s Siamese cat. It tried to do the cat thing but it was clinically insane anyway. It would run into the living room, do a Wall of Death around the sofa and run out again for no reason I was ever able to determine. Fred was having none of the ‘cat and bird’ nonsense. In his world, it was bird bites cat and the cat finally worked it out.
Fred died when my mother was in the room. He was hanging on for the right time. He let out a squawk and fell off his perch with a thud and an evil smile. Scared the crap out of my mother.
I’ve had budgies since. Ashtray and Souffle, a grey and a white, who even hated each other. But I got to where I had to sell them on, it was student time. Money was too tight for pets.
Then there was Agamemnon. A house spider in a maze made of plastic boxes. He was a happy spider, the flies I let into the maze weren’t quite so happy. A tip if you want to keep a spider – they can’t drink. They get their water from what they suck out of prey. They do appreciate a small bit of wet sponge to soak their fangs on though.
There were other pets, mostly fish because fish are easy to look after and rarely try to kill you. I had a pond in the garden for a time but two really vicious winters killed everything in it, so I gave up on ponds.
The most memorable, I suppose, was LHB the hamster. This was the ultimate grumpy pet, one to rival CynaraeStMary’s Igor. He once bit a sheepdog’s nose. The dog got too inquisitive, poked his nose at the bars and LHB must have thought it was a huge raisin.
He tolerated me most of the time but even I was a ‘handle with care’ owner. The slightest excuse to bite, he’d take it. Cage cleaning was a battle of wills. I wanted it clean, he wanted it filthy. Hence his name. Little Hairy Bastard.
I have to say I was impressed with his exercise ball skills. He could run that thing full tilt towards a wall and handbrake-turn it away at the last moment.
He started losing hair at one point. I consulted a vet. ‘Mites’ was the diagnosis. Very common apparently. They itch and scratch so much they actually end up almost bald. Without hair, it became clear that he was wearing the skin of a much bigger animal and had never thought to iron it.
The cure was, said the vet, very simple. “Take this powder, fill a sink with water and dissolve the powder in it, then lower the hamster in gently and wash him all over”.
Okay, that simply wasn’t going to happen. I needed to keep all my fingers intact and the thought of trying to sleep at night with LHB in a murderous rage… no. Yet I couldn’t let him suffer the mites. They were putting him in a much worse mood than usual.
So I compromised. I got him into his exercise ball and lowered him into the sink. He, of course, went ballistic. I tried to tell him it was a treatment for his itchiness but I swear he mouthed ‘You are so fucking dead’ just before his final dunking.
In the end, of course, it was him who died. Hamsters only have two years. In a final act of bastardry, he locked his teeth around one of the cage bars before taking his last breath.
Oh I wasn’t surprised. I’d have been disappointed if he hadn’t done something like that. I had to prise him off the bar, hoping all the time he wasn’t bluffing and playing dead just to get my fingers within reach. He wasn’t. I buried him.
Some might think this all a bit unlikely, but hey, at least I didn’t dig up his corpse and give it a wash…
For the record, I’m also Welsh and bought LHB in my mid twenties. It’s some kind of Welsh version of a mid life crisis or something.