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Friday, May 16, 2008


Recently I became a pet owner. After being pet-less for years, a recent series of events made me re-evaluate that absence.

I used to live in very close proximity to my landlords. No – I don’t own my own place – that’s another story. The landlords own a terrier, Blackie. Initially Blackie treated me as he does all strangers – furious, fearsome barking. That continued for a short time after I moved in, as we share some common space.

As Blackie came to accept me, the barking became less of ‘who the hell are you?’ to more ‘just reminding you whose boss around here.’ After Mr and Mrs Landlord went away for a weekend and I looked after Blackie, he came to associate me with food – always a bonus when you’re trying to get on the right side of a dog!

The clincher in my friendship with Blackie came when I started taking him on walks to the local shops. He already has a long walk of a morning with Mrs Landlord, but what dog could knock back the chance of peeing on some more trees?

Blackie became my great little mate. He was there by the back gate when I arrived home, tail wagging and glad to see me. If his ‘mum’, Mrs Landlord, is home, he makes a furious barking fuss. But if he’s alone, it is a much quieter but still enthusiastic welcome. Often of an evening, I let him sneak into the flat for a visit, where he has learned what mat he is supposed to curl up on. Mrs Landlord told me at one point that if I were late coming home, Blackie wouldn’t leave the gate until I had returned.

I even managed to teach Blackie a couple of things. He now usually sits without being told to before crossing the road. The command ‘Wait’ generally achieves the same result. Mrs Landlord had already taught him do a routine before he was allowed a chewy doggy treat. On seeing the titbit, Blackie sits, shakes hands (although he sometimes gets confused about which paw to hold out), and then lies down. I managed to extend that repertoire by one – “Scratchy Tums” and over he rolls for a tummy rub.

I’ve never had much luck with teaching dogs things before. Something usually manages to go wrong. Like the time I was trying to teach one of Mum’s corgis to fetch – with an old cricket ball for some reason. I’d lob the ball up and Midget would charge after it. On one particularly high lob though, Midget’s sister, Muffet, walked out from the garden bed that she’d been sniffing around in, only to suddenly find her head occupying the same space that gravity insisted the ball should be in.



Off sped Muffet, scared out of her wits. Midget tore off and joined her, cowering in the kennel. After that, Muffet wanted nothing to do with balls and fetch. As a result, Midget soon lost interest as well, and that was that.

But back to Blackie. In a short time, he had become an almost indispensable part of my life. I could even forgive him those mornings when he decided to camp beneath my bedroom window and give me an early morning wake up call. Then Disaster hove into view.

Mr and Mrs Landlord moved interstate to pursue new opportunities. Naturally Blackie went with them.

Shock. Horror. Having become an almost-owner of a pet (all the benefits but none of the cons like buying the dog food or picking up the fragrant little presents on the back lawn), I became pet-less once more. What to do?

I decided that I had to get a pet of my own once more. But what sort of pet?

A dog? No – not practical for me at the moment.

A cat? I have fond memories of family cats as a kid, especially the one that would sneak between the blankets around my feet on a cold night. But I don’t like the damage that they can do to the bird life etc.

A bird? I had budgerigars, canaries and finches in aviaries as a kid. But I can’t put up an aviary here, and I don’t like seeing birds in tiny cages.

What about fish? I’ve had fish before – easy to look after. But I can’t really pat them or play with them. I can’t see a goldfish curling up on the mat beside my easy chair. Hmmm

Well one thing lead to another, and I soon had an aquarium on the edge of my desk, complete with two goldfish and water plants.

“What have you named them?” Mrs L asked one day. “I don’t name fish!” I replied, a little indignant for some reason. That evening, seated at my desk, I noticed that one of the fish had a patch of white on its tailfin. So I found myself thinking of that one as Whitey. The other one is still just plain old ‘Fish’.

So I’m became all equipped to adjust to life without Blackie. I even find myself talking to Whitey and Fish. Just little things like “Morning boys” or “Grub’s up.” Fortunately nobody is around to hear me doing that.

Not long afterwards, I found out that my little mate Blackie had passed away. The fish then came to assume an even bigger part of my life.

I wonder how I go about teaching a fish to fetch? Now where did I leave that old cricket ball…

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