With around 47% of the population owning a pet, it seems we all love having something furry to care for. Even goldfish require attention (although perhaps taking one out of its bowl to give it a cuddle, as my daughter can attest, is not a great idea, given they can slither off and slide under the fridge).
But as we mothers are all too aware, welcoming little members of the animal kingdom into our homes is often a deeply thankless task and one which we've only relented to after being pestered and harangued for several years. When we finally, grudgingly agree, the grunt work is then unceremoniously dumped on us by children who lose interest quicker than a hamster can spin its wheel.
Even as I wearily hoover up dog hair, pick up turds from the back garden and fill up the dogs' water bowl, I know I only have myself to blame for Oscar, our black labrador, Pippin, the sausage dog, the Russian dwarf hamsters and my son's caterpillar – who is currently housed under his bed in an old chocolate mousse pot.
I desperately wanted a puppy as a child – as all children do – but my constant badgering was always met with a firm 'No,' from my mother who clearly found it more easy to stick to her guns than me.
This longing for a four legged friend spilt over in adulthood, when really I should have known better, and I found it all too easy to buckle when the children started pleading for a puppy. I reasoned that it was important for them to have something to care for and look after. The responsibility would be A Good Thing. Now, as I battle through driving rain to walk the dogs, when everybody else in the house is pretending to be busy with other things to do, I wonder - who was I was trying to kid?
Pets are a fast growing industry in the UK. Food alone was valued at over £2bn in 2009 and we're talking the proper stuff - high quality, premium meat in vacuum sealed packs. The days of feeding our pets dodgy, unidentifiable meat from cans is over. Oscar has gluten free biscuits on top of his preferred choice of chicken and rice. Has the world gone mad?
But it's not just food that costs when you own a pet. It's all the other stuff that goes wrong. Take the classic example of our (now dead) guinea pig. One day I'm washing up at the kitchen sink and can hear an annoying squeaking noise that won't go away. Eventually, feeling irritated, I turn around to see killer mini Daschund shaking the guinea vigorously by the neck. After much yelling and the prising apart of iron jaws I manage to rescue the still breathing rodent.
Now, the sad truth is that this guinea pig had been largely ignored for the previous three months. It was only ever fed when I remembered to chuck a carrot and some lettuce leaves in its cage. Would the children even notice if it died? Probably not. But the problem was it wasn't dead. It was looking at me with these hopeless brown eyes, challenging my conscience. I could swear it was actually eyeing the cheque book on the kitchen counter.
So I drive it to the vet's. She tells me that it is probably going to die but as a much-loved member of the family let's give it the best shot we can. And she adminsters a cortosone injection that costs me £40. Ten minutes later the guinea pig dies.
And so the bills continue to mount. Last week Oscar escaped from the garden and came home with half an ear missing. Two days later the sausage dog ran out of the driveway and was spun into the air by an oncoming car. He's fine but I'm not sure I'll ever recover from the sound of screeching brakes, followed by a thud.
Then the hamster escaped from its cage. This happens all the time (in fact, his favourite place to hide is the saucepan cupboard) and would have been fine except for one small problem. We had placed a cushion by the kitchen step to soften the baby's fall as she learns to walk. And unbeknown to us, the hamster had burrowed underneath. Over the course of a day six members of the family trod on that cushion to get in and out of the kitchen. Who can say which one of us placed the final, fatal step?
We buried the wafer-thin hamster in the garden, performing the requisite funeral and I even managed to look suitably mournful at its demise. But did I care? Honestly? I'll leave you to decide......
Does this ring true for you? Are your children campaigning for one? Do you wish you'd never got a pet?
Or do you think having a pet teaches children valuable lessons about caring and life - and death?
We'd love to hear your stories.
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