The Sunday morning before polling day, I was sitting riffling through our newspaper and bemoaning the fact that Canada had been subjected to week after week of tedious electioneering bombast, during the longest run-up to voting day in our political history. But I was cheered by the thought that on the morrow, some of the interminable media coverage would grind to a halt, because the actual results would at least spare us from further speculation by the pollsters and the pundits.
I flipped the pages for something worth reading and discovered a little ray of sunshine. It was contained in a brief news item which told me that “Buster”, a pet Australian marsupial, had bounded over his fence and hopped off to find adventure in downtown Staten Island. The cops were called in of course, and they saved the day. So the incident ended happily, because nobody decided to take a pot shot at the bouncy import, despite the fact that a large percentage of the citizenry down there seem to be quite heavily armed.
Such reports concerning errant pets and the people who lose them are appearing more frequently in the media, so I figured that a little investigation on my part might produce sufficient light-hearted fodder for this column. My editor Andrea agreed, and even approved the original headline I had in mind. But on reflection I realized that “Sex and the single rabbit”, though catchy, might seem a rather cheap way to get your attention, so I discarded it. Instead I’ve introduced a touch of alliteration, which usually produces groans from all and sundry, especially from my wife, who vets this stuff before I send it in.
Because pet rabbits had been a big part of my preschool days, alongside “George”, my ancient tortoise, I figured they all might merit a mention. Old George was with us for years and years, but sadly we couldn’t find him when I came home from the army. He’s probably still alive somewhere, munching his lettuce and enjoying a slow, stress-free and pensive existence. You never see a tortoise in a hurry; perhaps that’s why they seem to live forever.
But let’s get back to reality and rabbits. As one of the youngest in the rural household, (to which I was evacuated from the bombing on Tyneside), I was given the job of feeding the hens and looking after half a dozen hutches. Those gentle little animals were so tame and friendly, but I was warned not to get too fond of them, because they weren’t really kept as pets. Rabbit pie was a welcome change from mostly meatless meals, though the folks always made sure that I wasn’t home when the terminating deed was done.
Around that time the government encouraged us Brits to scoff newly-introduced whale blubber as a nourishing alternative to bully beef. But the stuff really didn’t catch on, though we were assured it was considered a delicacy by Arctic families. Our dogs of course loved it, and they invariably ended up with my share.
The various households where I’ve lived over the years have always had their mix of cherished pets — puppies that surprised us by growing into something we didn’t expect, in size or in shape, nonchalant cats that tolerated us with mostly lofty indifference and of course a motley collection of hamsters, guinea pigs, tropical fish and some lovely songsters in ornate cages. I’m still fond of German roller canaries. Their song brightened many mornings.
But being ordinary people, we didn’t indulge in extraordinary pets. Admittedly I took whatever current pooch we owned with me to the office every day, whether it was one of our Schnauzers or the Doberman. The dogs enjoyed it. So did my staff and as dog sitters weren’t in vogue way back then, we couldn’t leave them at home. Occasionally I’d encounter a local wag with a parrot on his shoulder who lived nearby, and I remember recoiling a little when a visitor to the office proffered his pet skunk, de-scented of course, for me to stroke. But we were never confronted by anything spectacular, nothing like that energetic New York kangaroo whose adventure prompted me to start looking for info on strange pets. What I found is worth retelling.
Which celebrity owned a leopard? Which monarch loved horses?
To be continued…
Bill Greenwell prospered in the ad agency arena for 40 years in the U.K. and Canada. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.