Clare Mackin­tosh Why we need a pet­match­ing ser­vice for fam­i­lies

‘There is a gap in the mar­ket for a pet-match­ing ser­vice; a dat­ing agency where ex­perts find you the per­fect com­pan­ion’

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - Clare Mackin­tosh con­tact @claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­

The chil­dren want a pet. Pets, to be pre­cise. Oh, I know, we al­ready have the dogs (on which they dote), but they want some­thing small and furry, and as we no longer have the ex­cuse of lack of space, I’ve given in. The ques­tion is, what to get?

There is a gap in the mar­ket for a pet-match­ing ser­vice: a dat­ing agency where ex­pert petol­o­gists as­sess your needs and find you the per­fect com­pan­ion. Sin­gle, but like to chat? Get a par­rot. In­som­niac? You need a noc­tur­nal ger­bil. Al­ler­gic to fur? Easy: tor­toise.

Here in the Mackin­tosh house­hold, there has been much clam­our­ing for a kit­ten. “You know they don’t stay kit­tens for long?” we said. The chil­dren vowed to love a cat even once it was old and cro­chety, but nev­er­the­less it was a no from us. I love cats. They’re cud­dly, in­de­pen­dent, easy to look af­ter… I’m less fond of cat’s predilec­tion for bring­ing in mice, chas­ing them around the house and then de­posit­ing the semi-live re­mains upon their mas­ter’s bed. See also: shred­ding the fur­ni­ture, climb­ing the cur­tains, and us­ing the plant pots as lit­ter trays (my mother’s African Vi­o­lets never re­cov­ered), not to men­tion their abil­ity to turn any out­fit into a furry bath­mat within min­utes. The hus­band and I were res­o­lute: no cats.

Ge­orge’s op­ti­mistic long­ing for a taran­tula was pretty short­lived (shud­der), as was Josh’s sug­ges­tion of rats (se­ri­ously?), and Evie’s plea for a sugar glider that would ac­com­pany her ev­ery­where in a spe­cially made pouch (I ad­mit I wa­vered. Have you seen them? Ridicu­lously cute).

“Why do we need more pets, any­way?” grum­bled my hus­band, as I mea­sured up the play­room for a ter­rar­ium. It was a fair point. I grew up with dogs, cats, rab­bits, guinea pigs, gold fish and horses. A house is never quite a home, for me, with­out at least one of the above, and ide­ally, all of them. As for need… “It teaches the chil­dren re­spon­si­bil­ity,” I said. I winced at a sud­den mem­ory of my mother telling me off for leav­ing her to clean out Sooty’s hutch again. In fact, now I think about it, didn’t my mum end up look­ing af­ter the guinea pigs as well? And wasn’t she the one who scraped the al­gae off the in­side of the fish tank, re­mem­bered to buy pondweed, and flushed the fish that didn’t make it? And wasn’t it her who pushed worm­ing tablets into wedges of cheese and pulled frankly un­recog­nis­able socks from the nether re­gions of a cairn ter­rier? Best I don’t men­tion any of that to the hus­band.

“Some­thing small, then,” he sighed. “Some­thing that can live out­doors.” We held a fam­ily con­fer­ence. By which I mean I men­tioned it at sup­per.

“Chick­ens?” I said op­ti­misti­cally. “They’re not pets!” cried the chil­dren. “We’ve had chick­ens,” said the hus­band, as though that rules us out from ever hav­ing them again. I loved our chick­ens. Mrs Greedy, Quee­nie, Martha, Princess Layer. Great com­pany, amaz­ing eggs. Okay, so I was less en­am­oured by the rats. And by the red mite. And by the lice that re­sulted in the tragic demise of Princess Layer at the hands of my hus­band while I cov­ered my eyes be­hind the shed…

“How about guinea pigs?” I said. I have a cer­tain fond­ness for guinea pigs, with their funny lit­tle ears and cute squeak­ing noises, and not-at-all-bikini-ready bod­ies. Less bitey than rab­bits (I kept a pair of gar­den­ing gloves handy for when Sooty was feel­ing par­tic­u­larly grumpy), but just as straight-for­ward to look af­ter. “Yes!” the chil­dren cho­rused, “guinea pigs!” “Oh, okay,” said the hus­band, some­what grumpily.

Guinea pigs it is, then. I won­der how long be­fore it’s my turn to clean them out…n

ABOVE: Evie wanted an im­pos­si­bly cute sugar glider

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, pub­lished by Sphere, is out. Book Four is on its way!

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