Pets provide simple certainty
It’s been a slow week in lawnmower land waiting for spring to stop mucking around and get here quickly, to give us all something to cheer up about.
This week has been about absences and the small routines that helped provide certainty, which were once a part of everyday life, and which are suddenly not there any more.
We farewelled our little pussycat Cleo with a simple garden ceremony, a mound of dirt topped with some lavender and early marigolds to create a gentle rise between the garlic tub and the pumpkin bed.
Apparently this was where she liked to doze in the afternoon sun.
I was always too busy having boyish playfights with Prince Finski, the Royal Belgian shepherd, to notice sleeping cats.
But now she’s not there, I seem to notice Cleo a lot more.
Cats have never been among my favourites. They slink around like furtive criminals looking for opportunities; they never say thank you no matter how much butlering you perform — opening doors and feeding times receive not the slightest nod of approval; and they immediately detect and humiliate the intolerant cat person by nestling into their lap for a snooze.
But like all pets that share your life, cats sneak their way on to the doona, over the couch and under your skin.
So it was with Cleo. She came from the Katandra farm of my daughter’s school friend and, from the start, she was a mad streak of unpredictable, electric energy.
She would jump at the slightest movement in the room, crawl up the curtains for no apparent reason, chase and sometimes shamefully kill the most colourful little birds, and meow incessantly at daylight for her breakfast.
I once wrote a few lines about her in a poem which earned me $100 as first prize in the Joseph Furphy Poetry Award a decade ago.
I wrote: A skittery kitten/ with pharaoh eyes/ that boxes flies/ and dances sideways/ at new ghosts.
Thanks Cleo. That paid for your breakfast for about two months.
Thankfully, she slowed down as she aged, she lived indoors, slept a lot and developed an inoperable tumour which eventually put a permanent end to her skittery little life.
All this makes me think about the role that pets play in our lives, particularly in times of stress — or lockdown.
I’ve lived with a pet all my life, from old Pete the black labrador retriever who used to be my childhood cushion in front of the loungeroom fire, to Prince Finski who pads down the corridor every morning for his breakfast.
Pet ownership means having a responsibility to something other than yourself.
The routines of feeding, toilet training, exercise, play, vet visits and grooming can be tedious but they can bring discipline into an otherwise self-indulgent, or chaotic life.
On a deeper level, pets provide little moments that say all is right with the world.
When the roof leaks or you’re thinking about a troubling challenge or an awkward conversation — a pet is there to silently say ‘‘don’t worry’’.
Finally, pets are doorways into an otherness that is indefinable but real.
They live in the moment and provide a glimpse behind the veil to the rhythms of nature that most of us have left behind.
Our pets can be majestic, fierce, silly and loving at the same time.
When the days are slow, or strange and unpredictable, it’s good to have some simple certainties in your life.