Pets and other animals

My youngest child has always wanted a dog. He is a caring and affectionate boy and probably wants a living creature to love. However, when I have looked at the costs and work involved, I have not had the courage to take a dog on; I know that it would be me who would have to look after it. I could see myself enjoying the daily walks but not the hairs, the training and the damage. A badly behaved dog is a nuisance for everyone and I am not convinced that I would be able to train one to behave as it should. When I am out and about I can be quite frightened when a dog I do not know jumps up at me. I would not wish to inflict this on anyone else.

Growing up I never had a desire for a pet. My sister was the animal lover and, over the years, our parents provided her with a rabbit, a cat and then a dog (she had to manage without the horse that she was so keen to own). I paid little attention to any of these creatures. I liked them well enough but had little interest in them. My sister seemed happy with her pets, but it was our parents who looked after them. Owning a living creature is a big responsibility. Knowing how fickle children can be in their willingness to help out I would only have a pet that I personally would be comfortable looking after.

As other parents acquiesced to their children’s desires for cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, I did start to consider the stance that I was taking. This resulted in us acquiring three chickens – one for each of my children. Although a somewhat unusual pet, our chickens have proved to be a popular addition to our household. Should I say household? One of the advantages of keeping chickens as pets is that they live in the garden, not the house. Another is that they provide us with eggs.

My children show a lot of interest in our little flock, but have become less willing to help with the required maintenance as they get older. As expected, most of the work falls to me. I enjoy my daily interactions with our birds; they are full of character and can act in such daft and funny ways. From our initial three, our flock has now grown to eleven hens of various ages and breeds. We have learnt to keep them off the lawn nearest the house which we wish to remain tidy, but let them free range elsewhere. They are generally easy to keep and I enjoy watching them bathe and scratch around in the garden.

When we have had issues with any of our birds – they do sometimes show signs of illness – I have found the internet to be a great source of information. Chicken keeping has grown in popularity in recent years and this has proved very helpful. Questions can be asked in specialist discussion forums and books recommended to improve knowledge. I am keen to know as much as I can about the best way to care for my birds as I am very aware that they must not be allowed to suffer. In taking on their care, I am responsible for their comfort and well being.

When I read of people who have neglected or deliberately harmed animals I feel so angry; I desire retribution for the poor creatures. I believe that how we treat our animals can say a great deal about what we are like as people. Those who do not have the resources and willingness to care for animals should not keep them. It is my view that those who deliberately cause suffering to animals should be severely punished.

My son still wants a dog and I still wonder if I am being unfair not letting him have one. There is, of course, the issue of how my husband may react to this idea. I think that he is more of a cat person.