Family & Education

We've gone from goldfish to guinea pigs

Judy Silkoff's made her mind up - these pets will be the last


Full disclosure: I am not an animal person.

Growing up, the only pets that my sister and I ever owned were a pair of goldfish called James and Joanna, named after twins in my class at primary school. James and Joanna (the goldfish) lived for an astonishing number of years. Indeed, for some time now I have suspected that my parents simply replaced the goldfish as they expired so that we wouldn’t have to bear the pain of losing them.

Regardless of how many versions of James and Joanna actually lived in the goldfish bowl of my childhood home, I never had a desire to own any other pets, either furry, feathered or scaly.

All of this became irrelevant, of course, once I had children. I held out for an impressive decade, but eventually the clamours became too great and I gave in. Snowy, a large rabbit, with a propensity for chewing the wallpaper whenever we let her inside the house, was installed in a hutch in the garden. Less than a month later, it became evident that Snowy had enjoyed a one-night stand with a furry friend shortly before joining us, and she gave birth to six babies. Five of them were returned to the pet shop as soon as they were old enough to leave their mama, but the lone female of the gang was allowed to remain.

Alas, my husband’s penchant for letting the rabbits bound freely around the garden ended up in disaster when they eventually became dinner for the local foxes. Heavily pregnant with my now 11-year-old daughter, I took a foolish vow — no more pets.

Fortunately for the fox population of Golders Green, my vow had a shelf-life. Fast-forward eight years or so and we became the pet-parents of three chickens. They did, I must admit, produce something a little more nutritious than the rabbits (best eggs in town). But during the summer months they also had a tendency to sneak inside and poo on the doormat, so my patience was sorely tried. The chickens, too, ended up as involuntary takeaway for the local wildlife, after one memorable Shabbat when we went away without fully securing the coop door and came back home to the aftermath of a garden massacre.

Undoubtedly, the most successful Silkoff pet of all time was William, the stray cat we adopted from Battersea in 2017. William had had a hard life on the streets and when he arrived chez Silkoff he had half an ear and a heart condition, but he found a good home with us. He loved to leap on to the table and steal giant slabs of homemade challah, which drove me doolally.

Being scared of his own shadow, William was a terrible hunter. The only cat-gift he ever attempted to bring us was a squirrel who had clearly expired of natural causes many hours earlier — rigor mortis had well and truly set in, but the look of pride on William’s little face was something to behold.

William passed away at the beginning of this winter, having reached the ripe old age of 14 —that’s well beyond threescore-and-ten in feline years. And for having been a best friend and a true saviour to one of my children when she was going through some extremely difficult years, I loved him with all my heart.

So, post-William, what’s a mother to do when faced with a distraught 11-year-old who just wants something furry and fluffy to love? Mid-pandemic, it’s not as if our spare bedrooms were getting any use from guests, so I gave in. A cage the size of a small city was installed in the boxroom and three female guinea pigs named Georgia, Rebel and Beauty (no, I don’t know why) moved in. The guinea pigs are small, they don’t make much noise, they don’t steal human food, and so far, they haven’t eaten any wallpaper either.

But a word of advice to anyone considering following my lead and investing in some furry little creatures of their own. If you value your sanity, put those piggies in the garden. They go through around a kilo of hay a week — for burrowing in, eating, and it seems, strewing as far as possible around the house. Anyone who ventures into the guinea pig zone comes out with hay on their clothes, in their hair, on the soles of their feet; the vacuum cleaning is incessant.

I am rather fond of my children and I’m glad I’ve continued to put my preferences for a tidy house and intact soft furnishings to one side. But, dear reader, you are now my witness. This is it —after the guineas have moved on to the great pet garden in the sky, I’m renewing my vow. No. More. Pets.

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