First published Dec 15, 2007

For generations we have been recognised as a Nation of animal lovers. There might not be as many pet owners as there used to be but those that are, often treat them as a member of the family. They give them a warm bed or basket indoors, their own special food kept separate in the kitchen and many are even insured in case they are ill or have an accident.

Whenever the family decides to do something, they always have to be considered. Lots of kennels take dogs for a short term stay and there are cattery’s for cats if owners are willing to use them. However, many plan their holidays and breaks so they don’t have to leave them. More hotels and holiday parks are now prepared to accept dogs, subject to certain conditions.

But it’s not only dogs and cats that families adopt as pets, some folk seem to derive pleasure from keeping all kinds of animals, creepy crawly reptiles and insects as well as birds and fish of all shapes and colours.

Did You Know?

Dogs have always been man’s most popular pet and through the ages people all over the world have domesticated them. Not only were they kept for company, they guarded the homestead and when needed, assisted with the hunting. It was known for wealthy men in certain parts to have trained guard dogs locked in with their riches because there was no man they could trust to do it.

Eskimos still use teams of huskies to pull their sledges and elsewhere in the world they have undertaken many different tasks. More recently, in two World Wars they were used to accompany patrols as well as carry messages.

They still do a great job with the Armed Forces, Police and Emergency Services as guard dogs and anywhere victims have to be located. Today they have yet another important job assigned to them: – The authorities depend on them to sniff out illegal drugs.

In days gone by, when someone wanted a pet they usually chose a dog or cat. It was always claimed to be good for children to grow up having an animal to look after. Generally it was a task that very soon became the responsibility of the parents.

Cats were usually given the run of the house during the day and then put out to fend for themselves when the family went to bed. Unlike dogs, many of who spent much of their life chained to a kennel in the back yard. Before the roads became jammed with cars, they were not taken for short walks four or five times a day but were just let off their chain to run off and ease the call of nature then go on to roam around on their own.

Every dog owner had to put a collar on the animal with a tag bearing his name and address and pay seven shillings and sixpence per annum for a license. About the only time anyone was summoned for keeping a dog without a license was when it was reported for biting someone or causing damage.

Before World War two, canaries became popular pets for the ladies and were often displayed with their cage suspended on a stand in the front window. They sang beautifully. The only trouble was, they never seemed to stop and the only way to keep them quiet was to throw a cloth over the cage. That was usually done in the evening anyway. The same tactic was often used to keep parrots quiet. The demand for budgerigars was on the increase and more people took to breeding them. If they were bought at an early age they could be easily handled and let out of their cage into an enclosed room.

Teaching them to talk, imitate sounds and perform all sorts of tricks amused the whole family. Although very colourful and great fun to hold and play with, they could give a nasty bite if they were annoyed. Due to the long life parrots enjoyed they were sometimes handed down from one generation to the next and quite a few families still had one.

Not all of them were friendly, clean or very pretty especially when they were losing their feathers. Like the budgies they were capable of giving a nasty bite if they got upset. However, some talked a lot, whistled and even recited poetry and were very amusing.

All household pets were fed on the leavings from the family table. Food was rarely if ever bought specially for them. When there wasn’t much left over they had to make do with something like bread and milk. Even the less common, such as white mice and ferrets would eat it although the ferrets preferred live meat. There were no pet shops as there are today to cater for their special food but for those that could afford it dog biscuits, bran and fish food etc. was available from some grocers or corn-chandlers.

If a pet became ill most people had their own favourite cures. Even if you could afford to see a Vet he was likely to be busy doing his job attending to farm animals. However he was often called on if a dog or cat had to be put down. Although it was said, some countrymen put dogs down by shooting them.

At the same time it was not uncommon for a stray or unwanted cat to be tied in a sack with a brick and thrown into the river. New born kittens that no one wanted were likely to be drowned in a bath or tub. Some must have escaped to maintain the number of feral cats that were to be seen almost everywhere. No doubt they played a part in keeping the vermin population under control. They hunted down rats and mice as well as birds and young rabbits.

Today, catering and caring for pets has become big business. The only time you might need a license is if you choose a pet that’s wild and dangerous. There are animals that for various reasons cannot be domesticated but there always seems to be someone who wants to try.

It has to be remembered that no matter what living creature you decide to take on, it will require regular and sometimes specialist attention throughout its life and for some this can be a very long time.

Fortunately we have a very efficient RSPCA to enforce the law and ensure that our animals, both wild and domesticated, are not maltreated. Not only are they entitled to their space on earth they add a great deal of pleasure to many people’s lives.

valley lad – [THIRTY-FOUR]