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Friend cat is in the house – he’s not a permanent pet, but just visiting while his owners, my daughter and family, are away on holiday. Ah me, the dog days of summer – through the long, cold winter and cool, rainy spring you long for them. Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for, you might end up getting the actual dog. Yes, this is the time when some of us grandparents swap childcare for petcare. Hm, well over seven million of us help out with childcare so that working parents can get to work, but I don’t suppose anybody’s done the math for petcare which helps them get away and have some hard-earned r and r with the kids and return to the chalkface, batteries recharged and good to go.
You’d think a grandparent experienced in animal husbandry would be a safe pair of hands for holiday petcare. Back in the day, my three sisters and me had a series of furry friends – cats, dogs, mice, hamsters and a rabbit and some not so furry – goldfish, sloe – no, that’s the gin – slow worms and, like Ken Livingston, newts. But I’ll come clean, I have form in the petcare department. On one cold winter night, c.1954, I was too afraid of the dark to go out to the shed to feed my mice and next morning there they all were on their backs, their paws up in the air, literally frozen stiff – I am a bad person. Oh please forgive me, little mousie souls and grant me absolution. But, some years later, I went and did it again and left Twinkle outside one night – he was a tufty guinea pig my daughter had given me to replace a boyfriend I’d split up with. Yes, I’ve been the kiss of death to relationships and animal welfare alike.
My daughter seems to believe I’ve learnt from the past and entrusts the cat to my care. But friend cat must have got wind of my reputation and vanished outside before I arrived to pick him up so I went home sans cat. But she texted from France that he’d come back before they left so back I went up the road. After struggling for a bit with his backside to get all of him into the pet carrier we set off. Then – oh joy – about half a mile up the road I had to open the car windows very wide, if you get my drift. You get grandchildren to go to the loo before setting off on a journey, don’t you? Well, I should’ve got cat to do ditto in his litter tray. No, I couldn’t stop, he might’ve bolted. And what with trying to breathe in only through my mouth and the cat going miaow mioaw miow all the way home, I got a bit stressed and, bloody nora, I scraped a neighbour’s car while backing into a space. Thirty quid later, the cat strolled out of the carrier pristine and purring, leaving me to don marigolds, flush the poo down the pan and scour out the cat carrier with lemon -scented Flash. I was not a happy bunny.
There must be families who call on grandparents simply because they don’t want to think about Nibbles caged up in a strange place while they are away trying to enjoy themselves. But the crux of the matter is that, like childcare, petcare costs an arm and a leg. Some people might say that if your offspring can’t afford to put the family dog, cat or guinea pig into kennels, cattery or guinea piggery, then they shouldn’t have one and lots of them don’t. But full-time petcare cover is only needed for, say, a couple of weeks out of the fifty two and for the rest of the year there’s an upside to having a pet such as a dog or cat – and I don’t just mean the tummies they present for tickling though they say this is therapeutic for both animals and humans.
For example, simmering sibling rivalry can suddenly go woooosh into a full scale volcanic eruption with threats of fraticide and the hurling of objects. So let’s hear it for the family cat as he limps back home with a hangdog expression after a night on the tiles and a spat with the neighbourhood top tomcat. Yes, sisters and brothers forget their bickering and bond over his blood-bespattered fur. And do you worry that your kid or kids spend too much time in front of one screen or another, the glow from their phones or tablets lighting up their pallid, sun-deprived faces? Well, a dog is for you – it can be a whole new ball game – literally – playing fetch with Rover in the park will get them out into the sunlight and to actually move about – result!
The day after that eventful car journey, friend cat was in the dog house big time – he’d spurned the litter tray in favour of the back room carpet – lovely. But I’m thinking it was just a one-off due to post traumatic stress disorder after the smell, sorry, spell in the cat carrier plus extra time for the car incident and the driver’s liberal use of a particularly apt four letter word – poor pussycat. He’s settled in now and his litter tray etiquette is impeccable. And while us grandparents are giving a whole new meaning to Pets R Us, it’s good to know that there are fringe benefits to be gained from looking after a pet – scientific evidence shows that stroking a cat or dog or indeed furry creatures in general and maybe the occasional newt, can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels – well, I’m on the tablets, but every little helps so they say. And I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but that Blofeld bloke with the big white cat in that James Bond film seems well chilled.
*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.