Friday, 6 January 2012

Family Pets : Faithful Friends

Oliver 'Ollie' Twist
At this time of year I am reminded of my rescued pet, a cat I named Ollie, who came in to my life 16 years ago. It still chokes me up inside to think he came to me on the very same day I received the sad news of my grandmother Freda's passing. Still with us today, Ollie has been called all sorts of funny nicknames and every year he is given his very own Christmas stocking filled with new cat toys, an expensive cat food collection, and lots of  wrapping paper and plastic bags (Don't ask!). I couldn't imagine my life, my home, my family, without him in it.

The RSPCA annual reports show an alarming amount of pets, given as Christmas presents, abandoned in January each year. This number is on the rise, and the message still doesn't seem to get through. Please don't give pets as Christmas presents!! Ollie was a Christmas present for somebody who, in turn, left him abandoned in a cardboard box on a busy roadside. My friend at the time, was walking up this road to take her baby for a walk in the pram and heard meowling coming from the box. When she opened it, she found a under-fed flea-ridden kitten inside.

Pets have always played a key role in my life, since very early childhood. My first family pet was a Labrador called Sandy when I was a baby and my parents lived in Bungay. Then came a cat, another Labrador, another cat, a greyhound, two goldfish and two budgerigars, and yet another cat (but she was technically my mother's cat). I was given a kitten for my birthday one year. He was a fiesty black and white kitten I named Sebastian. Five years later, Ollie came into my life. I did have a Jack Russell terrier named Tsar but he proved to be too much of a handful so, eventually, he was adopted into a new home (with a more patient owner!).

My family have always been animal lovers and many photographs show a dog or cat sitting proudly on the lap, in the arms of, or by the side, of their proud owners. Growing up my father had a black cat, found amongst the dust at the Beccles Maltings which my grandfather brought home as a kitten and was subsequently named Dusty. My mother had a dog named Rover who was brought home from a nearby village after being mistreated by its original owner. My grandmother Lilian had a Jack Russell terrier (read my blog written exclusively about her. Lilian that is, not the dog!) she named Russ. My great-grandfather had a terrier which he took everywhere (including hunting) with him. My ancestors had dogs, cats, canaries, chickens, budgerigars and horses.

There is a great sense of pride attached to my family's ownership of pets and there are many stories (or should I say, tales!) which are still told amongst the family today which involve a dog or a cat. I even have a wedding party portrait from 1916 where one of my ancestors is holding a small dog (see below).

Greyfriars Bobby
I have long been fascinated by pet stories. Faithful companions who grieve when their owners die or disappear under mysterious circumstances. More recently, I have cried buckets over the Australian story of 'Red Dog' or John Grogan's famous newspaper column, turned novel and movie, about his clumsy, neurotic dog Marley. Then there are famous pets of the past, such as Dewey the library cat, Casper the commuting cat, Greyfriars Bobby, and come on, let's not forget Lassie. What has intrigued me is the large amount of notable rescue dogs and war dogs, in particular, those that are gifted with psychic abilities.

I read Michael Streeter's Psychic Pets with relish last year, during a period of research for my novel. I was struck by three accounts contained within Streeter's 2004 collection of true-life psychic pet stories. Bob, the collie dog, whose owner Roy was called up to fight for his country in World War One. Bob became increasingly morose in Roy's absence until one day he began howling and whining inconsolably. Four days later Roy's wife received the news that Roy had been killed in action.

A British Naval Officer (name unknown) had a pet Airedale dog who  always went to the quayside to say goodbye to the young officer who was, at the time, serving on board a minesweeper.  One day the Airedale became agitated and behaved strangely and the naval officer could not leave the quayside without having his uniform repeatedly grabbed by the dog. That same night, the Airedale suddenly began a piteous wailing and later, the officer's wife learned that the ship had been lost at sea that night.

The last story I want to share with you is about a grey tabby stray cat in Germany during World War Two who was befriended by a middle-aged German man who would pet the cat whenever he saw it near his workplace. One morning in 1944, the man was at home shaving when he heard loud meowing and opened the door to find the stray cat there. The cat would not stop meowing and scratching at the man's trousers until eventually, thinking the cat was trying to tell him something, they left the house together and walked the streets. After about a half mile the cat suddenly stopped walking and the now puzzled man, looked up to see RAF Lancaster bombers overhead. The man looked on in horror as the first of the bombs dropped, obliterating a row of houses, including his. The stray cat had saved his life.

W G Preston who is holding his dog for a
family wedding portrait!


  1. Hello,

    Great post and pets can be fantastic members of the family. I miss Susie the family cat who passed away a couple of years ago.

    Hope you are having a grand week.

    All the best


  2. I know just what you mean, we give our cats boxes, bags and wrapping or packing paper. They love it more than any gifts.
    Ollie looks gorgeous

  3. Andrew, thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate your kindness xx

    Welcome Gill, and thank you for leaving a comment. Yes, Ollie loves papers and bags so much more than a boring fluffy mouse toy or ball! xx

  4. As has happened before you write with such love about family memories that I am inspired to write about pets that meant and mean a lot to me. I also have a few spooky tales to share!

  5. Lovely stories Debra. With having pets all of my life I empathise with all your emotions about them.

  6. Thank you Suzie, I welcome your lovely comments and am very glad to hear that I inspire you! I look forward to reading your spooky pet tales. xx

    Ann, thank you always for your kind comments. xx

  7. Ollie's very cute - I have a cat too and have always been very fond of animals. I particularly liked the story of the cat rescuing the man during the War. I feel a pet post coming on...