My mouse died last week. One of 70 taken in by the RSPCA after an unintended rodent romp, Cheddar, née Poptart (imaginatively renamed through a competition in the local paper) came to me a few months ago with her sibling Wensleydale. She also leaves behind Rabbit the dog. Assuming most readers’ interest in any mouse is brief and related exclusively to computers, I won’t use this entire column for an obituary. But since nearly half of UK households have pets and half of those are dogs I hope you’ll allow me this brief indulgence to celebrate mine.
Like my previous charges Rabbit is a rescue. This is not entirely philanthropic on my part but rather assuages the guilt that these animals would, were they not domesticated, be much better off gambolling in fields: a feeling only supported by the image this conjures up in my pun-receptive mind of pets having enormous fun splashing the cash at some sort of meadow casino.
My boyfriend and I went to the shelter with the intention of meeting a border collie who was incarcerated there. The breed had been on my Christmas list every year growing up and when, aged 31, I finally felt in a position to offer one a good home this particular dog took offence to my boyfriend. The shelter owner suggested it might have been down to his glasses. My boyfriend’s, that is – the dog’s eyes were fine apparently.
“We’ve lots of lurchers though.” Enter the then-unnamed stray who, at the end of a block of shouting mongrels quietly got up from her newspaper-lined plastic bed, perched her delicate front paws against the cage and fixed us with a pair of toffee pennies that still melt me while I write now, two years on, as they gaze at me from the sofa.
This makes it sound like I fell for her at first sight but it was my boyfriend really. I tried to keep a rational head, making the point that as a lurcher she would get cold on our long mountain walks, would try to chase anything that moved and wouldn’t ever morph into a border collie, all of which have proved to be true.
It turned out she had severe kennel cough, too, a potentially fatal respiratory disease contagious among dogs and, in rare cases, humans. I was in the middle of chemotherapy, my immune system suppressed. Rabbit and I eyed each other from our respective sofas. I remember thinking that I would accept more suffering if I could only take away hers: this poor bag of bones, origin unknown but so friendly, so indefatigable in the face of adversity. Then, three weeks later, she came through it and we were allowed on the same sofa, her gangly legs entwined with mine. And this – when I am not writing or taking her on long mountain walks (for which she has a number of dashing jackets no collie could hope to pull off) – has been our default pose ever since.
So when I lowered Cheddar’s limp little body into a box and my boyfriend buried her in the garden it was a clueless Rabbit, wagging her tail as we came back in, that cheered us both up. Thank god for my boyfriend’s crap eyesight.
This column is dedicated to Cheddar Schofield (2015-2016).