Clare Mackintosh: Animal instincts

I admit I wavered when I heard Evie’'s plea for a sugar glider that would accompany her everywhere i

I admit I wavered when I heard Evie’'s plea for a sugar glider that would accompany her everywhere in a specially made pouch - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

‘There is a gap in the market for a pet-matching service; a dating agency where experts find you the perfect companion’

The children want a pet. Pets, to be precise. Oh, I know, we already have the dogs (on which they dote), but they want something small and furry, and as we no longer have the excuse of lack of space, I’ve given in. The question is, what to get?

There is a gap in the market for a pet-matching service: a dating agency where expert petologists assess your needs and find you the perfect companion. Single, but like to chat? Get a parrot. Insomniac? You need a nocturnal gerbil. Allergic to fur? Easy: tortoise.

Here in the Mackintosh household, there has been much clamouring for a kitten. “You know they don’t stay kittens for long?” we said. The children vowed to love a cat even once it was old and crochety, but nevertheless it was a no from us. I love cats. They’re cuddly, independent, easy to look after… I’m less fond of cat’s predilection for bringing in mice, chasing them around the house and then depositing the semi-live remains upon their master’s bed. See also: shredding the furniture, climbing the curtains, and using the plant pots as litter trays (my mother’s African Violets never recovered), not to mention their ability to turn any outfit into a furry bathmat within minutes. The husband and I were resolute: no cats.

George’s optimistic longing for a tarantula was pretty short-lived (shudder), as was Josh’s suggestion of rats (seriously?), and Evie’s plea for a sugar glider that would accompany her everywhere in a specially made pouch (I admit I wavered. Have you seen them? Ridiculously cute).

“Why do we need more pets, anyway?” grumbled my husband, as I measured up the playroom for a terrarium. It was a fair point. I grew up with dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, gold fish and horses. A house is never quite a home, for me, without at least one of the above, and ideally, all of them. As for need… “It teaches the children responsibility,” I said. I winced at a sudden memory of my mother telling me off for leaving her to clean out Sooty’s hutch again. In fact, now I think about it, didn’t my mum end up looking after the guinea pigs as well? And wasn’t she the one who scraped the algae off the inside of the fish tank, remembered to buy pondweed, and flushed the fish that didn’t make it? And wasn’t it her who pushed worming tablets into wedges of cheese and pulled frankly unrecognisable socks from the nether regions of a cairn terrier? Best I don’t mention any of that to the husband.

“Something small, then,” he sighed. “Something that can live outdoors.” We held a family conference. By which I mean I mentioned it at supper.

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“Chickens?” I said optimistically. “They’re not pets!” cried the children. “We’ve had chickens,” said the husband, as though that rules us out from ever having them again. I loved our chickens. Mrs Greedy, Queenie, Martha, Princess Layer. Great company, amazing eggs. Okay, so I was less enamoured by the rats. And by the red mite. And by the lice that resulted in the tragic demise of Princess Layer at the hands of my husband while I covered my eyes behind the shed…

“How about guinea pigs?” I said. I have a certain fondness for guinea pigs, with their funny little ears and cute squeaking noises, and not-at-all-bikini-ready bodies. Less bitey than rabbits (I kept a pair of gardening gloves handy for when Sooty was feeling particularly grumpy), but just as straight-forward to look after. “Yes!” the children chorused, “guinea pigs!” “Oh, okay,” said the husband, somewhat grumpily.

Guinea pigs it is, then. I wonder how long before it’s my turn to clean them out...

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, published by Sphere, is out now. Book four is on its way!

For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh