Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Animals in the Family

Living on a farm as we do, it is easy to allow an excess of animals into our life. There’s loads of room for them to run around, so why not have four border collies and three cats? That is just in our house. One sister-in-law has two more border collies and one cat, the other has two small dogs and three cats and we haven’t even begun to count geese, chickens, tortoises, the two donkeys and one pony that are perennial borders at the back and the so far very sensible amount of one rabbit and one guinea pig that keep each other company, as the children’s pets. Of course the kids wish we could have a Mummy and a Daddy of each so that we could have babies....a friend of ours who has a stud farm started with two pairs several years ago and now has two whole loose boxes of rabbits and guinea pigs, so that idea was firmly vetoed by an unsympathetic mum!

Two of our collies came to us as temporary visitors when a dear friend of ours was being treated for cancer and had to move into a flat in the city. Sadly she died and the dogs became ours.


Vygie (pronounced fakie - the name of a bright spring flower here) was then already a venerable matriach, mother to several litters including my sister in law’s two females. She decided that she was Senior Dog and tried swiftly to disabuse her two daughters of any idea that they might have of reclaiming that position. We immediately had a lively feud on our hands that four years later shows no signs of abating. She is now rapidly declining into Senile Dog, frequently lying in one place barking intermittantly, having plainly forgotten what it was she was after. The feud though is what keeps her going, she lies in our doorway waiting for Poppy’s slightest attempt to approach our house, a volley of furious barking ensues and if we are not quick enough to slam the door, snarling and biting with stitches needed at the vets. This tends to happen several times a day, so any visitors are greeted by one of us shouting madly at the dogs to avoid a vicious fight. Despite rickety back legs and a portly constitution Vygie still seems to get much enjoyment out of all this and doesn’t seem to realise that she is usually the loser when it comes to wounds inflicted.

We have finally reached the stage every parent dreams about: all three children mostly sleep through the night now, except for the odd nightmare or needing the loo. Now is the time we should wake up refreshed every morning, ready to leap out of bed and celebrate an uninterrupted night’s sleep! Senile Dog though has taken it upon herself to ensure we don’t get out of practice with the broken nights. Every now and again she’ll utter a deep WOOF, then a low rumble and just as you were drifting off again another sharp WOOF! We get up to investigate and she looks at us blankly. A little bit later another WOOF informs us that now she thinks about it she wants to go out. One of us stumbles blearily to open the door, waits for her to pee then snuffle amiably around the lawn, before clattering in to subside with a clumpf back down on the rug by our bed. To be repeated as often as she thinks is necessary to keep us on our toes. Now to safeguard our sanity we could probably shut her in another room and let her pee on the floor at night, but to do that we not only need to train her not to batter the door down, but also reprogram the cats, who reserve the right to wander at night, preferably leaping joyously onto our bed in the intervals between Senile Dog’s wakings.

photo by my son, who is now a true photographer's son, wielding our old digital camera

Next senior dog, Alpha Male (and his son had better not forget it) there is Cobalt, our blue-eyed hound. A fierce guard dog, but reduced to a quivering heap, hiding under the children’s beds when we have a house full of guests. He is Vygie’s son and incestuously fathered a litter of puppies with each of his sisters. Two of the offspring we kept – it was meant to be just one, the sweet one-blue-eye, one-brown-eyed smallest of the litter (I hesitate to say runt as it sounds rather insulting).


She and my son fell mutually in love and she turned out intelligent, obediant and good with the children though a bit nervous of strangers – we named her Indigo, though she is always called Indy.

Badger of the big brown eyes

We also succumbed however to the big brown eyes of another puppy and foolishly let him Badger us into keeping him by looking up at us adoringly – his name became Badger, for the wide white stripe on his nose but it is just as appropriate for his demands for affection! The two youngsters are proper farm dogs and sleep outside on the stoep, ready to alert us to a train going past across the valley, or the neighbour’s dog infringing upon our territory.

Sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, as I try to move around the house with my entourage: one three year old suffering from seperation anxiety, if I go into the next room without informing her; one Senile Dog who likes to keep me in sight in case of children hurtling past on their black plastic motorbikes; towards the evening a few cats join the merry throng, trying to trip me up, as that is the fail-safe method to persuade me to open up a can for them. So when I leap up from the computer having forgotten my glasses I am accompanied by a clatter of claws, a wail of Muuummmm and occasionally I can’t help but feel just a tad harrassed by the number of dependants...!


  1. your doggies are beautiful! I think there's something in the air as I've seemed to need extra space to breathe the past couple of days... hmm

  2. My girls would love to have all of your pets. Allergies and a very small yard prevent that from happening.

  3. I know how you feel! My old, old cat has this endearing little habit of meowing in the night.

    (Aww, a widdle kitty cat meowing? Who could complain about that?")

    Perhaps meowing is the wrong word. She screams and yowls as if someone were slowly peeling the skin from her tail. This is generally at about 2:00 am and there has never once been any apparent reason. (Although she does it louder & more often if she's running low on food. Or, you know, if she's just forgotten to go and check to see if perhaps she might be running low on food.)

    Oh, and my lovely open-plan, high-ceilinged home has a bit of an echo.

    She's a nice enough cat, but to tell the truth her eventual demise may not be mourned quite as...thoroughly...as those of some pets.

  4. Love the border collie! So intelligent and good with kids. Enjoyed hearing about their quirks and different personalities. Animals bring great and positive energy to the home and family...and messes and fleas and other nasties... ( we are currently at war with the flea...one of my daughters cat guests brought them in...) But I would never have a home with out pets...

  5. Sounds like such a happy menagerie! Our two huge dogs and two demanding cats very much fill our house - like you I can't turn around without one tripping me underfoot (or at hips and ribcage for the dogs because they're that tall) but I wouldn't have it any other way.

  6. My 15 year old Border Collie was barking all night long. Turns out she was going blind and didn't like being left in the dark. She now sleeps peacefully in the living room with a few lights on.


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!