All kids adore little, cute, fluffy things, especially if live and warm, and I was no exception. My first beloved pets were a couple of hamsters a friend of mine gave me when I was in primary school. I used to let them out of their cage in a spare room we had at home and play with them, setting routes I expected they would follow. Instead they inevitably hid under pieces of furniture and refused to come out.
They soon got busy and when the male started to attack the female, my friend told me the girl was certainly pregnant. What a unique experience to see the pink little ones one inch long attached to their mum’s breasts, moving blindly around the cage and visibly growing in a few weeks. I had to find several adoptive families before the number grew exponentially. At the end I flooded relatives and friend with couples of hamsters who eventually got busy in turn.
My next experiences were much more demanding as we had some dogs and a cat. The cat was a foundling I met at the seaside while we were on holiday. She was a thin, grey kitten with a sore eye. I cured her, of course, and named her Tea. At the seaside we lived in a big house with a large garden where Tea could wander and hunt lizards and butterflies. At home, in Rome, we lived in an apartment where poor Tea felt trapped and was rather unsettled, jumped here and there, scratched furniture and angrily sharpened her nails on the sofa, clearly showing she was uncomfortable. My parents found a family with a large colony of cats living in the countryside outside Rome and sent Tea there for good.
Then it was the turn of the dogs. The first dog appeared in my family by chance. It was a German shepherd who followed me home on a rainy day. He looked old and weary. My sister and I dried and fed him and asked my parents if we could keep him. It seemed all right at first but then my mum found out he had a dog-tag so she called the council who found his owner. My sister and I were so sad that my parents decided to get a puppy.
It was early spring when we went to see a litter of harlequin Danes. They were superb, chubby, with big pink noses, smelling of bread and milk. We chose a female (as she would be smaller than a male) called Assia, with grey eyes and a black patch covering half her face. When she came home after a few weeks she was already twenty-five inches tall, with slender legs. Unfortunately she had a problem: she struggled to do her business outside (in the balcony or in the park where we took her three times a day), she preferred inside, flooding our floors and leaving smelly presents here and there. It was useless to reward her, or cheer her up in the rare occasions she managed to deliver it outside as she just didn’t get it. Finally my parents gave her back, which was a terrible loss for me and my sister.
Mum and Dad hurried to replace Assia with a boxer my sister named Piki (pronounced Peekee), a black and brown, joyful, extremely lively, strong puppy with a white stripe in the middle of his face and a flat nose. He was such fun, always happy, tremendously cheerful, exuberant and sometimes unstoppable in his outflow of affection. When we came in, or visitors arrived, somebody had to take hold of him or he bumped into people so hard they had to lean against a wall or be knocked down. No problem with his business: even if sick he managed to stagger outside. But there was still an issue.
But one day I saw a beautiful Doberman eating from open bins not far from my house. I asked neighbours and they told me he belonged to a musician who used to leave from time to time for his gigs and abandoned the dog in the street. His name was Dillinger. He was calm, tamed, like an old wise man. Of course I took him home, fed him and with my dad took him to the vet for a check up. The vet said the dog was all right though rather old. His eyes were affected by cataracts. He was an exceptional dog, probably trained. When his owner came to fetch him after several weeks, Dillinger couldn’t help but follow him as every well behaved, faithful dog would do, never looking back. We cried, but knew we couldn’t stop him.
At this point my parents made up their minds to have another dog. One of our friends had just had a litter of black poodles of medium size. We chose a male and named him Ruben. He was a fluffy black ball, quick and smart. He learned all the basic rules in less than two weeks, loved to rescue tennis balls and sticks and never missed one. His beady black eyes were so clever we used to say he could catch everything was going on: a pity he couldn’t speak. What he mostly loved was swimming in open water.. He was so happy that he barked joyfully all the time he swam, which we found incredibly funny but perhaps the people nearby didn’t always agree with us. He followed us everywhere for more than twelve years. He even met two of my children (whom he didn’t like as he was terribly jealous of them) before dying of heart attack in spite of all the cures my parents had tried. It was heart breaking again. He was a member of the family and we missed him so much.
My parents felt they couldn’t commit to another dog, and neither my sister and I did, though our children had different pets. But who knows? I may start again now that my children are leaving home one by one. There might be a gap in time just before having grandchildren.