Jenni Murray

Jenni Murray

“There are unforeseen risks of living with animals!”

Thinking of gifting a pet this Christmas? As our columnist knows all too well, caring for animals comes with its hazards.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had animals in my life. These days there are four small companions. The dogs are three chihuahuas – Frieda, 17, Madge, eight, and Minnie, seven months – and there’s an eight-year-old super affectionate brown Burmese cat called Soo.

I love them all dearly and they are the best company possible. They greet me hysterically each time I come home, never complain and never get angry or argue with me. I have, though, discovered recently, after all these years of never being without a pet, there are unforeseen risks of living with animals.

The ashtray, the cat and a trip to A&E…

This year I’ve spent four weeks in hospital, two weeks on two separate occasions, thanks first to the cat and then to the puppy. I felt such a fool telling the doctors in A&E that the terrible bruising and growing lump in the middle of my right foot was due to my cat misbehaving.

It was a Sunday night. I’d had friends for lunch and was in the kitchen clearing up. I’d emptied and washed a heavy glass ashtray, which I’d placed on the side. Soo knows she’s not allowed on the kitchen surfaces. Yet, she leapt up, marched towards the ashtray, and knocked it off. I like to think she didn’t know my foot was directly in her line of fire, but it was.

I howled with pain. I couldn’t see any obvious wound and the ashtray survived the fall. I thought nothing more of it.

I’ve never seen such bruising as appeared the next day, but I carried on regardless. I had work to do. It wasn’t too painful and surely the bruising would go away eventually. I carried on like that for a couple of weeks until a visit from my son, who thought the lump had grown and could be infected, so demanded I take a trip to casualty.

It was there that a consultant orthopaedic surgeon came for a look. I’d had an X-ray and knew no bones were broken. What could he want? “I’m going to admit you,” he said.

“Not possible,” said I, “I’m too busy.”

“I’ll say two things which might persuade you,” replied the doctor. “Sepsis and lose your foot.”

“OK,” I said, “I’ll just pop home and get my nightie.”

There followed two weeks of intravenous antibiotics and treatment of the wound, which turned out to be a massive, infected haematoma. Thanks, Soo.

And then there was the incident with the dog

And so, to Minnie. Of my three dogs, Frieda doesn’t like sleeping in my bed; she prefers to be downstairs. Madge has always slept in my bed but doesn’t like to be too close. She curls up on the opposite side to me. Minnie likes to cuddle up as close as possible. I push her away a bit. She snuggles again.

One night in October she came close to my chest. I was lying on my side. It was 2am. Half asleep, I rolled over to avoid her, not realising how close I was to the edge of the bed. I fell out. Two days of terrible back pain followed, seeing me return to A&E. A chest X-ray suggested the T8 vertebrae in my spine was broken. MRI scans confirmed it.

Discussions with spinal surgeons suggested no surgery was needed; the bone would heal itself. Thus far, two weeks in hospital, one week at home with lots of painkillers, carers, physios and occupational therapists. I’m still sleeping upright in a chair.

As for forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. It’s my fault the ashtray was too close to the edge and dogs in my bed was my choice.

There’ll still be treats and toys wrapped up for them under the Christmas tree. I still love them all to bits.

It’s a cliché for a reason

I have no doubt that at this time of year children will be pestering for pets, so let me remind you of that seasonal cliché: a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

And any parent tempted to succumb to pester power needs to be aware that while children make wild promises about how much time they’re prepared to spend on caring for an animal, they have no actual understanding of how much work is involved.

So, be warned, mums, dads and soft-hearted grandparents: that work generally falls to Mum. I know this from years of experience. I’ve cared for cats, dogs, mice, gerbils and, on one occasion, a tarantula.

I’ve loved the cats and dogs, willingly putting in the effort… though I can’t say the same for the smaller creatures that came my way.

Jenni Murray

Written by Jenni Murray