Animals that were a part of family
A recent study by scientists says that dogs, cats and rabbits — the most popular pets — are not the ‘best’ ones to have. Rather, the sika deer, a spotted deer native to East Asia, tops the list, followed by the wallaby and the llama. These conclusions have been reached based on how easy an animal is to care for, whether they are dangerous to humans, how they adapt to life in captivity, etc.
Going by this, our Father (who would be 100 this year, had he lived), was a man ahead of his time. He brought all manner of creatures into our home and some of them stayed long enough to get used to him and the family. Unfortunately, as the youngest, I was either not there or was too young to remember many of these animals. The older two siblings took full advantage of their special status as the experienced ones and kept me enthralled and envious with their stories and I often questioned why those ‘pets’ were no longer with us.
Father would quote the laws laid down by the Government of India, but actually, the laws came later. What curbed him was Mother’s aversion to furry and feathered creatures, however young and helpless and endearing they seemed when they first put in an appearance. Our German Shepherd was about all Mother could take and it had redeemed itself by warning us of impending danger on more than one occasion. But Mother drew the line there. She was not going to have anything else inside the house.
Father found an easy way around this stipulation: We always had houses with large gardens and enough space to make enclosures for all the creatures he brought in. Thus there were rabbits, turkeys, guinea fowls, geese, Muscovy ducks, terrapins, a calf that grew and took up a lot more space than he had bargained for, pigeons, goats that were not too friendly, a spotted deer that became best of friends with our German Shepherd and gambolled endlessly with it. He also had all types of chickens, and names like Rhode Island Red, Rhode Island White, Australorp and Leghorn were everyday terms for us and we were expected not only to recognise them, but to identify their eggs as well. (Only my brother, the eldest, learnt to do this; the rest of us just went by what he and Father said they were.)
Mother was willing to oversee the huge amount of extra work all those ‘pets’ involved and was pretty accommodating — provided these creatures kept their distance from her.
Then Father went a little overboard: On one of his expeditions into the forest, he picked up a pair of motherless leopard cubs and then tried to convince Mother that she could rear them! While she was recovering from the shock of seeing those two bundles of fur, we were going crazy over them … and of course, we got scratched and nipped for our efforts!
That didn’t deter us. We were busy shouting dibs on who would have the cubs beside their bed when Mother stepped in. She had already seen how big a loyal, loving German Shepherd and a gentle herbivorous faun could grow. She was having none of these two carnivores with their surfeit of teeth and claws! Nothing and no one would be safe when they were around, she declared, and she refused to have them for even an overnight stay.
No amount of cajoling worked on Mother and thus that close encounter with the wild was brief.
Ah, I think now, if only Father had had this new list! He would have surely got around Mother’s objections with some other exotic but ‘safe’ animal!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.