River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Notes from a newcomer

April 2006

Marion gives some sound advice on the children and animals

On my kitchen notice board there is a display of photos of my cat Tigs taken with children who have come to visit.

One shows my god-daughter's baby girl holding him (quite gently) by the tail. Another one is of my one-year-old step grandson reaching out tentatively to stroke his back. Then there is a delightful one of a friend's four-year-old

niece crouching proudly with one hand firmly on his neck.

In each picture, Tigs wears an expression of endurance. He is wary of all strangers, especially ones aged under ten. To be fair, not many cats welcome the well-intentioned fumbling of youngsters who tug at their ears or rub their fur the wrong way. I have heard of long-suffering pussies that submit happily to being dressed up in doll's clothes and pushed around in a pram but Tigs is too old for that sort of carry-on.

Despite his lukewarm co-operation, I try to foster good relationships because many of our young visitors don't have pets at home and this is a chance start them off on the right foot. When they first arrive they are fascinated by this thing that looks like one of their cuddly toys but - disconcertingly - moves. At the same time, they are very timid, running back to cling to mum when the sleeping moggy awakes and jumps off the chair.

Plucking up courage, they follow him through to the kitchen and watch in amazement as he eats from his bowl. This is strange behaviour, indeed!When the time is right, I encourage them to 'stroke him very gently', with

fingers crossed behind my back that Tigs won't choose this moment to show displeasure at the unsought attention. Fortunately, age has mellowed him and he puts up with a bit of patting with reasonably good grace.

He couldn't be more different from our old family Labrador who adored children so much that he almost knocked them over with his exuberant greeting. That was probably even more alarming for toddlers who were still unsteady on their pins!

Whatever the initial problems, I'm sure it is worth encouraging the natural affinity that children have with animals. Watching recent TV coverage of Crufts I was struck by the poise of little girls as young as six who were showing dogs there. Later on the same evening, I watched the stunning Planet Earth programme and reflected that learning to care for a domestic pet can be the first

step towards valuing all the remarkable creatures that share our environment.

I can't offer our young ones the thrill of a Safari Park but when Tigs has sloped off to seek diplomatic immunity under a bush, I take them to the rare breeds farm at Stow Bardolph where they can bond with lambs and piglets and

chicks while the grown ups enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

Marion Clarke

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