David Attenborough’s first pet was a fire salamander, given to him on his eighth birthday. Gerald Durrell prayed that ‘if naturalists go to heaven… I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me’. Both men welcomed an array of animals into their lives and homes, with the more extra-ordinary and the native cohabiting.
Today, there are still those who are equally happy to extend their kitchen floors to everything from sheep and deer to poultry and hedgehogs-and it would seem that the cats and canines are perfectly content to share with them.
Menageries used to be commonplace in this country, but are far more unusual now. The modernday equivalents are circuses and zoos, with some still letting several species live together. In 1819, Lord Byron, an avid collector of animals, wrote to his friend Francis Hodgson: ‘I have got two monkeys and a fox-and two new mastiffs… the monkeys are charming’.
He recorded ‘a certain tolerance, even something of a kinship’ among his unruly flock. John C. Wright, author of Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Groundbreaking Program For Happy, Well-Behaved Pets And Their People and a certified applied animal behaviourist, says that given the right set of circumstances, animals can form close and lasting relationships across species boundaries, and that it’s far from surprising that they all end up in a pile in front of the Aga together.
‘It’s not unusual for animals to be nurturing toward any species,’ he says. ‘The instinct to care for another animal can be hormonal, or simply related to age. If they’re young, their behaviour is malleable, and they’re open to just about any experience, opportunity or companion. Like humans, animals, for the most part, yearn for company.’
Prickly pet that’s one of the gang
Mini Hog (right) is an African albino hedgehog, who lives with photographer Charles Sainsbury-Plaice and his family in Warwickshire. The children’s chickens kept being eaten by a fox, causing much upset, and it was decided that an indoor pet was the answer. Named by youngest son Bertie, Mini Hog has lived in a hollow church bench by the Aga for 18 months. She sleeps all day, then comes out in the evenings to play with the dogs. ‘They used to attack her, but after a few prickling incidents, they soon learnt,’ says Mr Sainsbury-Plaice. ‘They now spend hours chilling out on the sofas.’ Mini Hog is pictured with Mary the terrier puppy.
Like a duck to water
Originally, Puddles the duck and her sister lived in the garden with the hens, but when her sibling died, Puddles shunned the company of the chickens, preferring Jessie and Shadow-a doberman and an alsatian, belonging to Jacqueline Meadows. ‘The ducks were a present for my son, Ryan,’ Mrs Meadows explains. ‘We got them when they were just a few weeks old, and Puddles is now the ripe old age of 14.’ The two dogs are similarly blasé about the arrangement. ‘Having always lived with poultry, they don’t mind at all. They know better than to question an old lady. Puddles waddles around with them wherever they go, and they’re quite happy for her to tag along.’
Ruling the roost
Another youngster with an unusual set of ‘siblings’ is Gladys, a Golden Sebright/Black Rock crossbreed chicken from Suffolk. Now two years old, Gladys-who was discovered to be a cockerel after he was named-was the sole survivor of a clutch of 14, after a fox raided the nest. He was brought into the kitchen to be cared for, where he and Snowy the cat formed a strong bond.
Snowy used to wash the young bird, and, to this day, the pair share a bowl of food. ‘He doesn’t officially live in the house,’ says owner Jane Etheridge, ‘but even if the five cats and the dog are sitting in the way, he always manages to make it to the food and the Aga. He’s a plucky little thing. All the animals get on surprisingly well, and he and Snowy are the best of friends.’