I went with my handler to the London Pet Show at Olympia last weekend. We went in search of a few accoutrements for the family feline, including a travel cage for the move.
Why? Because pet shops hardly exist any more. They’ve been driven out of business by supermarkets selling commodities and online businesses selling speciality items.
So, the pet shops of my childhood, with talking mynah birds, parrots, finches of every conceivable kind, fishes of every hue, and the usual hamsters, gerbils and other rodent relations are simply history. The only pet shop within driving distance sells dry goods only.
People get their pets, as far as I can see, from the web. And, indeed, our own little moggie, was given away free to a good home on gumtree. She had ceased to be a cute little kitten and needed to be speyed and injected against cat diseases and microchipped, just in case.
En route I it occurred to me that I should have brought a camera.
The English are more than little bonkers when it comes to pets.
I like them better for it. As national eccentricities go kindness to and love of animals are commendable traits even if taken to excess on occasion.
Now and then their affections appear disproportionate. For example, when an IRA bomb killed four soldiers and several horses, one of the surviving horses received truckloads of mail and donations for his recovery amounted to about $1m.
Then there were the full page ads in many national periodicals decrying the consumption of dogs in the Philippines, complete with a cute looking dog with big brown eyes, quite unlike most dogs in the Philippines, dogs one would have to be truly desperate to even think of eating.
Plus, of course, the endless ads for retirement homes for the poor overworked donkeys from the Spanish coalmines, complete with heart-rending close-up photographs of their overgrown hooves.
We didn’t get a travel cage but I wasn’t disappointed.
The people were more extraordinary than the animals. Booth after booth for the National Society for this or that sort of extraordinary cat. Norwegian Forest Cats? Who knew?
Some of their owners were also striking, and almost all female.
Many varieties of dog, all of whom would appreciate your washing your hands using the specially provided antiseptic stuff if you’d touched another breed.
Some not small people with a keen interest in a variety of tiny gerbil-like creatures whose cramped quarters on show were not, the public was reassured, their beloved creatures normal homes.
They were all there.
Some were the sort of people only a pet could love. More than a few advertised their orientations via tattoos, t-shirts and personal ornaments. I spotted a man the size of a house wearing a t-shirt reading
Life without rabbits? I don’t think so!
Really?! I was reminded of needing to refer to a certain species on the menu on holiday in Malta once as Maltese Chicken, to avoid causing distress and outrage to a junior rabbit lover. His outrage was all the greater when we were rumbled, half-way through eating it! Anyone would think we’d been unmasked as cannibals. I think there were tears, but I couldn’t swear to it. Commiserating while biting one’s lip to avoid laughing is not easy; that I remember.
I didn’t know it at the time but it seems we missed out on the Cat Show Jumping (I am not making this up; follow the link for video), a form of madness imported from America, like Scientology only worse.
What to say about the Irish Setters? If my handler had a tail it would have gone into overdrive when she stumbled on the lady with six of them.
Once you’ve had one
the setter lady said, and her voice trailed off. You might as well have six? I wondered.
would be my sentiments in the dalmation department. Half one’s life picking white hairs off dark clothes, and vice versa.
Later I heard her say she had a lot of land, which she’d need to. I didn’t need to hear whimpering to know what my handler was thinking. I could read the signs the way our setter could read the raised eyebrow that preceeded the one word suggestion, or even the spelling test, that began with the letter W. Five out of six of the setters were sprawled languidly on the floor and one was making friends with a crowd of admirers, homing in on the susceptible.
Empathy failed me, however, when watching the people besotted with and primping their fluffy little lapdogs on tables erected for purpose, the bichon frises, miniature schnauzers and the like.
Useful full size dogs, like retrievers or setters, appeal to me. Watch the camera do 360 and listen to the ears going thalop-thalop here:
Enjoyable, surely, even if you don’t shoot.
The prize, if I had one to give, for the most characteristically eccentrically English animal madness of all would go to the Network for Animals, an animal welfare organization that campaigns, from an address that begins Imperial House, on a number of issues including: horse fighting in the Philippines. For lunacy this beats cat show jumping hands down.
I neither encountered this phenomenon nor heard of it in almost 8 years in the Philippines. It’s a poor country, after all, and relatively few people can afford to keep horses, never mind fight them. Cock fighting, however, is as endemic as it is illegal. But any attempt to raise money to campaign against that would surely be laughed at, given the numbers of chickens we slaughter and eat every day.
The horse on the other hand… has a special appeal to the English, and very likely to the prosperous elderly in particular. Where is the compassion for the children living in poverty? The cultural imperialism grated too. Imagine the absurdity of a Filipino campaign against fox hunting in the shires! Now imagine it in an era where the infant mortality rate is a large multiple of what is now and where children, in their millions, are malnourished and deprived of decent education and life chances. Shameless, cynical opportunism wouldn’t begin to describe the preying on the kindly Filipino animal lover’s affection for the fox.
It’s not as if there’s no irreplaceable, precious and unique wildlife in the Philippines needing protection, but that’s another story in itself.