The pet shop boys (and girls): Children reveal the pleasures and pitfalls of living with a pet
School stress? Classmates being mean? Sometimes an animal can be a child's best friend.
Charlotte Philby is a writer and reporter at The Independent, currently based on the news desk after six years on the Saturday magazine. She has been shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for an undercover investigative into a website offering students up to £15,000 in return for sex. She has also written for cultural magazines including Dazed & Confused and NYLON and contributed to several books, among them a biography of French street artist Blek Le Rat. A mother and born-and-bred Londoner, she spends most of her free time working on her first crime fiction novel.
Saturday 15 September 2012
Connor Sullivan, 16, and his snake Bob
I'm not sure how many pets I've had in my life. At the moment I've got frogs and lizards and rats and various species of gecko, and I've got a rosy boa, she's a sort of shorter boa, and I've got a ball python, and a cat – but I don't think the cat really counts. And I've got a house snake, and loads of lizards.
We live in a flat in Hackney; there are two cages in my front room and I've got eight tanks in my bedroom, three of them with snakes inside; sometimes you can keep different snakes in the same cage, if they're from the same area. There are two snow-leopard geckos in the biggest tank, and I've got two African-clawed geckos in separate tanks; they're still quite young so I won't put them together until next year when they are ready to start breeding. Then I've got two crested geckos, which have laid eggs this year, and one tessellated gecko who lives on his own. That's it in my room.
The oldest creature at the moment is my female leopard gecko, who is three. A few of my pets have names but a lot of them don't; the snake in the photo is Bob, but there's also Bitty – she's called that because she bit me. I've always liked animals; it started when my friend had a turtle and he took me to a pet shop in Camden with loads of exotic creatures. I bought my first female gecko, then I started collecting from there.
My leopard geckos cost between £10-£25 each but some of them can cost up to £400; my velvet gecko was £70, that's my most expensive so far. I save up the money my mum and dad give me. I used to have to take my mum in with me to buy them because I was under 16, but now I can go on my own.
Bitty's a girl and Bob is a boy. You can tell because the males usually have smaller tails. With all my pets I clean them out once a month and regularly take out their poo and stuff and give them fresh water and spray their tanks to keep the humidity high enough. I feed the geckos every other day on crickets and worms, and the snakes once a week, on frozen mice and rats. I keep them in my bedroom in a chest freezer. I love all my pets, especially the ones I've had the longest.
It's sad when they die but I don't get emotional, I just wrap them in a bag and put them in the bin.
Florence Forde, 7, and her hamster Cuddles Chocolate Forde
My hamster is a girl and her name is Cuddles Chocolate Forde, because she is chocolate-coloured and she is cuddly and our surname is Forde. I got her on 28 June on my seventh birthday; I chose her but then it was a surprise in the morning. I chose her because we went to this shop where there were lots of different hamsters and gerbils and mice and rats and guinea pigs and stuff and birds, and me and my mum spotted her and I said, 'Ah, she is so cute, please can we get her?'. So then we asked the shopkeeper and then he opened the lid so we could stroke her and then lots of weeks later when it was my birthday-day my mum bought her for me.
She is cuddly. I hold her and make her comfortable with blankets and stuff and flat comfortable things. She likes to sit in my pocket but she kept on running out.
Cuddles Chocolate Forde has lots of adventures; she never bites, she is funny and one reason why she is funny is that she throws the roof off the little house that she sleeps in inside the cage. And she makes nests. And we have a sleeping bag for her: it is red and black and she bit a hole in it. My friends like to come to my house and play with her. She also likes to run around the house in her ball. We only have her in the kitchen when she is in the ball and we close all the doors so she can't get out. She is my first pet and I never thought I was going to get a pet.
Roceo Leyva-Thomas, 7, and her guinea pig Harry
My guinea pig is a boy, his name is Harry. At first he was Ginger because he was ginger and we thought he was a girl. But then – this is a bit gruesome – we looked on the internet and we saw about their bits and bobs and how you find out if it’s a girl or a boy and then we found it was a boy. And then the name Harry just came from the back of my head.
Harry is fun because he is very soft and cuddly and it’s just like having a little sister in a way. He is naughty and he likes eating a lot. We give him guinea-pig food then sometimes when he eats all his food we give him carrots and vegetables. He is seven months old. I bought him in a pet shop. I just randomly picked him because I didn’t really like the black and white ones, I thought they were a bit too chubby. Harry lives in his cage and sometimes he goes outside. He is dark ginger all on his bottom bit and there’s a little patch of light ginger and then on the top he is white.
I used to have fish but they disappeared. The cat next door ate them. The door was open and it got in; that was sad. I would like a dog, probably a cocker spaniel because they’re fluffy.
One day I’ll be allowed one, yes, yes, yes! I’d love to but my mum wants to see how responsible I am with Harry. I have to clean out his cage like once a day, you should see how many poos he’s done. He is a nice pet but he likes running away. He is adventurous.
Saskia Thorold, 13, and her dogs Louis and Poppy
We’ve got two dogs. Louis, the black and white one, is half-border collie, quarter-Labrador and quarter-spaniel, and Poppy is supposed to be a blue merle collie – but we don’t believe that because she doesn’t act or look like a collie. I remember when we first got Louis, my mum and sister went up to Yorkshire to get him from a farm. They brought him down to London on the train in a shopping bag. I was three years old and when they opened the front door with this puppy in a bag, I screamed, I was so excited.
I was seven when we got Poppy, and I’ll remember that day for ever because I got a new puppy and my ears pierced on the same day. We were on holiday in Wales and my mum and me drove past a farm which had a sign saying ‘Puppies For Sale’ and she said, ‘Ooh, let’s go in and have a look, shall we?’ and then suddenly we were choosing a puppy; and on the same day my mum let me get my ears pierced.
Louis is a lot more sensible. Poppy is a bit stupid, she’s not much of a dog, really. One night my dad cooked himself a nice steak and went out of the room for a moment and when he came back in Poppy had eaten it, which he wasn’t pleased about. We did lose Poppy once at the common. My brother and my dad were about to leave to go out and look for her but when they went outside she was sitting on the doorstep so she must have found her own way back and crossed a big road.
The Ardens: Tom, 11, George, 10, Jack, 8, Charlie, 5, and their tortoise Bobby
Bobby has lived with us for three years. Our mum really loves tortoises so she decided to get one for all of us; we were OK with it. After that we got two cats and a lizard, but Bobby is special because he was our first pet. He likes it when we stroke him on the head, and he likes sunbathing; when he sees the sun he stands still with his head up. Sometimes he gets a bit frightened. There was a fox in our back garden and he tried to get him but now we’ve got a cage for him so he’s safe.
Tortoises actually walk pretty quickly, not like fast-fast, more like a bit slow then a bit fast but not as slow as you think. When he sunbathes he is a bit funny and sometimes when he is in his cage he tries to climb up on this piece of wood and falls on his back. We have to pick him up because it’s not good for him to be on his back. He likes to eat grass, lettuce, tomatoes, greens, vegetables and salad. We take lots of turns to feed him: Tom goes on Monday, George on Tuesday, Jack on Wednesday and Charlie on Thursday and Friday. Bobby belongs to all of us, the lizard is George’s pet, and the cats are all of ours.
Really, Bobby is awesome, he’s good as a pet. He is fun to play with; when we hear him scratching the box where he lives (he has a box inside and a cage outside), it means he wants to go outside or in the playroom. Then we all get him out and play with him. When we first got him he used to live only in an outdoor cage but a week after we got him we let him outside and we couldn’t find him for a couple of days. We thought he couldn’t get far but then the gardener found him by the front gate in the bushes.
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