Brian Viner: Country Life

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The Independent Online

Bonnie the West Highland terrier has quickly made herself at home, weeing and pooing with abandon all over the house.

It's amazing what a stench is created by the smallest puppy excretion. My mother is staying with us at the moment and last night she announced at a few minutes after 10pm that she was going to bed.

It seemed a little early, but seconds after she had left the room, Jane and I were hit by an olfactory howitzer that had clearly been launched from just behind the sofa where my mum had been cheerfully reading her book.

She was first in the line of fire. However, she was too polite to say that she was going upstairs to escape the disgusting smell, so she feigned tiredness. And what was responsible for the offending pong? A tiny bit of poo about the size and shape of a jelly bean, not that there's much chance of confusing the two.

Bonnie will no doubt soon be house-trained, but in the meantime she has committed the more heinous crime of digging up the jasmine in the conservatory that I carefully planted six months ago and have since been devotedly nurturing. I've even talked to it.

Like everyone else I willingly subscribed to the idea that Prince Charles was a bit barmy when he admitted talking to his plants and vegetables, but now I'm on his side entirely. The jasmine and I got along famously before it was uprooted. But now it seems unlikely to survive, having been severely and probably fatally traumatised by a puppy no bigger than a guinea pig.

Since mine was the lone voice opposing Bonnie's arrival I would have been perfectly entitled to throw a wobbly following the jasmine episode, but of course I'm as smitten by her as the rest of the household, with the hissing exception of Tiger Lily, the cat. And Ralph the hamster would be wise to be wary of her, too.

Our retriever, Fergus, is very sweet with Ralph, and the spectacle of them rubbing noses is priceless. But Bonnie, I suspect, would have her little terrier teeth into Ralph in no time.

Bonnie, Fergus, Ralph... I never realised when we moved to the country just how many more names we would have to bestow.

We'd finished conceiving children so I didn't think we'd need the books of baby names any more.

How wrong I was. Since then we've either had or still have Tess the cat, Zoe the pony, Nigel the snake, Tommy and Teddy the goldfish, Milo the retriever and Paddy the Jack Russell, although we at least stopped naming the chickens once we'd got more than four of them. We're up to 13 chickens now, so the naming business would have become rather tiresome.

There are so many things you have to think about when naming a pet, not least of which is: how's it going to sound when you call them?

That is never likely to be a problem with Tommy and Teddy, but Milo and Paddy had to be regularly and loudly summoned, and the same goes for Fergus and Bonnie. At least we don't know any human beings with the same names.

Our friend Avril has a teenage son called Milo and she never failed to find it disconcerting, while out dog-walking, when Jane would suddenly shriek: "Milo, for God's sake stop rolling in that cowpat."

Teenage boys have some unsavoury habits, it is true, but cowpat-rolling isn't usually one of them.

If we had named one of our sons Hugo then things would have got truly confusing, because that's the name of Avril's dog.

Maybe the answer is not to give human names to animals at all. These problems would never arise with a Bonzo.

Moreover, I have described before the occasion when Milo and Paddy went missing on a weekend when we had our friends Paul and Jacky staying with us.

We were all outside yelling their names and Paul and Jacky, musicians who frequently work with Elvis Costello, later confided that the great man has a couple of long-serving roadies called Milo and Paddy. They half-expected a pair of hairy Irishmen to emerge from the wood at the bottom of our garden, carrying amplifiers and wondering what the fuss was all about.