My cat, Sam, is barking. Yes, I know; I pointed out to him that this could be construed as letting the side down somewhat, but he just lay there on his back with all his paws in the air, a well-licked bag of catnip resting on his chest, and stared at me out of the tops of his upside-down eyes. He was a bit tired after racing around the lounge, playing ‘keepie uppie’ with a table tennis ball, (badly, but I didn’t tell him), and then diving behind a cushion in case he’d left a mouse down the back of the settee.
But barking or not, he makes me smile, which is all the proof I need that pets are good for us. I was reading more proof as Sam lay there. Did you know, I asked him, as his mouth dropped open a fraction and a little pink tongue poked out at me, that 79% of 5-16 year olds believe that pets have a positive effect on their intelligence? Judging from his reaction, I have to say that he neither knew nor cared. They claim, I added, seeking to pique his interest, that the pet helps them with their homework, and not, presumably, by eating it. Sam is unlikely to do this, should I ever feel the urge to attempt homework again. He has never, to my knowledge, read a book, his language skills are confined to requesting food at various levels of distress from polite enquiry to desperate protestations of imminent starvation, and he clearly can’t keep count of how many meals he’s had during any one day.
Of course you don’t need the brains of a collie to work out that those 79% of kids worked out that if they answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘would a pet help you with your homework?’ they might actually get one.
Then, having read another story on my laptop, I asked him if he was happy. He certainly looked happy, clutching the catnip bag to his chest like an otter toying with a recently acquired oyster. It’s just that, according to what I had read, a lot of our pets are not. In fact, they are sufficiently unhappy as to be in need of artificial pick-me-ups. Pets, the research informed me – and I duly relayed this to Sam – suffer from all sorts of psychological conditions, including, it seems, anorexia. At this point we exchanged a look, because while I may be the opposite of a sceptical anorexic, in that I’ll swallow most things, even I’m not that gullible. And anorexia certainly isn’t a condition that is ever going to trouble Sam. If he dislikes what he sees in the mirror, it’s only because he thinks it’s someone else. He rarely spurns double cream in favour of the semi-skimmed, and he would only remove the fat from chicken so he could eat that first.
But there it was, according to the research. Anorexia, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder; our pets, it seems, have them all, probably brought on by the pressure of having to complete an essay on the reign of Henry VIII. They are serious conditions, I told Sam, and they should apparently be clinically treated. With expensive drugs. The sort that the companies who commissioned the research were due shortly to be releasing onto the market, as luck would have it. Pills, mostly, to calm the poor things down a bit, and introduce some tranquillity into their lives of harmful hyperactivity. Sam flopped onto his side at this point, since the minuscule effort of balancing had finally become too onerous, and buried his nose in the catnip.
I don’t think he needs drugs; the catnip seems to do the trick. Barking, but generally happy. We’re so alike.