Pets afloat

When you have always been an animal lover and had pets about you all your life, it’s hard to imagine life without our little furry friends. I have been fortunate enough to share my life with many cats and quite a few dogs in my time. I also had a “Good Life” spell of raising goats, hens and ducks which, although hard work when raising small human animals, was a magical time that filled me with many happy memories.

This fluffy existence all came into question when I decided to move all my worldly goods and companions onto a floating home. Many people on the waters take their pets along with them, but these have generally been raised from young to respect the water and the captain’s rules. How would my tiny companions adapt, I wondered, and was it fair to expect them to?

Firstly, Ellie, my Cairn Terrierist of eight years, was renowned for her “independent” nature and love of escaping gardens. How would I keep her from roaming boatyards and marinas in pursuit of rats and rabbits? Then there was the senile old gentleman to be considered. Max, a lanky, black, short-haired moggy had joined my family back in 2001. The rescue centre assured us at the time that he was “around a year old”, but recent trips to local vets had revised this upwards by at least a couple of adventure-filled years. Last but not least, what on earth would Hazel make of this impending move? AKA “Devil Cat”, this tabby terror had always been semi-feral. A natural survivor, she was bound to make a bid for freedom!

Now, when a “normal” house move takes place, things are usually fairly straightforward where pets are concerned. They either move with you from home to home on the day in some fashion or are boarded out until such time as they can be released in the new territory. For me, things are rarely that simple. In order to keep costs to a minimum, and my little treasures out of bed and board, I was to camp out in a decrepit motor home until I could move my belongings aboard.

Oh, and did I mention I was still minding my daughter’s house rabbit? Just for good measure, Ralph had been left with “Granny” while she too relocated. Well, to cut a long story short, we all survived. The animals all got on famously (under supervision, of course!). Even though the anticipated timespan of our camp stretched unbelievably, a kind of daily routine saved my sanity and a watchful eye made sure no one became dinner.

Expert advice recommends keeping cats indoors for weeks when transferred to new territory, but by Day Three, Devilcat was chewing the rubber seals on the windows in a desperate bid for freedom. With a silent prayer and resignation to the inevitable disappearance, I opened the door and set her free. She vanished into the nearby undergrowth, soon indistinguishable from her surroundings. Within hours she was back yowling loudly to be let back in and fed handsomely. Obviously being free range and self-sufficient didn’t appeal.

Two years on, Ellie is now Barge Dog, sitting on the deck for hours as guardian of the seawall footpath. She is not brave enough to jump onto the pontoon or fool enough to swim. Her original, belly-crawling stance to get from ship to shore has transformed into a confident, Queen of the Boardwalk trot. Max’s apparent Feline Dementia restricts him to circuits around the deck and seeking warm spots in which to sunbathe. And Devil Cat? Well, some things never change I guess.

Happily, she has proved me wrong and has adopted the barge as her hunting lodge. The mighty hunter spends days and nights watching, and sometimes sampling, the wealth of wildlife in the area. Occasionally I get an unexpected gift, left on the back deck for me. A headless rabbit one day, perhaps a leftover of rat’s innards. Generally, I have a loud, siren-like wailing assault my ears when she demands to be let in from rain or fancies a human-made snack. One moment the untamed is returning from the wild, the next she is demanding a fuss and treadling my lap.

It seems that I need not have worried about their transfer to our new life. As with many things in life, a calm approach and common sense attitude filtered out and we all muddled through. There are herbal soothers and natural medicines to calm, both pet and owner, but the bottom line is… if you want something bad enough, it’s up to you to make it happen!

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