Toby Young

Status Anxiety: Another pet bites the dust

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Roxy Mark II is dead. I hoped I’d never have to write those words, but there’s no doubt about the matter. I don’t mean our replacement hamster has escaped like the first one (current whereabouts unknown). I mean she’s expired. She’s not resting. She’s passed on. She is no more. She has gone to meet her maker.

I first learnt the news when I was travelling in East Africa a couple of weeks ago. Caroline called in a state of panic to say she ‘thought’ Roxy was dead. 

‘She’s not moving,’ she said. ‘I forgot to feed her. D’you think she’s died of starvation?’

‘Oh Jesus,’ I replied. ‘Not another one?’

‘Sasha’s right, isn’t she? We’re pet serial killers.’

That was my eight-year-old daughter’s verdict after Roxy II went AWOL last month. Coming on top of losing our cat and then losing Roxy Mark I (I left her cage door open), this was her withering conclusion. A little harsh, but these tykes are merciless when it comes to handing out moral judgments. I managed to win a reprieve when I recaptured Roxy II in the downstairs lavatory — ‘You’re the best daddy in the world’ — but she had now been proved right.

My first instinct was to blame Caroline — ‘Nothing to do with me, gov. I wasn’t even in the country’ — and she must have suspected as much because she quickly followed up by telling me we’d have to stage the ‘discovery’ of Roxy’s corpse after my return. ‘I just can’t deal with this on my own babe,’ she explained. 

I agreed, not least because as long as Caroline remained convinced she’d ‘murdered’ Roxy I would earn vital brownie points by covering up for her. In fact, it’s inconceivable that Roxy II starved to death. She was so fat she looked like an over-sized stuffed toy. Died of over-feeding, more like.

On the morning of my return, Caroline shot me a pointed look over the breakfast table: ‘Have you checked on Roxy since you got back?’ I dutifully trudged into the playroom and, seconds later, came back into the kitchen, having composed my features into a mask of gravity.

‘I’ve got some bad news,’ I said. ‘Roxy II is dead.’

‘No,’ said Sasha, her face crumpling. ‘How? How did she die?’

I let the question hang in the air for a few seconds as Caroline looked at me imploringly.

‘Wet tail,’ I said. This was the cover story we’d agreed on. It’s a fungal infection caused by poor personal hygiene, something Roxy II was definitely guilty of.

‘Why did you let her tail get wet?’ asked Sasha, tears streaming down her face. The question was specifically addressed to me.

‘No, no, you don’t understand, it doesn’t literally mean —’

‘PET SERIAL KILLER,’ she screamed, and then stamped out of the room.

Given the truth of this accusation, the comment she made when she re-appeared was somewhat surprising: ‘I think we should get a dog.’ She pointed out that the reason we’d bought a hamster in the first place — or, rather, two hamsters — was because she’d wanted a dog and we’d persuaded her that this was a more suitable pet. Turned out, hamsters weren’t so easy to manage after all. So why not get a dog? At least a dog might have a chance of surviving more than a fortnight in the Young household.

‘Mummy and I will discuss it.’

I quite like the idea, but Caroline has never been keen. There’s something about dogs that brings out her inner Jewish American Princess. ‘They’re so dirty,’ is her standard objection. When I look at a dog, I see a loyal, undemanding friend — a foot warmer on cold winter nights — whereas Caroline regards all dogs as miniature poo factories. The very thought that a dog might sniff another dog’s bottom and then lick her face makes her shudder with horror. Cats are barely any better because they lick their own bottoms.

‘Can’t we just not have a pet?’ she asked. ‘I’m not a pet person.’

I would go along with this, but the thought of having wasted all that money on the hamster cage is deeply upsetting. My plan now is to try and capture a mouse — there are plenty in our garden — and stick it in the cage. I will then put Sasha in sole charge so if she wakes up one morning to find that her mouse has ceased to be she won’t be able to call me a ‘serial killer’. I’m worried that if this idea takes root in Sasha’s head it’s going to cost me a fortune in psychiatry bills.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.