I have come to accept that I am an animal lover. There is nothing wrong with this, but the term itself is not great. It has the slightly saccharine air of little girls hugging ponies, or the over-the-top chaos of Steve Irwin (RIP). If I saw it on someone’s dating profile, I might even dock points. And yet, I am an animal lover – especially given the way people always seem to disappoint these days – so I am finally embracing the label.
Domestic pets, naturally, are one of life’s great joys. (Sometimes a friend and I message each other randomly – she has a dog and I a cat – to say: “Isn’t it weird the way we just have these animals roaming around our houses?”) But there is something especially thrilling about encountering animals in the wild.
Many of us now are well acquainted with the urban fox. There are quite a few where I live, and watching them trot brazenly up the road is always cheering. I admit that when they’re amorously screeching at night, or when I walk into the kitchen to find they’ve squeezed themselves through the cat flap and are attempting to drag packets out of the bin with not a care in the world, I am slightly less approving. But I enjoy the idea that they’re never far away, frolicking.
My latest obsession is the black squirrel, which, until recently, I did not know existed. Squirrels are also animals that quite simply do not defer to humans. They will merrily sit on a park bench and eye up your sandwiches without shame. They will skip across your path as if they have a legally protected right of way. Some of them have sparse tails, wire-thin like an interdental brush; others, great big feather boas. All adorable in my book.
Imagine my delight, then, when I am in the countryside and the snuffling noses of hedgehogs reveal themselves to me. Or the quick, rare black-and-white flash of a badger. The spotty backs of watchful deer. I’m afraid I am now laughing remembering a friend who found herself in a field of bulls while wearing a bright-red T-shirt. Although I told her bulls are actually mostly colourblind and, given that she wasn’t “theatrically” planning to stab them to death, I thought she’d be fine, she had a near breakdown.
I am not sure how I would handle living in a country that had dangerous predators on the loose. It’s entirely possible I’d end up as one of those people mauled to death in an attempt to get a selfie with a tiger. But before that bit – oh, what a joy!