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Why our adorable little pets mean the world to us


Northern Ireland has the highest rate of dog and cat ownership in the UK, according to a new study. Here, Lee Henry talks to well-known personalities about their animal friends.

‘When I’m feeling down they always pick me up’

Model and actor Derek Dubery (50) lives in Banbridge. He says:

I've three pets currently. Willow the cat (12), Boots, a six-year-old Lurcher cross and Kim the tubby Jack Russell cross - unsure of the age, between 10 and 14. Willow came from the Cats Protection League, having been previously adopted and then abandoned again. Boots literally turned up on the doorstep one day in the rain and when no one claimed her from the council pound, I took her in.

Kim, the most recent addition to the tribe, used to sit rather forlornly in a yard that I walked by every day. She was badly mauled by another dog and after she had been stitched back together, her owners agreed to let me take her in.

Pets each have their own personalities. Willow started off as a rather anti-social cat but has become more friendly as she has aged. Boots is a very sweet and friendly dog but has that Lurcher instinct to chase things. Consequently, at the first sight of a rabbit, cat or squirrel, she'll be off at high speed.

Kim, despite her small stature, is entirely convinced that she is the boss.

I hate cruelty to animals. While I can't say that every person who likes animals is nice, it's certainly true that every person who is cruel or uncaring to animals is not nice. If you can't empathise with an animal then it's unlikely that you can empathise with a person.

When I'm feeling down in the dumps, my pets are the things that make me get out of bed and carry on. I'm fortunate that I'm on the edge of Banbridge and have some beautiful country lanes within a mile of my home to walk them in.

My girlfriend, Lisa, suffers from asthma and all the pet hair is hardly ideal for her but fortunately she loves my little menagerie. I could never be with a partner who didn't like animals.

Last year, I had to have another of my dogs put to sleep after a large tumour was discovered in his abdomen. He was the most difficult and disturbed of my dogs, who was scared of almost everything and aggressive as a result.

The emotional investment it had taken in looking after him for years, despite his behaviour, made his loss somehow even worse.

I'd always hoped he'd mellow with age and be happier. I still think about him every day and hope that he's at peace now.

Pets are a responsibility on a par with children. Kennel fees mean that I rarely go on holiday and to be honest, I feel bad leaving them anyway. They are my family and I'm glad we all found each other."

‘Lily lives by the sea but is a city girl at heart’

Happy times: Tony Macauley with dog Lily, his wife Lesley and daughter Beth

Author and broadcaster Tony Macaulay (50) lives in Portstewart with his wife Lesley (50). He says:

Lily Macaulay is our toy Yorkshire terrier. She's so small and she's scared of everything but she feels safe and secure in Lesley's Vivienne Westwood handbag.

She likes to go for walks in Botanic Gardens, Belfast and Portstewart Strand.

Lily lives beside the sea but I think she's really a city girl at heart.

She's 11-years-old so we're up to a hundred about her doing her transfer test this year.

She's seeing a tutor once a week as she has struggled with house training since she started nursery. Lily's favourite words are 'walk', 'stick' and 'ball'.

Lily's pet hates (excuse the pun) are fireworks, the vacuum cleaner and the ironing board. Two of these are also my pet hates.

She is a good guard dog and her bark can shatter crystal glass.

Sparkle Macaulay, meanwhile, is our beloved 15-year-old goldfish.

We attribute Sparkle's long life to her refined tastes in gourmet cuisine. She prefers fresh broccoli florets to fast food flakes.

Poor Sparkle recently suffered from a severe case of 'swim bladder', which meant that she swam upside down for three weeks.

However, a strict diet of shelled peas soon turned her around. She's doing swimmingly now and I'm pretty certain she has forgotten all about it. Mind you, she has forgotten most things that didn't happen 30 seconds ago."

‘I have trained her to tell me a story in exchange for a stick’

Spooky the dog

Author Bernie McGill (50) lives in Portstewart with her husband Kevin and their two daughters Mary (20) and Rosie, (17). She says:

Our dog is named Spooky, although I like to call her The Pooka McPhellimy, after Flann O'Brien's novel At Swim-Two-Birds. We got her as a pup at Halloween almost three years ago, hence the name.

My brother's dog had an unexpected litter, so we know that she's half Springer, but the rest of her is a mystery. She has the look of a fox terrier about her sometimes, or a Dachshund, or a Jack Russell.

We'd promised our girls that when we moved house, we'd get a dog. As predicted, they're all about the cuddles and nothing about the walking. We live in Portstewart, where we are guaranteed at least four nights of fireworks in the year, just one of the things that Spooky likes to bark at.

She also likes us to throw a ball and she likes to fetch it back. Her favourite place to do this is in the sand dunes. We have never succeeded in tiring her out.

I have trained her to tell me a story in exchange for a chew stick. This is how it goes. We finish dinner, she falls over and plays dead.

I say, 'The poor dog has fallen over.' At which point she either rolls right over, or jumps up and yowls at us.

Picking up the poop is a downside. I have to admit that my husband mostly does this. It's the reason that Spooky is not allowed to have chicken curry any more.

She is, in her favour, and entirely unbeknownst to her, a great therapy dog.

Our younger daughter would come home after every one of her exams, sit down on the floor immediately and cuddle the dog. When we asked how the exams had gone, she said: 'This is why I love the dog. She never asks me questions.'"

‘She never stops meowing, it’s like she’s trying to talk to me’

Caroline with Pepsi

Actress and comedian Caroline Curran (32) lives in Belfast. She says:

We got our black cat, Pepsi, four years ago. She was a stray. My mum Eileen brought her in. She was very scared, and still is, of heavy footwear like boots, so we suspect that she had been kicked somewhere along the line.

I like cats because I am allergic to dogs, so I was delighted I was allowed any pet at all when I was little.

I think my mum was still grieving for our previous cat Tabitha before Pepsi came along. She always swore 'no more pets', but Pepsi is the most affectionate cat we have ever had.

She is a real character and never stops meowing. I know people may think that's insane but it's like she's answering you when you talk to her. Cat people will know what I'm talking about.

Pepsi is very wary of children and new people but once she has seen you a few times she will come over, have a good look at you, then leave. She's still jumpy, so sudden movements are a big no no.

She has had health scares. Mum originally thought Pepsi was having kittens when she came in.

When we took her to see if she was micro-chipped, which she wasn't, she had no womb. So someone was good to her that way.

If I had my way, I would have 100 cats, but I think that my friends and family would abandon me."

‘She has taught me not to take life too seriously’

Special bond: Caroline Fleck with Lucy

Downtown Radio presenter Caroline Fleck (45) lives in Coleraine and Chicago with her son Jack (19), from her first marriage, her partner Tom and their daughter, Molly (2). She says:

My son Jack had just turned six when we moved to the country. The time was right to get a dog, so we choose a pedigree chocolate Labrador from a local breeder. We named her Lucy and she was primarily Jack's dog, as well as a family guard dog.

We paid £360 for Lucy 13 years ago. It's so funny that we had a dog because I grew up with cats in the house. That said, I'm not a cat fan in any shape or form. We have personality clashes.

Lucy was the kindest, sweetest, most protective, loving animal you could ever wish to meet. She had a playful and fun-loving nature.

She taught me not to take life too seriously.

We loved going for walks on the beach. I remember just feeling complete when I was with her. In the end, though, she developed a cancerous growth in her leg, which spread to her lungs, meaning that she had no hope for recovery given her age.

Putting her down was quite honestly the hardest thing I have ever done. To make the decision to end a life in whatever form is horrendous but I knew it was her time to go. To ease her pain, we spent the day together as a family.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. We all lay out on the grass and just talked and talked to her before taking her to the vet, the same vet she knew as a pup and a school friend of mine, so it felt like we were keeping things in the family.

I decided to have her cremated and didn't keep her ashes as I wanted to remember her the way she was. We will eventually get a new pet.

My daughter Molly is two now and constantly asking for a puppy but I think we will hold onto Lucy's memory a little longer."

‘They’re part of the family and put a smile on children’s faces’

UTV sports journalist Denise Watson (45) lives in Lisburn with her husband David and daughters Samantha (12) and Elizabeth (9). She says:

This sounds like something from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but we won our goldfish Pig in a plastic bag from a fun fair.

My eldest daughter named him Pig because he ate very fast when she fed him.

The tank is pretty clean for at least 10-14 days, then it needs cleaning. To be fair, both my husband and I share that chore, as it's a yucky job. I have nice yellow Marigolds and special scrubs when I'm on duty.

We love having a goldfish. And as I get up at 5am for my shift on the U105 breakfast show, Pig is usually the only one awake that I can talk to.

I didn't have pets when I was a child. About 10 years ago, I developed an allergic reaction to dogs. It's awful. I sneeze, cough and my eyes itch and swell up within an hour of being in their presence.

I feel so bad as it happens. I can't hide that I'm suffering. It takes me a good two days to recover.

It happens when I'm around my sister's springer Ruby and my brother-in-law's dogs Milly and Ziggy.

One New Years Eve, when we were invited to have dinner and stay overnight at my sister's house, it got so bad that I felt like I'd developed full blown flu.

Pets become part of your family. They put a smile on children's faces."

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