Invisible pets

· general ·

Some children have invisible friends; I had invisible pets. I also had real pets, which included everything from hawk moths and stick insects, through a wide swathe of the rodent Order (mice, rats, hamsters — Russian and Syrian — and gerbils), cats, zebra finches, a cockatiel, fish and a number of injured or orphaned wild birds that people brought to us. However, I knew that my folks would put their parental feet down if I were to ask for a tiger or an otter — it was so unfair!

As a result I kept some invisible pets when I was little which included an otter, a Siberian tiger (I was very specific about this — none of your common or garden Bengal tigers for me, oh no), a golden eagle and a goshawk. I've never really spoken to anyone who would admit to having an invisible friend, so I don't know if children actually believe that these characters are real. I certainly never believed that my invisible pets were real, but I imagined them in extraordinarily clear and vivid detail, to the point where I could almost feel and see them.

When I first read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, his concept of every human in Lyra's world having an animal-formed daemon was instantly familiar. In his stories, children's daemons change form all time, taking the shape of an animal appropriate to the mood or circumstances of the child. Similarly, my different 'pets' would accompany me at different times. When I was in a playful, energetic mood, my otter would skitter and swirl alongside me, twisting and turning and whistling its high sharp calls. On long car journeys, I would release my goshawk from my fist through the open car window, and would watch it flick effortlessly through the trees in woodland beside the road. I think now that this was a way of having a kind of limitless freedom while I was stuck in the car and bored. Eventually, I would call the goshawk back to my hand where it would sit, streamlining its shape in the wind roaring past it, and gripping my fingers with its strong feet. I was quite a shy child, and there was nothing quite as confidence-building as imagining a Siberian tiger pacing alongside you when you were a bit unsure of yourself. It would walk close by my side, occasionally butting its huge head against my ribs, and I would curl my fingers in the rough fur of its neck. The golden eagle was much more aloof, but I would sometimes see it soaring and circling high above me.

Oddly, I never gave any of these invisible pets names. Nor did I really anthropomorphise them, except to the extent that the tiger was kind enough not to maul me, and the otter didn't bite off my fingers as one did to Terry Nutkins.

Was I (am I) just really odd, or did other people have invisible animal companions when they were kids?