What to do with a pining rabbit when the jackdaw legs it

6th September 1996 at 01:00
What you need is a gimmick. Even then, it's a jungle out there. The barmaid at the Edinburgh Fringe venue was trying to drum up custom. "Want to be hypnotised by a dog?" she asked as she served a likely lad. He took a long sip of his pint and shook his head in a jaded fashion. "No. I was hypnotised by a dog last year."

Oscar the Hypno Dog hit the headlines last year when he - allegedly - went missing. "Do not look into this dog's eyes," warned Hugh the hypnotist in the press, offering Pounds 1,000 reward for the return of his Labrador.

Safely recovered a few days later, the dog played to packed houses. This year things are tougher.

Tickling the palate of a fickle public has been on our minds in college, too, as we launch our evening and leisure class programme in a bold and brassy tabloid, delivered to the doorstep, offering everything from German to juggling. Yes juggling - three weeks' work per year guaranteed. But even with such a glittering programme, how can you prise people away from the telly and in to college?

The case of Oscar the Hypno Dog may provide a vital clue. Bear with me. You see, we returned from the Fringe to our own small drama and a woeful tale from our neighbours who had been left, as always, in charge of the animals.

Over the years, as my son hurtled towards his eventual profession of vet, sick, stray, abandoned or sometimes just interesting animals, joined our household. No, not just the cat or rabbit companion animal, though we have those too. Try 700-and-counting stick insects, a snake, sundry fledgling woodpigeons, an abandoned clutch of baby bluetits, hedgehogs, a jackdaw, a pair of Russian hamsters and an elephant. Okay - the last is to see if you're still with me.

Life is a little simpler now, but not much. Some animals remained after my son left home to practise vet medicine, notably the jackdaw. A sensitive creature, he shares his aviary with a rabbit, using it quite sensibly as a foot-warmer on cold days. When his first rabbit passed on, we were forced to buy another rabbit for the pining jackdaw. Having companion animals is one thing, procuring a companion animal for a companion animal is quite another.

This summer was a particularly testing one for our neighbours, whose confidence is now low after a string of bad luck while left in charge.

First, our very old cat up and died. My neighbour was distraught. She phoned her brother-in-law who is an expert on first aid, to ask if he would try mouth-to-mouth.

He declined, paraphrasing the Monty Python dead parrot sketch. She agonised whether my son would want to do a post-mortem, and contemplated putting the cat in our freezer to await our return. "Welcome Home!" Sensibly, she buried the animal in our garden and left a note.

Second, the jackdaw, who is allowed to fly round the immediate vicinity but no further, (Jackdaw code of practice), got lost.

An intelligent animal, he has a mental block about what to do should he lose himself. Whereas our budgie would promptly go up to the nearest kind adult and divulge his name, phone number and address, the jackdaw finds a very tall tree, nips to the top and calls randomly for rescue.

With a dead cat, a missing jackdaw and now a pining rabbit to her credit, my neighbour confided her string of disasters to a colleague at work who responded sympathetically. "Look, I'm going on holiday next week. could you look after the mother-in-law?" And in the firm's next house journal, under the heading "Got an unwanted pet you do not have the heart to dispose of?", ran an advertisement for my neighbour's proposed "pet sanctuary", urging customers to leave their pets "secure in the knowledge that they will have disappeared on your return. Jackdaws a speciality". Some people have no feeling.

The local paper ran a more sympathetic story, but I can't help feeling we missed a great marketing opportunity here. Something along the lines of "Do not look into this jackdaw's eyes - you may find yourself signing up for over 200 part-time courses at Dundee College."

If you think tracing a jackdaw is difficult, you're wrong. Whoever originally snaffled the bird from a nest, before abandoning it, taught it to wolf-whistle. Which he does. At aeroplanes mostly, but often at my neighbour, too, when she hangs out her washing. There aren't many wolf-whistling jackdaws going about.

He was reunited with his rabbit shortly after our return and is therefore available now for press calls and publicity shots.

Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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