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The company of animals

I have been living in Sydney for nearly two months now and, truth be told, I don’t really feel homesick at all.

But there are times when the loneliness is almost unbearable. I knew that leaving my husband (who will only be able to join me later this year), pets and family would be hard, and for the most part, it’s manageable. Every now and then though, usually around the time when everyone else in the office goes home, the realisation that I am on my own on the other side of the planet hits hard.

An obvious solution to the loneliness would be the acquisition of a companion animal. I would desperately love to have a cat to keep me company. But there’s no chance of that; pets are not allowed in the building I’m living in. In fact, very few buildings in Sydney allow pets (“pet friendly” is a selling point), and given that I am going to be renting for a while, it could be years before I get to keep a pet again.

In an attempt to satisfy my desire for feline company, I visited the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home. Located in the anonymity of the suburbs south of the Sydney CBD — a place where almost the entire population appears to have been abducted by aliens, since there is no sign of life — it took me more than two hours to get there last weekend because the trains were not running due to track maintenance. When I got there, I offered up a box of Whiskas to the sensible woman with ratty hair and apologised for not bringing Iams.

Alas, it turned out that I could not spend time with the cats as I had planned, because a couple of volunteers were filming inserts for an educational video (trust my luck). So I vryfed a very friendly ginger chap — rather insultingly named Frances — who had conveniently curled up on a shelf next to the chicken wire and watched the presenters do take after take of “It’s not called the Sydney Dogs and Cats Home for nothing”. Then I gave up waiting, made a donation and left.

Two hours later, I was back at my rented apartment. But a place isn’t a home if there’s no one and nothing to go home to.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.


  1. Jon Jon 27 June 2008

    Moving is terrible, but move to a “pet-friendly” new abode. Inform your landlord/landlady that the reason you’re moving is the “no pet” clause. When they see their rental-income vapourising because of their stubborn insistence on denying you a wee moggie, they might think a bit harder next time.

    Who knows, they might even relent right now so you don’t even HAVE to move?

    Force the changes you want made.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous 27 June 2008

    Consider having a string of casual encounters.

  3. Odette Odette 27 June 2008

    @ Anonymous

    Casual encounters with what or whom? Should Sarah seek out other people’s cats and furtively stroke them while their owners’ backs are turned. Possibly she could stalk doggies being walked in the local park. Or she could go native and hunt down a koala.

    Please be specific when you give advice.

  4. Sarah Britten Sarah Britten 27 June 2008

    Now that Anonymous mentions it, I have vryfed other people’s animals upon encountering them in the street. There was a very friendly tuxedo cat the other day. But as I mentioned in my previous post, dogs for example are not as visible as they are in SA. In Mosman, every second person is walking a dog, but you never hear dogs bark as you walk past houses in the street and you never see any sign of their presence (besides the odd landmine that nobody has bothered to pick up).

  5. Maree Maree 27 June 2008

    You sound a bit lonely. Surely, some of the Aussies you work with have taken you out for some day trips and had you over for dinner. Have you been up the Blue Mountains yet ? Or to the Hunter Valley ?

    It’s really hard starting out in a new city but it gets better. I’ve worked in the UK …even spent some time in SA on my own, so I know what it’s like to move.

    I’d go so far as to say, as a native Sydneysider, if you want to meet for a coffee – just yell and I’ll figure out how to get in touch without putting personal details on the net.

    I enjoy reading your posts, when I’m bored at work,(don’t ask me how I first found them !?!?) No…’s because I have some friends from SA emmigrating to Australia and I was wondering what they might think of Australia so I typed into Google – South Africa/Australia and found your posts and they’re pretty informative.

    Anyway…..point is….if you’re lonely and need some mates……don’t just sit there being miserable..I’m sure there are people out there who would be keen to make sure the whole foreign city experience is not too traumatic.

  6. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 27 June 2008


    Are birds banned as well? A parrot is a great companion.

  7. OneFlew OneFlew 27 June 2008

    Life without animals is blissful. I haven’t owned any in 8 years and don’t plan to own any again.

    They are expensive, need to be put in kennels or kept by friends when one is abroad, and just generally cramp one’s style.

  8. BillyC BillyC 28 June 2008

    What about a fish called Wanda?. A nice shad, snook, sardine or sand shark should ease home sickness and be a great ice breaker/conversation piece, without offending the fascist neighbours.

    I’ve heard they surgically remove the woof box of dogs in Aussie to avoid felony convictions and heavy fines for yeowling after 10pm. Makes me barkimg mad, it does.

  9. Henry Joubert Henry Joubert 29 June 2008

    How come you’re given gold and blue stars?
    Does this refer to the quality of your writing? which, an an Aussie-Saffie, victim of apartheid, I quite enjoy

  10. OneFlew OneFlew 29 June 2008

    As Bryson has pointed out, it is a peculiarly English trait, the extreme hankering after animals. It is one English cultural element that South Africans seem to have adopted.

    The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed 60 years after the RSPCA and as an offshoot of it.

  11. Sarah Britten Sarah Britten 30 June 2008

    The Australians also have an element of the English love of animals, judging by the fact that being anti-whaling is something that cuts across politics here. (Just don’t mention the mulesing of “our” sheep).

    Re: parrots – the fact that they can outlive one is deeply weird, they’re even more of a problem in buildings than cats (being noisy), I’m allergic to feathers, and my brother’s cockatiels never liked me.

  12. Odette Odette 30 June 2008

    @ Sarah

    I am a compulsive vryfer too, particularly of cats. It’s now reached the stage where most of the local moggies know me on sight and come running up to me to be stroked. One even pops in regularly at my flat for a snack and a chat. I suppose that makes me the quintessential spinster *sigh*.

  13. Sally Sally 2 July 2008

    Apropos of a previous post, I think the crime level in Australia is surprisingly high cosidering the small population ( approx 21 million) Every day in the papers theree are murders , rapes and assaults reported. And very sad was the entire family killed when their car drove into a massive pothole on a major road.

  14. history history 3 July 2008

    Lovely piece, pets are so important, I think my childhood would have been incomplete without them. Yes there is quite a level of work involved, but it is all worth it. Although I cannot comprehend why some people would want something like a snake as a pet?

    It is ironic that in the UK we almost have more regard for animals than humans! Even in the British media they have capitalised on this. On the flagship British children’s programme Blue Peter, they have always had resident pets.

  15. Sarah Britten Sarah Britten Post author | 7 July 2008

    I keep walking mournfully past spots where I have encountered cats – the big friendly black chap, the fluffy white who appeared as I got off the ferry and who I would have loved to pet if the bus wasn’t waiting…but I haven’t seen them again. Sob!

  16. Odette Odette 7 July 2008

    @ Sarah

    I feel so sad for you! Having a pet to cuddle and care for is a tonic for the soul.

  17. Kit Kit 7 July 2008

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve just spent R3000 on my cat’s vet bills. Three fricking thousand rand. The cat’s feeling much better, thanks. I would turn to drink but I can no longer afford it.

    Do you honestly want a smug ginger tabby mooching round your house knowing – no longer thinking, KNOWING – that it’s the boss, then biting your hand off every time you have to feed it bad tasting pills. I’ve lost all my spare hands already.

    I was going to say something like find a nice outdoor cafe that has a resident feline then I remembered health and safety legislation just wouldn’t allow for any kind of normalcy.

    Just think of your credit card bleeding to death slowly…no more clothes, no more shoes and you’ll be working for the fluffy one.

  18. Odette Odette 7 July 2008

    LOL @ Kit

    That was a wonderful comment. You’ve brought back memories of my own pill-dosing efforts with my cat. The little brat would glare at me afterwards, mortally offended, and pointedly ignore me until the next meal time. At which time she would rudely demand her food.

    I read a snippet in a magazine called BBC Focus, about when cats were first domesticated. The caption showed a cat and the line…”Treating owners with contempt for 12 500 years”. So true, so true.

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