Confessions of a pet hater: So what happened when we sent Claudia Connell to Britain"s biggest pet fair?

Confessions of a pet hater: Fluffy kittens She’s allergic. Cute puppies She loathes them. So what happened when we sent Claudia Connell to Britain’s biggest pet fair



07:58 GMT, 14 May 2012

Animals, it seems, are everywhere.

A shaggy-coated mutt called Pudsey has just won Britain’s Got Talent, the Duchess of Cambridge is gaga over her cocker spaniel Lupo and no attention-seeking starlet would dare to be seen out without a dinky little dog peeking out of her designer handbag.

This country has always been a nation of animal lovers, and today 30 million fluffy, furry, scaly or feathered creatures share a home with a Brit – all of which makes me something of a social pariah, because I’ve never liked animals.

Porker: Claudia Connell poses with Micro pig 'Stefanie' at the Pet Fair in London

Porker: Claudia Connell poses with Micro pig 'Stefanie' at the Pet Fair in London

Woman's best friend: Claudia Connell gets on far better with Clumber Spaniels Myer

Woman's best friend: Claudia Connell gets on far better with Clumber Spaniels Myer

I’ve not ever oohed or ahhhed over the sight of a fluffy kitten or a
wet-nosed puppy. In fact, I’ve crossed the road to get away from dogs,
chased cats out of my garden and the only birds I like are ones that I
pour gravy over and eat with roast potatoes and two veg.

confession that I don’t like animals has always been greeted with a gasp
of horror. ‘How can you not love animals What’s wrong with you’ is
the question I’m usually asked

Maybe it’s because animals are
smelly, noisy and needy. Then again, it could have something to do with
the way my mother would shriek: ‘Don’t touch it — it’s got rabies!’
every time a dog came near me in the park.

Kitty: Claudia cuddles up to Sphynx Cat 'Cedric'

Kitty: Claudia cuddles up to Sphynx Cat 'Cedric'

Whatever the reason, I
have often wondered if there is something wrong with me, and if by
avoiding animals altogether I am missing out.

Perhaps I should open
my mind, and my home, to the possibility of a pet. What better place to
find out than the London Pet Show at Earls Court, a huge annual
exhibition packed full of all creatures great and small

My main
requirements are that any potential pet shouldn’t need constant
attention, shed hair, make a noise, be costly to feed or require much
exercise. Not too much to ask, surely

I start my search in the
reptile section and get chatting to an exhibitor called Daniel, who is
fighting a losing battle trying to convince me that snakes and
chameleons can make ‘loveable and affectionate’ pets.

The giant,
heated cage that Berta the 8ft python needs to be kept in would look
horribly clunky and out of place in my minimalist flat, and I don’t
really relish the idea of having to go to a pet shop every week to pick
up my order of dead rat for her to feast on.

I’m told that Frankie,
a four-year-old panther chameleon, would make a very ‘loyal and
rewarding pet.’ I’m not sure how, but Daniel assures me that humans
develop terrific bonds with their reptile pets

When I pick up
Frankie, his giant, bulbous eyes freak me out and I quickly return him
to his cage. I know chameleons are becoming popular pets, but I can’t
imagine they’ve yet evolved to the point where they can change colour
according to a Farrow and Ball paint chart, so, until then, I can’t
imagine having one in my living room.

I’m wandering towards tanks
full of exotically-coloured fish when, suddenly, I am struck by a
shameful and shocking memory that I had buried away. As a child I did
once have a pet goldfish called Michael, which I bought for 50p with my
pocket money and kept in a bowl in my bedroom. A week after I bought him
I awoke to find him floating, lifeless, on the top of the water.

puzzled over what could have caused this tragedy until my sister asked:
‘When did you last feed him’ Aha. I knew I’d forgotten something.

Perhaps fish are best avoided altogether.

Quackers: The Quack Pack Duck herding demonstration

Quackers: The Quack Pack Duck herding demonstration

Anything horses can do: Rabbits perform Show Jumping manoevres

Anything horses can do: Rabbits perform Show Jumping manoevres

also walk straight past the toy horses. At just 3ft high they are very
dinky, but I’m not sure the 12ft-by-8ft slab of concrete that I call my
garden is an ideal place to keep one. I also can’t really see the point
of having a horse if you can’t ride it, and if I sat astride one of
these little beauties I’d have the RSPCA to answer to.

I do like the
idea of an unusual pet, though. Cats and dogs are so pedestrian, could a
frightfully fashionable micro pig be what I’m looking for

At 600
they don’t come cheap, but they’re hypo-allergenic as they have hair and
not fur — and thus are less likely to cause sniffles — and are
surprisingly cheap to feed, surviving on a diet of dried protein.

'People gasp in horror at my dislike of animals'

Stephanie the ‘micro’ pig at the London Pet Show is absolutely huge.
Olivia, the breeder and owner of Kew Little Pigs, tells me that it’s a
common misconception that the pigs are handbag-size. A full-grown micro
pig, although a third of the size of the regular variety, is still
something of a porker.

I’m not sure whether Stephanie can smell food
on me, but when she jumps up on to my lap and sticks her giant snout in
my face, leaving a big dollop of drool on my dress, I leap up and
shriek in horror. This not-so-little piggy won’t be coming all the way
home with me today.

Even though birds are by far the cheapest pets
here today, especially budgies that are going for just 10, I decide
against visiting the section.

My grandmother had a mynah bird — a
type of starling — that would make a foul-mouthed request for visitors
to leave about an hour after they arrived. My gran always swore she
hadn’t trained it, but nobody quite believed her.

For my part, I
already have recurring nightmares about birds pecking my eyes out, and I
don’t think trying to sleep with one in the next room is going to be
very restful.

Neither am I tempted by the rodent section. The only
reason I’d buy a rat would be if I’d snapped up Berta the python, and,
where I live, any rabbit would quickly become fox fodder.

Billy Bones the Sphynx Cat from Moscow

Sleeping greyhound wearing a union jack coat

Cats and dogs: Billy Bones the Sphynx Cat from Moscow, left, and a patriotic greyhound, right

Eloise Howarth strokes a rabbit at the London Pet Show

Bunny: Young visitor Eloise Howarth strokes a rabbit at the London Pet Show

Out of the
corner of my eye I see a sign for ‘Hazel’s Hedgehogs’. Not quite
believing that people really keep hedgehogs as pets, I make my way over
and spot Tiggy, a tiny, seven-week-old pinto, which is a North African

She’s white with some black streaks, and no bigger than an apple. Out of nowhere an involuntary ‘ahhh’ comes out of my mouth.

previously thought of hedgehogs as nothing more than a living ball of
fleas, I can hardly believe it myself when I jump at the chance to hold
Tiggy, who feels surprisingly soft.

Chris, the breeder, tells me
that they live inside, eat small amounts of dried cat food and grow to
be extremely affectionate during their five-year life expectancy. They
also absolutely do not have fleas.

Prickly and misunderstood, Tiggy
and I have much in common, but I reluctantly place her back in her box.
As lovely as she is, I don’t think that a hedgehog will the most
stimulating of companions.

'The “micro pig” is still too much of a drooling porker'

Being in my 40s and single I am anxious
to avoid the ‘spinster with a cat’ clich and have steadfastly ignored
the feline cages for most of the day, especially since I’m allergic to
cat fur.

But Cedric, a rather aloof and regal looking Sphynx cat, has a quality about him that beckons me over.

Totally hairless apart from a tiny tuft on his head, he looks as though he should be sitting in the lap of a James Bond baddie.

not fluffy or cute and is unlikely to ever feature on a Hallmark
greeting card, but there’s something about Cedric that makes him

When I pick him up he purrs loudly and happily snuggles in
my arms like a particularly ugly baby. He feels warm to the touch and
looks at me with his huge, green saucer eyes.

Cedric isn’t for sale,
but a similar cat would set me back 700. Tony the breeder tells me: ‘A
couple of years ago they became very fashionable. People would ring me
up and ask if they came in certain colours as they wanted one to match
their dcor. Can you believe that’ I tut and shake my head at the
shallowness of some people and enjoy cuddling Cedric, who feels as warm
and cosy as a hot water bottle.


Baby hedgehog sleeping

Soft and sharp: A poodle and a hedgehog demonstrate the variety of pets on show at the event

Tiny hooves: A young pet lover shows off his miniature horse

Tiny hooves: A young pet lover shows off his miniature horse

After five hours at the exhibition I can avoid it no longer — it’s time to face my fear: dogs.

live in an area of London that’s overrun with snarling, status
Staffordshire and pit bull breeds that make me nervous to go out alone.
But, in truth, I’m not comfortable around any canine.

So it’s just
my luck that the first dog I encounter at the exhibition is an 8st
rottweiler called Barley. When his owner John invites me to place my
hand near him so he can sniff me, I fully expect to lose it. But Barley
simply takes a half-hearted whiff and plonks himself at my feet.

I seen Barley walking towards me in the street I would have crossed to
the opposite side, but now as I nervously stroke him I start to realise
he doesn’t deserve my prejudice.

However, costing around 2,000 a
year in food and vets’ bills and needing at least two miles of walking a
day, rottweilers are a little too high-maintenance for me.

For the
same reason I must also rule out standard poodles like Nuella. Her wool —
no, it’s not fur, I really am learning so much — needs to be trimmed
every six weeks. Without a blowdry she’s inclined to frizz and she
simply won’t contemplate going out in the cold or wet.

Miniature pony, small horse display

Rabbit Show Jumping

Victorious: Claudia conquered her fear of animals at the pet show

Until John
Frieda invents a Frizz-ease for dogs I’d better leave standard poodles
alone as it would cost me a fortune at the salon.

Truffle the
miniature dachshund is as cute as a button and has a lovely temperament,
and the fact that she can take or leave exercise is very appealing,
too. But weighing just 10lb she’s so tiny I’d be for ever tripping over
her or – horrors – sit on her.

As I place Truffle back on the ground
I hear heavy breathing behind me and turn around to find myself staring
into the sad, droopy eyes of Myah, a 13-month-old Clumber Spaniel. She
has a white coat with brown freckles and tilts her head to one side when
I approach her.

Myah is one of the rarest breeds of spaniel and a dog like her would set me back 800 and require two energetic walks a day.

dog owners tell me that their animal doesn’t bite I never believe them,
but when Chris, who owns Myah, says this, I know he’s telling the
truth. After 15 minutes of stroking, patting and cooing over Myah I
think I’ve fallen in love.

And — this is a first — she seems to like
me, too. I don’t even care that my dress is covered in white hair or
that her sloppy licks are ruining my make-up.

For the first time all
day I’ve found an animal I can picture myself with. I imagine walking
her on a lead or sitting beside her on the sofa watching TV. Sadly, Myah
isn’t for sale, so when I get home I Google for local breeders and fire
off a couple of emails of enquiry.

It’s little short of a miracle. I
started the day reluctant to even visit the homes of friends who have
dogs, but have finished it searching for a pet of my own.

All thanks to Myah — the dribbly, floppy-eared spaniel that warmed Cruella’s cold heart.