Big Issue Vendor

Meet the pet heroes who rescued 2020

The separation from friends and family this year left many of us alone and stressed. But an army of fluffy (and feathered and scaly) companions came to the rescue.
Some of this year's pet heroes

It’s time to celebrate the pet heroes who got us through this trying year. If we ever doubted it, 2020 has shown us the importance of the non-human members of our families. As lockdown hit, a survey by Pet Classifieds and information site Pets4Homes showed soaring demand for animal companionship. At the peak of the lockdown in May, demand for pets soared 104 per cent above 2019 levels.

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When we asked our readers to tell us how their pets got them through this horrendous year, we were inundated with responses. Whether comforting key workers at the end of a hard shift, alleviating isolation for those living on their own or supporting our vendors through a rollercoaster year – here we salute 2020’s pet heroes.

‘Bryony is the love of my life’

Pet Heroes Bryony and Meow
Bryony and Meow - Nick
Pet Heroes Bryony and Meow

Animals are my life. They understand all your feelings. They know when to come and give you a cuddle. That four-month break [from selling The Big Issue, during the first lockdown] is probably the worst I’ve been in years. I normally don’t worry about tomorrow, because I can come back to work. Most of us vendors live day by day.

One of Nick's seagull friends
seagull - Nick
One of Nick's seagull friends

Bryony, my dog, is the love of my life. Where I live in a caravan, I’ve got two acres of wood around me, so a lot of our walks are round and round the woods. The cat [Meow] comes as well, especially on a full moon. She likes being out on a full moon. All the mushrooms come out at this time of year and they’re luminous at nighttime.

During lockdown, I also popped into town every few days to feed my pet seagulls. I brought one of the seagulls up for the last five years. They did a cull on Primark, so I ended up with a baby seagull. I’ve looked after it all this time, so I feel I have to carry on. It’s learned the word ‘no’. It took me quite a while, but otherwise it’ll dig in my bag and drink from Bryony’s water bowl.

Nick Cuthbert, Big Issue vendor in Truro

‘She’s my healer, my guardian’

Pet Hero Stella
Stella - Rossella2
Pet Hero Stella

I have been really unwell in the past few months, I didn’t know what was wrong with me until one day my hubby made me notice that my cat Stella had been on me kneading on the same spot on my belly for three months. It turned out that I had endometriosis.

Pet Hero cat Stella
Stella - Rossella
I suffer from non-epileptic seizures and she knows I’m about to have one before it happens, so I started listening to her. After my operation [for endometriosis] last month she’s been on me 24/7, but in a more gentle way, knowing that I was in pain. She would gently put her paw on my scars and rub her face and purr. Ten days ago she started behaving like something was wrong and she was right once again! I was having some post-op complications.

She’s my healer, my guardian from the first moment I went to pick her and her brother up and she chose me. I had to take her home with me. She’s been my support for five years and I trust her more than I trust doctors. Our bond is unbelievable.

Rossella Pagone, Glasgow

‘Our house would be far too quiet without him’

Pet hero dog Moosh
Moosh - Lacey Quinn
Pet hero dog Moosh

This is Moosh, our one-year-old pug. During lockdown he kept me, my husband and two children extra busy, being such a rascal. Our house would have been far too quiet without him.

Lacey Quinn, Essex

‘Amber and I did each other a great favour’

Pet hero cat Amber
Amber - Pam Pearson
Hero cat Amber

Amber came to me in October 2019 after I found her in a charity’s cattery. My previous cat had died aged 20 and I needed company.

Hero cat Amber
Amber2
She was previously with an owner who neglected her and when I first met her she was very severely underweight, covered in scabs from flea bites and she had hardly any fur on her back legs. Now, she is one and a half kilos heavier and her fur is like velvet. She is a young cat who loves to play and she likes to sunbathe too.

Amber is great company, chatty and very much a lap cat. When I get home she gallops to the door to greet me and she wakes me up when it’s breakfast time. During lockdown she was always ready for a cuddle and she joined me in the garden when I was digging. I am so pleased Amber came into my life. We did each other a great favour.

Pam Pearson, on the coast between Southampton and Bournemouth

‘Kate teaches us unconditional acceptance of strangers’

Hero dog Kate
Kate - Charley Gavigan
Hero dog Kate

Our wee Kate is well known in her Southside Glasgow neighbourhood and tenement close as the smiliest, happiest pup! She’s the same every day and is a tonic to us on low-energy days. She teaches us unconditional acceptance of strangers and gives us a reason to keep our running up.

Charley and Colin Gavigan, Glasgow

‘She has quite literally licked away my tears’

Cat Hero Susie
Susie - cecilia ademan
Cat hero Susie

Susie is more than just a cat, she is my best friend and she has seen me through this dark tunnel. I work for the NHS as an occupational therapist and things have been tough, but Susie has been my anchor throughout this emotional rollercoaster. She has quite literally licked away my tears and comforted me during times of need. Susie has slept beside me each night, curling up against my cheek. She always meows back when I talk to her. She’s my furry bundle of joy.

Cecilia Ademan, London

Fionn the hero dog
Fionn - James McEnaney
Fionn the hero dog

‘Wandering about with him has really helped me out’

My wife has cystic fibrosis so our whole family were shielding earlier in the year. During the shielding period, Fionn had to go to my in-laws’ because we couldn’t get him out enough. The day he came back was one of the best I’ve had. Wandering about with him has really helped me over the last few months.

James McEnaney, Glasgow

‘Why do you vomit on to the landing carpet?’

Seventy Quid hero cat
Seventy Quid - Elizabeth Knight
Seventy Quid hero cat

Seventy Quid was named after the first vet bill. Moved in without an invitation, and despite trying to find his owners he remains mine. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t do something ridiculously stupid. Why do you sit on the lino in the bathroom and vomit on to the landing carpet? But he is also a magnificent cuddler.

Elizabeth Knight, Lancaster

‘Having Jagger to welcome me home is truly needed’

Hero pet Jagger
Jagger - Rebecca McFarlane
Hero pet Jagger

We picked Jagger up in June and she has been a constant bundle of joy for us during lockdown. Between toilet training, teaching her to give high fives and buying her first Christmas jumper – we have laughed non-stop! She has been fantastic company to my partner who is now working from home due to Covid-19. I have been working throughout as a secondary school music teacher. This has been a very worrying place to be during a pandemic, so having Jagger to welcome me home has been truly needed. Our fitness, happiness and family has now increased due to our lovely mini labradoodle. Highly recommend it.

Rebecca McFarlane, Glasgow

‘As I write, they’re sharing a carrot in a vision of pure contentment’

Saviour guinea pigs Bubble and Coco
Bubble and Coco - James McMahon
Saviour guinea pigs Bubble and Coco

I’d been begging my wife to agree to us having guinea pigs for months and months and months. Finally, on the eve of lockdown volume one, she relented. Mere hours before the county shuttered and hunkered down, we were stood in our living room with two Polish children, bidding an emotional goodbye to their beloved pets. Their landlord wouldn’t let them keep them. We made a vow to look after them and keep them safe. We made another vow to each other we wouldn’t become one of those awful couples who call their pets children. Within an hour we’d broken the last vow, but I think we’ve done well on the former.

This summer I went into hospital – because, y’know, 2020. I was in there 10 days and in that time I missed my wife, sure, but I thought about our guinea pigs around the clock too. I missed their wheeks. I missed spot cleaning their poo. I even missed them pissing on me when they sat on my lap watching EastEnders. It’s hard to succumb to misery in its totality when you have the responsibility of keeping two furry nuggets alive. As I write this Bubble and Coco – for they kept the names the Polish children gave them, I would have preferred Phil and Grant – are sharing a carrot in a vision of pure contentment. Those guys saved our lives this year, they really did.

James McMahon, London

‘His favourite pastime is taking a deep breath and sighing’

Hero pet dog Milo
Milo - Morgan Brazington
Hero pet dog Milo looks cool

This is my five-year-old Frenchie, Milo. He suffers with his back legs and his spine and had to have an operation when he was one to fix his lameness. I’m an operating department practitioner and found myself as a makeshift intensive care nurse during the pandemic. Luckily we have fared reasonably well but coming home to my little pooch after all the extra shifts honestly kept me going. His favourite pastime is sitting on my lap, taking a deep breath and sighing the day away!

Morgan Brazington, North Devon

Hero dog Buddy
Buddy - Jennifer Tingley
Hero dog Buddy

‘When the TV made us worry, there was nothing better than a cuddle’

Lockdown has been difficult and I was instructed to shield by my GP. By sheer coincidence we had just rescued Buddy two weeks before lockdown. He has been great fun and such good company. He kept us busy and made my children laugh. We couldn’t do the Joe Wicks workouts because he would jump all over us. When the TV and social media would make us worry there was nothing better than a cuddle from this one to make us feel better.

Jennifer Tingley, East Twickenham

‘When I’m working he sits in my bag’

Hero dog Scrappy
Scrappy
Hero dog Scrappy

Scrappy always cheers me up. He keeps me on my toes. He keeps me company. Scrappy’s not allowed in a lot of the hostels, and if Scrappy’s not allowed I just don’t go. That’s my rule. We’re in temporary accommodation just now until this virus goes away. He’s really popular round Covent Garden [in Central London], everybody knows him. He’s really small – he’s a miniature, so when I’m working he sits in my bag.

Hugh McErlean, Big Issue vendor in London

‘I want to honour him for being my companion for so long’

Cat Pot
Pot - Nicky Vanderwert
Pot: remembering a special cat

This is Pot, my 15-year-old cat. Sadly he passed away recently, but I wanted to honour him for being my little squeaking companion for so long. During lockdown it was wonderful to spend all day, every day with him (although he may not have agreed)!

Nicky Vanderwert, Farnham, Surrey

‘This little robin comes for breakfast every morning’

Little Robin
Little Robin - Susan Williams
Little robin

I haven’t got any pets, but the birds who come to my tiny garden in Brighton are a fantastic substitute. This little robin comes every morning, waiting for breakfast on the wall outside my patio doors. He/she (who knows?) never fails to bring a smile to my face. He/she had a mate this year and produced a baby robin… to be honest, I’ve no idea which this one is! But what a joy!

Susan Williams, Brighton

‘Rabbits’ body language is so funny to watch’

Toffee the lionhead rabbit
Toffee - Emma Kimsey 3
Toffee the heroic lionhead rabbit

We got Toffee the lionhead rabbit over the lockdown. He has provided the family with much joy. The children loved cuddling and stroking him when they were not in school. Whenever I have a bad day I love to come home and give Toffee a stroke and then I feel better. Pets are great therapy and rabbits are so funny to watch with their body language. When they are not happy, they will thump; when they are happy and relaxed they will throw themselves on their side and stretch out. This is called the ‘bunny flop’.

The Kimsey family, North Somerset

‘We fixed up cctv so we could watch their chirpy antics’

Fluffy Chicks
5 (1 of 1) (1)
Fluffy chicks offer a smile. Photo: Jessie Sheddon

I’ve kept chickens for over 15 years – always as therapy pets, never for the fact they pooped breakfast. Growing up in a cult was far from easy and my chickens were the only unconditional love I received, so they have been my lifeline. (I escaped the cult three years ago.) This year, after moving in with my partner three days before the first lockdown and losing his dog suddenly after a short illness, we decided we needed to bring new life into the place.

We bought a batch of eggs from eBay and borrowed a broody hen off a friend, then began our 21 days of waiting. Morning after morning I’d jump up and run out to see if they’d hatched, eager to welcome them the minute they entered the world. She proudly hatched out our gorgeous fluffy bundles and we returned her and popped our new babies into their nursery.

We fixed up CCTV so we could watch all their antics from our phones and check on them if we were out and about. Each morning they would chirp at us from their nursery as we ate our breakfast, and in time they’d escape and take trips around the kitchen as soon as we went upstairs to bed.

Heroic chicken
26_PETS_Chicken_1440
Heroic chicken Photo by Jessie Shedden
Unsurprisingly a large number of them turn out to be roosters – which sadly we were unable to keep as we are in town and surrounded by neighbours. However we were able to find very loving homes for them all.

Watching each one grow up and develop from wobbly legged fluffballs into chirpy characters who love nothing more than to flap around the garden excitedly as we dole out the treats has been so heartwarming! And just this week they finally started delivering us gorgeous little white presents into our nesting box.

Jessie Shedden, Cwmbran, South Wales