THE WONDER OF PETS with Wally Ashcroft

ALL pets will at some time die. This is a hard, brutal fact but it contributes to a learning process for small children.

Many, many years ago, when I was a mere five year old, I can still vividly recall the death of my first pet. It was a small white mouse, unimaginatively called 'Snowy'. I don't know why he died. He just did. I was heartbroken and confused. My parents encouraged me to bury him in the back garden. I took his stiff, lifeless body and placed him in a Swan Vestas match box, which served as a coffin. It was during the war years. The second world war, I might add, not the first. All council house gardens had Anderson shelters in those days, and I chose the back of ours as a burial site.

Over the next few years, this slowly developed as a pet cemetery. A succession of tadpoles, newts, frogs and even ladybirds soon followed. As the number of graves increased, so their appearance improved. The tiny mounds of earth were decorated with crosses, made from twigs, and caringly placed gravel. When I was ten years old, I went swimming in Carr Mill lake, taking my little mongrel dog 'Russ' with me. We were inseparable. Russ was killed, on the East Lancs road, by a car, on the way home and I had to carry him all the way back to Mulberry Avenue.

I finally arrived, covered in blood and distraught. Russ was duly buried in my cemetery and for months I used to just sit there and unashamedly cry. I gained a lot of comfort from decorating his grave and carving out a cross with his name on it. It was a hard way to learn life but, in retrospect, it was a very helpful one.

Live pets have lessons for all of us and I say 'live' deliberately. The recent phenomenon of the 'Cyberpet' just leaves me cold. There are many stories of children becoming totally obsessed with their Tamagotchi toys. This is all fine and well as long as reality doesn't fly through the window. Many dogs homes are reporting that children are losing interest in their pets. They are quite happy to get up in the middle of the night to tend to the Cyberpets, but won't feed or walk the dog.

Some youngsters might display real feeling of bereavement when their Cyberpets die, according to the latest warnings from some psychologists. "These feelings" they claim, "are very real". Now it appears they can have their Cyberpets interred in the very first Cyberpet cemetery. I am not joking. Apparently a corner of a genuine pet cemetery in Cornwall has been set aside for the burial of Tamagotchis and similar cyberpets whose 'lifetime' has expired. It is thought to be the world's first cemetery for the computer pets. It was opened just over a year ago.

The owner has conducted a number of 'funerals' since the cyberpet cemetery was opened. The undertaking services include a miniature pine or wickerwork coffin and a wooden marker for the grave. A photograph of the grave is sent to the child and the name and address of the 'deceased' is entered in a book of remembrance. In most cases the children post the defunct toy to the owner of the cemetery and he conducts the burial personally. The cyberpets are dispatched, in a dignified manner, to their silicone heaven in the skies.

Children can have some form of funeral service if they so desire, but they would have to attend in person. The cost of this bizarre, mail-order service is a mere £4.50. Any bereaved cyber-owning children who wish to honour their departed cyberpets further can log onto a computer website, which has been set up to mark their 'pet's demise'.

I can only hope that when it is my turn to be laid to rest, my children and grandchildren won't be too busy worrying about their defunct computers and might have some time to give a thought to me. It's a crazy world.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.