I'll never understand people who don't like animals.
When I was about 10, my sister, my Mum, my Dad and I (back when we were a foursome and not an eightsome) rented a log cabin in Wales for my Mum's birthday. My parents loved to take us on the kind of holidays that would involve wellies and fields and cows and floods. So much rain. Have you ever been to Wales in October? It's wetter than an otter's pocket.
We'd stay for a week in the middle of nowhere and play card games inside while the rain beat down on the wood outside, the tiny TV showing some welsh-speaking soap that we attempted to watch along with, making up our own storylines. My sister and I would fight and then write in our respective diaries, underlining in different coloured gel-pens the many reasons why the other was a meanie.
We loved it.
The Octobers in Wales all sort of blur into one, as memories do when you're a child unless something remarkable happens, like you got your ears pierced or you kissed one of the Woods twins in the field by your house in the summer. One of those holidays does stick in my mind, though.
The log cabin that year was part of what I remember to be like a nature reserve. It probably wasn't, there were probably houses right by us. But I remember the exciting isolation, feeling like Laura Ingalls or an Enid Blyton character. Every day we played out our own Famous Five adventure, but with four of us, two being adults.
Outside the cabin was a fenced-in field with horses in it, and despite being the most allergic child on earth with streaming eyes and sneezing explosively every time I looked at them, my sister and I would go and chat to them, and give them presents of grass and sugar cubes.
One morning we watched as the horses cantered around the field and spied a tiny little kitten dancing around their hooves, a tiny little thing, all bones and ears. Our parents came to investigate and to our surprise this teeny wild kitty came bounding over, lolloping around on paws too big for her and crashing to a stop at our feet.
When she discovered we were her friends, she didn't leave us alone. We quickly realised that she was alone in the world - bar the horses - and was probably going to fade away to nothing. We drove out to the nearest supermarket and stocked up on kitten food and fed her every morning while we were there, her tiny, broken mews waking us in the morning. We'd head out for the day and return in the dark, her head lifting from the outside deck of the cabin as she heard the car and jumping up onto all four paws as we ran over to her to say good evening.
The farmer who owned the land told us how she'd been abandoned by her mother, that she would surely die. He didn't have the time or money to look after her, this pretty little thing with those big brown eyes and the almost smiling mouth that dribbled with pleasure if you gave her some attention. She returned home with us.
Bella ruled the roost. We doted on her, and she adored us - she'd come into my bedroom at night and sleep under my duvet with me, her head on the pillow next to mine.
She died last month, an old thing, but still pretty and loving and tiny.
Bella was joined by Bumper, the most ridiculously loving Boxer you could ever imagine, who would shake his whole body in joy in lieu of a tail when he saw you. I remember hot days walking in the parks near our house, hiding in the long grass and staring up at the sky, with six weeks of summer holidays stretching out endlessly while he licked my face to tell me he liked me and that I was alright.
His presence in our house was massive, a character so huge that you couldn't help but love him endlessly, even when he would eat all the turkey for the Boxing Day dinner overnight and then crap all over the living room before our guests arrived.
Bumper was there when my parents broke up and I left school. I would walk him around town while listening to my iPod and stomping, stomping, stomping all the hurt out. Bumper was there while my Dad went through chemo, twice, while I disappeared, unable to watch it happen. Bumper was there to be his best friend while I ran off to Ibiza so that I could pretend it wasn't happening.
The thing with big animals (animals in general) is that they have terribly short lives. Ten years is nothing, an instant, a blur of walks and hugs and throwing massive sticks into lakes. A massive family presence, visibly fading and ageing after only a few years until you know they're about to go, so you run away again.
I'm 26 now, and as with many people my age, I can't imagine actually ever being able to afford to live in a house with a garden.
There is an ache in me that knows that I want a cat or a dog to be mates with and hang out with. Our balcony is a perfect home for the many pigeons who come and hang out and leave their mess all over it, but we won't be able to get a pet. But a big part of me thinks that's OK, because the heartbreak of losing an animal comes all too soon. And I don't want anything to run away from.
I tweet: @Natalie_KateM