As you may have gathered by now, I’m a real animal lover. My family have always had cats, dogs or both, and I grew up with them. We never had smaller animals, but when I was in my late teens my older sister looked after a hamster for a work colleague that was on holiday, and we kind of adopted him. The hamster was called Blueberry because his coat had a kind of blueish tinge, but he very soon became ‘Hammy’. Hamsters don’t live very long, and when Hammy died my Dad sent me off to the pet shop with £20 to go and get another one. Smokey Joe became part of the family, and every Sunday evening I would let him run free in the front room while his cage had a deep clean – this operation was not as simple as it sounds because all possible escape routes had to be blocked off with books, and we had to make sure he didn’t make a meal out of the carpet!

After I had left home & got a place of my own, I once again adopted a pet. This time it was a cat that belonged to a neighbour in the street; the neighbour had two cats but seemed to favour only one, and the other decided that my home was better. I never actually knew my cat’s name, but he became Tossbag (Toss for short), and this was so amusing whenever I went on holiday and my Mum & Dad had to look after him & call him in for his tea!

Toss became ill unexpectedly, and after he died I became broody within a couple of weeks. Mum & I went along to Happy Landings in Pylle; they had three semi-feral cats from the Channel Islands, and we both fell in love with the little tortoiseshell. After going away & having a good old think about it, I rang Happy Landings & said that I would like to adopt her. Nothing in life is ever straight-forward: Happy Landings told me that the little tortie had a close relationship with one of the tabbys, and asked whether I would consider taking both. It hadn’t occurred to me to have two cats, but I couldn’t see them separated and so took on both. They were around 2 years old, and I named the tortie Remy (after the brandy), and the tabby Cerys (just because I like the name). Cerys quickly became the more dominant of the two, and also decided that I was her Mum! Don’t get me wrong, Remy was never second best, but Cerys would always make sure that she cuddled up to me first. Cerys was also the one with the maverick spirit, which maybe explains why she identified with me. When I first let them out, the pair of them went off wandering for days, to the point where I feared I would never see them again. Cerys returned first, followed by Remy a day later – this became a habit that I reluctantly got used to this, but fairly safe in the knowledge that they would always find their way back home. After a few years, they both settled down, but Cerys would still continue to challenge me; she was losing weight and spending time away from home. Eventually she was diagnosed with kidney failure, and devastated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. The vet and I managed her condition for 6 months, during which time she became more and more clingy towards me, until eventually we had to say goodbye. Remy adapted incredibly well to the loss of her best friend, and she actually become more confident in herself and much less timid. Remy and I enjoyed an extremely loving relationship, and when Whiskey joined us, she quickly accepted him as part of the family. They would both happily curl up together, and Remy would cuddle up to me in bed with Whiskey on the other side. We lost Remy four years ago, and then Madeline joined us, but that is a whole new story for another time …

Being an animal lover is not the only reason I have chosen to become a vegetarian, although of course it does play a part. I certainly don’t judge anyone for choosing to eat meat, although I do advocate ethical treatment of animals.

What really upsets me is actual cruelty towards animals, and this is something that appears way too often on my timeline on social media. Chris tells me not to look at it because of the way it upsets me, but that doesn’t make the problem go away; it’s still happening somewhere in the world.

I’ve been following a couple of pages on Facebook recently: @littlecagefighters and @estherthewonderpig – both have gone through personal emotional upset, and yet are still devoting their lives to helping animals, even with the heartache it brings.

You don’t have to become vegetarian or vegan, but animals are sentient beings, so please consider their welfare …