For Gerry, the only things in life that are more important than his scientific pursuits are his relationships with his friends, especially his non-human friends. He carefully anthropomorphizes all the animals he observes, giving them names and figuring out their personalities and quirks. As he acquires a number of more exotic pets throughout the novel, Gerry becomes increasingly interested in providing them the best care possible given his knowledge. In this way, the novel ultimately suggests that animals are just as capable as being close friends with humans as other humans are, while also making the case that it's the human's responsibility to provide care for those animal friends and do what's best for them.
Gerry's best friend and constant companion throughout the novel is the Durrell family dog, Roger. Particularly in the first half of the book, Roger accompanies Gerry everywhere he goes, offering his opinions on Gerry's plant and animal findings, moving Gerry along when things get boring, and dutifully making friends with other creatures when Gerry asks him to. In this way, Roger embodies all the qualities of a good friend: he chooses to spend his time with Gerry, even when Gerry is shut inside with a tutor, and Gerry's narration indicates that the two even have meaningful "conversations" about all manner of things. Gerry also thinks of Roger as the ultimate friend because of the way that Roger is willing to form relationships with Gerry's other pets. Most notable of these is the relationship Roger forms with the owl Ulysses, who is initially uninterested in being friends with a dog but eventually decides that Roger is an acceptable form of transportation. The relationship between Gerry and Roger stands as proof that animals can be close, intimate friends with humans, just as humans can be with each other. Their relationship also provides the foundation for the belief that Gerry develops over the course of the novel that recognizes all life as worthy of consideration, appropriate care, and ultimately, friendship or companionship.
It's important to recognize that many of the ways that Gerry goes about acquiring nonliving specimens (eggs, shells, insects for study) and exotic pets would be considered inhumane today—he regularly pulls baby birds out of their nests and other established animals out of their natural habitats. However, after he acquires these living animals, he does everything he possibly can to ensure that the animals receive an unrivaled quality of care. This is why, for example, the Magenpies are initially allowed the run of the Durrells' villa. Gerry recognizes that, as members of the crow family, magpies are naturally social and curious birds and it would be extremely cruel to lock the birds up. Indeed, when Larry finally insists that the birds be caged after they trash his bedroom, Gerry dedicates himself to building the birds the largest and most naturalistic enclosure he possibly can for them. Further, especially after the Magenpies are caged and he acquires the cantankerous gull Alecko, Gerry spends much of his time cleaning the cages and providing the birds with attention and stimulation. He understands that as the birds' caretaker, it's his sole responsibility to make sure they're properly cared for.
Despite Gerry's best efforts, he's not always successful in constructing the best environments for his pets, as is the case with his pond for his turtles, snakes, and goldfish. In his excitement to make the pond look attractive and mimic the turtles' and snakes' natural habitat, Gerry forgets that turtles and snakes will sometimes eat goldfish. His discovery of half-eaten goldfish and the ensuing dismantling of the pond leads to a number of shenanigans, not least of which is the snakes' hours-long soak in the family bathtub to cool down after someone unwittingly moves their temporary enclosure into the sun. As frustrating as the snakes' soak is for Leslie in particular, who desperately wants a bath, Gerry takes it upon himself to advocate for his pets' health and fair treatment with the rest of the family. Again, he understands that he's the only family member truly willing and able to care for the menagerie, and that it's his responsibility to do so to the best of his ability.
As a whole, Gerry's love for all animals shines through the narrative, and his relationships with the animals comprise some of the most heartwarming passages of the novel. His focus on the friendships he forms with the animals, coupled with the ways in which he anthropomorphizes all the animals he encounters, shows the reader that animals are just as worthy of consideration as humans, and that by choosing to keep animals as pets, one accepts full responsibility to appropriately care for that animal to the best of one's ability.
Friendship and the Care of Animals ThemeTracker
Friendship and the Care of Animals Quotes in My Family and Other Animals
I toyed with the idea that it may have found itself without a pair of clean wing-cases to put on that morning and had to borrow its younger brother's pair, but I eventually decided that this idea, however enchanting, could not be described as scientific.
I grew very fond of these scorpions. I found them to be pleasant, unassuming creatures with, on the whole, the most charming habits.
Since no one had bothered to explain things to him, Roger was under the mistaken impression that the family were being attacked, and that it was his duty to defend them. As Lugaretzia was the only stranger in the room, he came to the logical conclusion that she must be the responsible party, so he bit her in the ankle.
He was, in fact, performing a very necessary and humane service, as anyone who had seen the cats would agree. So my lessons in French were being continuously interrupted while the consul leaped to the window to send yet another cat to a happier hunting ground.
The Magenpies, obviously suspecting Larry of being a dope smuggler, had fought valiantly with the tin of bicarbonate of soda, and had scattered its contents along a line of books, so that they looked like a snow-covered mountain range.
"I assure you the house is a death-trap. Every conceivable nook and cranny is stuffed with malignant faunae waiting to pounce...A simple, innocuous action like lighting a cigarette is fraught with danger. Even the sanctity of my bedroom is not respected. First, I was attacked by a scorpion...Now we have snakes in the bath and huge flocks of albatrosses flapping around the house, making noises like defective plumbing."