Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Not So Glass Menagerie

On or about March 12th, 1995 my family moved into our new home in the country. On or about March 13th, 1995, we acquired our first pet. We now have a menagerie that would have Noah jealous. The current census indicates we have four fish, three dogs, two chickens, one cat, and a partridge in a pear tree. The last part I couldn't swear to, but we do have quail about the place, and two pear trees, so their combination is pretty much inevitable.

This accounting does not include the pets who have come and gone, such as the gerbil breeding farm my eldest started in his bedroom, the tank full of goldfish that have taken that final, spiral swim. Nor does it include the litter of eight puppies that was presented to us on St. Valentine's Day a couple of years ago. I also can't enumerate the unauthorized pets of our sons' we have evicted over the years, such as frogs, turtles, spiders, and other assorted life forms commonly thought of as vermin.

The problem is probably genetic, and definitely my wife's fault. She has had an overwhelming variety of pets, all of them strays or free to good home, since I've known her. This gathering of new pets has gotten so bad I can't even send her to the mailbox without fear of a new addition to the zoo. This year, three or four days after Easter, she came back with the day’s mail and a six-week-old chick she found wandering the road. A day or two later we found the box it had been dumped in. I guess somebody else found out the hard way that chickens do not make good house pets.

Some of the blame is mine, I guess. It was I who brought home our first pet, when I had to have a dog. I didn't even care about whether or not she was fixed until I found out for certain that she wasn't. (Which I still think is strange terminology, when you take something that works perfectly, break it, and then call it "fixed".) This is when the collection started to grow. We had to keep one of the pups. The others all went to good homes, and if our pup is any indication, turned out well.

Our third dog was adopted slightly differently. One of our neighbors had a dog he rescued from the road after almost hitting it with his car. As near as our vet can tell, it's two major breeds are chow and shar-pei. I like to call him five pounds of dog in a ten pound skin. Our neighbor was a bachelor, and Titan was a pup who needed to be around kids. He developed a close attachment to my middle son, probably due to the all baloney that kept mysteriously disappearing. The time he spent fenced in the neighbor's backyard was soundtracked to his yelps and cries. It was sort of like musical chairs. When the music stopped, the beeline to a seat on our porch started. Our neighbor finally decided that he needed a dog guarding his place, not ours and told my son Titan was going to the pound. He came home with Matt instead.

My wife's sisters have helped enable our addiction to buying pet food, too. But it's been done in a sneaky way, by giving the kids pets. The time I came home from work and found my three-year-old was the proud owner of a six-week-old kitten springs to mind. When her younger sister thought that a baby chicken for Easter was a good idea is another. And to be fair, my family isn't much better. It was my Mom who started us off on goldfish.

The goldfish are a classic case of how pet ownership evolves. For my son's third birthday in 1996 he was presented with one goldfish in a bowl. After six or seven months of bi-weekly bowl cleanings, I figured the darn thing was immortal and bought a tank and filter. Two weeks later we found him belly up on the top of the tank.

This is where I believe we started to throw good money after bad. We bought more goldfish, one of which was with children. Patrick was ecstatic. We watched those fish grow for almost eight months. After one of the monthly tank cleanings, a parent’s job, don't you know, we forgot to add the de-chlorinator before we added the fish. There were no survivors, and all victims were buried at sea. Or, at least, at close as we could come. My guilty conscience bought more fish.

I'm fairly certain there will be more pets in the future. It took lots of will power not to adopt a miniature sheltie that a friend was recently had to give away, but we managed. She found it a good home, instead of taking it to the pound, which helped. I also think my wife is ready to "just say no" to more pets. When one of the dogs got into the house after his bath recently she seemed a little pet weary. It could have been because he didn't stop to shake between the hose and the living room, but I'm not sure. What I do know for sure is I'm waiting until she's in a real good mood before I talk to her about replacing our weedwhacker with a goat.

UPDATE: No, we do not have a goat. I got a riding lawnmower instead.

And I'll tell you what prompted this post. The Young'un got some goldfish. One of our neighbors has a goldfish pond in his yard and he gave the Young'un some fish from the pond. It’s a Lose-Lose situation. He lost some goldfish, and I gained 3 more mouths to feed, and a fish tank in the living room again.

All of the pets in the story, except Titan are gone. The picture is Daisy, of course, and Bandit, my wife’s lap-rat dog. Pat’s kitten became a cat and was with us 7 years, until he got a little slow crossing the road one day. He’s buried up on the hill under the pear tree. And was replaced by Patches.

I really don’t see an end to the pet situation. I have had a dog in my life since I was 5, and intend to always have one. The fish keep the kids happy and feeding a cat is cheaper and easier than baiting and emptying mouse traps. But my wife and I still have one pet battle.

She wants a cow. Not for steaks and hamburger, but for a pet. There I draw the line. I am not going to have a 2000 pound pet wandering the backyard. Probably. Maybe.

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