Every family who chooses to have pets is guaranteed poop, pain and pleasure. While poop and painful partings are inevitable, pets also bring pleasurable hours of joy and lifelong memories. The lasting benefits of pet ownership seem to far outweigh the messy liabilities.
Many families put off the bigger pet commitment (dog) and go for the easier. First they choose a cat which can be left alone for long periods of time. Or, like our family, they move down the food chain; hamsters, birds, fish, reptiles, cockroaches.
In retrospect, I’m not sure that putting off the dog decision is really worth it. I’m speaking 3 hamsters, 2 gerbils, 2 rabbits and 4 guinea pigs later. (I’m allergic to cats.) What if we had chosen to simply get a dog 6 years ago? The potty training would have lasted a few months. A few slippers may have been chewed to shreds and perhaps a furniture leg or two. I’m not sure we gained much financially or time wise as we cycled through months of weekly cage cleaning. Plus, the accidental death, scent gland tumors, and old age took our most of our pets to heaven inside of a year. My childhood dog lived 16 years!
How did our pet parade begin? Some kids are born with an “I love animals” gene. When our daughter with the pet DNA lovingly adopted a lady bug (and cried her heart out when she accidentally dropped the bug in the grass and couldn’t find it) we decided it was TIME. But a dog “might tie us down.” So we opted for our first hamster against my better judgment. I still wince thinking about how my sister’s hamster bit me. But a hamster is cute, lives in a small manageable cage and doesn’t require potty training or getting up at night. So we got one.
J.J. died while we were on vacation a couple months later. For the sake of our beloved, pet-sitting neighbor, the secret of J.J.’s passing will go with me to my grave. (Hint: They have 5 dogs.) So we went back to the pet store, where we decided to upgrade to a cuddlier pet. A giant hamster might fit better in a child’s hands, right? We quickly learned that bigger hamsters simply have bigger teeth. As were leaving the store, the hamster poked her nose through the air hole and took a chunk out of my daughter’s finger. As the blood dripped, we reconsidered.
Another family in the store that day convinced us of the charm and non-nocturnal nature of gerbils. We happily came home with two. About a year later, both had succumbed to gerbil diseases and we were pet-free again.
Enter bunnies. Angus, a Holland Lop and Shiner, a Jersey Woolley, were purchased at the county fair. Now we had a pet of a known breed. We had progressed. Angus learned to “play tag” and put up with all sorts of other tortures at the hand of his 9 year old mistress.
This time the painful parting came because we were moving. As bunnies do not travel well (weak hearts,) Angus and Shiner were returned to the breeder the day before we moved. As if he knew, Angus inexplicably took a grumpy turn and bit and sprayed my daughter regularly in the last weeks, making their parting easier, although the memory of their happy relationship took on mythical proportions once distance made the heart grow fonder.
In our new location, my daughter survived without a pet for a year, but we realized she needed a pet to fill in the quiet moments of her day as well as feed her soul.
Having learned that hamsters bite and gerbils are not cuddly, we graduated to guinea pigs. And that is a story for my next blog.
-posted by Donna Detweiler, who has found it surprisingly insightful to chronicle her family’s pet history and thinks you writing-type readers should do the same!