Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Adventures in pet ownership

Kids and pets are like cordial syrup and water: is it necessary to mix them? Or could you just as well have drunk the water on its own and been happy? Before you decide, consider my own personal experiences with a variety of pets. 

Part 1: is a dog really necessary? 

Once you have finally moved beyond the toddler stage, it’s almost inevitable that everyone in the family* who was not responsible for:

a) cleaning up other people’s excrement daily
b) feeding everyone else breakfast before they fed themselves

will decide that now is a good time to get a dog.

Before you acquiesce to this mob mentality, consider the fact that dogs are just like toddlers.

  • They make your house stink
  • They leave toys and bull's penises scattered all over the floor (the bull's penis is maybe just the dog)
  • They need to be taken to the park in the morning for a run around or they go nuts in the afternoon.
  • You have to feed them.
  • Thunderstorms make them go all ... Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
  • They need to be taught over and over and OVER AGAIN that pooh and wee does not belong on the living room floor.
  • They have an aversion to bathing and disappear under the bed as soon as they hear the bath running.
  • They don’t know how to use a knife and fork.
  • They like to hang around in the nude apropos of nothing.
  • They bite people.

If after all these sound arguments,  your kids are still begging you for a dog, here's how to stave of the inevitable for a while.

Part 2:  six suggestions for an interim pet you can get before you get a dog

(As based on my own experiences and the experiences of friends.)

For reference I have rated each one according to the following scientific parameters:

Care (ie: how much you will end up caring about it.)

1. Goldfish

I am an experienced owner of about 20 goldfish. Not all at the same time, it’s just that they kept dying and we had to keep replacing them.  After a while we ran out of names so we just numbered them.  Number 20 goldfish actually committed suicide.  He disappeared from the tank and then we found him months later, stuck to the back of the chest of drawers. He was well and truly petrified (so long-dead he was a scaly husk of his former self.)  The only conclusion we could draw was that he had made a Nemo-style jump for it in order to escape us.

Stink factor: low
Maintenance: low
Care factor:  low

2. Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are a great pet for small children.  Until you hold one, cop a feel of its rodent backbone and realize that they are just rats without a tail. Plus you have to clean out a cage full of crap and wee-soaked newspaper every second day.  Peeyoo! They stink.

We solved this by “free ranging” our guinea pigs.  Which is a fancy way of saying: we put the cage out in the council clean up and let the pigs loose in the backyard. They loved it there; they fashioned a little humpy out of a dead tree, they came running over to us when we fed them and most importantly, we didn’t have to clean their stinky cage.

Then we moved house and the new backyard wasn’t so ‘guinea pig’ friendly.

Call me heartless, but I found it hard to care when there was an urgent knocking on the door one morning and the neighbours informed us that our guinea pig was cowering beneath their car.  I had to go through the motions of trying to lure the guinea pig out with a plastic golf stick. I made all sorts of ‘tch tch tch’ noises at it and tried to remember its name. Eventually we had to go to soccer. I can’t remember what happened after that, but I don’t think we ever got the guinea pig back. Which comes under exhibit A of ‘care factor.’

Stink factor: high
Maintenance: medium (unless you let them go free range)
Care factor: low

3. Cats

If you like a more independent, self-cleaning sort of pet, cats are for you.  Personally I find cats a bit scary. My sister has a particularly evil cat who lies in wait for me at the top of the stairs, plays dead on the second step when I’m coming down and tries to kill me by tripping me down the stairs and breaking my neck. Then sometimes he just stares at me.

evil sarge

I know he’s thinking about other ways he might “off” me.  My sister claims he’s not thinking anything  because he has the brain the size of a pea. But one day I came in and found him Googling, “How to cut off a human’s air supply with your paws,” on the computer.

Stink factor: medium
Maintenance: medium
Care factor: High on your side. Low on theirs.


4. Hermit crab 

I know a little boy who has a hermit crab as a “pet.” I put that in “…” because it’s really just like having a shell in an empty fish tank and pretending that there’s something in there.

Stink factor: low
Maintenance: low
Care factor: off-the-chart low (what can I say? It’s a shell in a glass box.)

 5. Frogs 

I would highly recommend a frog as a pet. But you need to be prepared to:

a) catch live cockroaches in a glass jar at dusk
b) be woken in the dead of night by a dramatic symphony of croaking from an amphibious voice box designed to carry for kilometres through the swamps.

My brother, Michael had a frog called, “Raphael.”  Michael would go out into the street at night and catch a jar full of live cockroaches for dinner (Raphael’s, not his own.)

He also kept large gobs of Blu Tack stuck to the bedhead. One day I asked him what the Blu Tack was for and it transpired that it was the fastest and most efficient way to shut that frog up in the middle of the night. He then did a demonstration of just how hard he needed to hit the tank with the gob of Blu Tack to make the croaking stop. It was pretty hard. So FYI you have to have good aim and a very good arm.

It was particularly fascinating though, to watch Raphael eat his “dinner.”  With his big sucker hands pushing a live cockroach into his mouth … it was like a live version of David Attenborough’s, Life In Cold Blood

Stink factor: medium
Maintenance: medium
Care factor: high (if only for the nightly spectacle of watching it eat live cockroaches with its sucker hands) 

6. Mice

Mice seem like a good idea. Until you start with two and suddenly two becomes  … one … hundred. Mice have a freakish ability to reproduce and they have no morals either. Don’t think that purchasing a brother and sister from the same ‘litter’ will stop them going at it night and day.

When he was a kid, my ex-husband talked his mum into purchasing two boy mice from the pet shop.  Or. So. They. Thought.  They should have twigged when the mice kept playing piggy back. Pretty soon the mice were multiplying in the cage exponentially as a rampant incest-fest took hold.

They put the mice in a box, put the box in the boot of the car and drove out to a bush clearing to offload the unwanted mice.  Along the way, they heard squeaky noises coming from the glove box.  He opened the glove box and …

... remember that old nursery rhyme: hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock?

Well, this mouse ran via the internal workings of the car from the boot to the glove box and straight up his shorts leg.

Stink factor: high
Maintenance: high (just by sheer numbers …)
Care factor: low (Unless you get a really smart, talking one in a sweater vest like Stuart Little.)

But lastly, if you're still thinking about that dog, just consider the two images below as a sort of ink blot test.



If the image on the right doesn't put you off, then you are the sort of person who loves high maintenance relationships, so knock yourself out and go get a puppy from the pound.

Enjoy. I'll be here with my pet rock and my hermit crab.

(* Usually your kids and your husband)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article; had me laughing out loud. Thank you! Kirsten