A blogger I follow recently posted about pet peeves. I have some of these, of course. Don’t we all? It was then that an off-topic thought occurred to me: I don’t think there is any other kind of pet that I am qualified to keep.
One of the great mysteries of my life is how I grew up in a house without a dog or a cat. My mother grew up on a farm
and there were animals everywhere. She even told stories of a pet pig (which she and her two sisters decided to name Woofie). Woofie the pig had been the runt of the litter and the three little girls nursed Woofie to health. I think Woofie met a sad end (one that involved a plate and a fork), so perhaps that experience soured my mother on pet ownership. I know that there was never an animal of any kind in her house for her entire adult life.
I tried to change that once. I think it was the summer between 3rd or 4th grade. I caught a frog. I don’t remember where I caught it or how I caught it. I just remember that I did, and was quite proud of my accomplishment. The only other thing I remember is that I named him Goomer. I don’t know why I chose that name. And I am sure it was a “he” – what self-respecting 3rd or 4th grade boy would want a girl frog? I think it had something to do with cooties. Anyhow, I somehow got my hands on a glass bowl and put the frog in it, whereupon I announced to my mother the new addition to our family.
“You’re not keeping that frog in the house.” My mother would have made a good judge. Nobody with a black robe and a gavel could have entered that decree with more force or finality than did my mother. So poor Goomer was consigned to a place in the garage, where I spent time looking at him and trying to find things for him to eat. I was not very good at catching flies. I think I tried slower, crawly bugs. And Corn Flakes. Fortunately it was during the summer so the garage was plenty warm and comfortable for a frog.
Until I kind of forgot about him. A week or two probably went by and then suddenly, to my horror, I remembered Goomer out in the garage. He was, sadly, not in the garage any more, having gone to frog heaven. The bowl was dry and, with no food or water, what else could possibly have happened? As an adult I think I might have kept closer tabs on the situation had my own children caught a frog. But there is no way around it – I forgot all about poor Goomer and nobody reminded me. I still feel quite bad about it.
I stayed away from the idea of another pet until my freshman year of college. My roommate Dan proposed that we should get a hermit crab. We agreed to share custody. Hermit crabs live in large shells, which they drag around the environment as protection from large creatures who are always on the lookout for a seafood buffet. They also have pincers, which Dan discovered were not just there for decoration. After this painful lesson, Dan proposed to name the crab de Sade, after the Marquis de Sade, a terrible man who was known for inflicting tortures on others. Dan was not always the best influence on me.
When it came time for Christmas break, each of us was certain about one thing: neither of our mothers would stand for de Sade coming into the house. We tried to be good crab parents, and worked out what we thought would be a great plan: We poured several containers of water to be available and left plenty of food in the little shoebox it called home. Really, if de Sade had been a college student, it would have been one long three-week house party. Sadly, de Sade was not a college freshman, just a stupid hermit crab.
When we arrived back from break, we were chagrined to find that de Sade had gone missing. The water was gone, as was the food. In the middle of the dorm room floor was an abandoned shell. We imagined that he left it behind in an attempt to go in search of provisions. He had a fighting chance because he could escape the shoebox that was his enclosure – unlike poor Goomer who had been stuck in a glass bowl. Both Dan and I tried to tell ourselves that de Sade made it to a source of food and water and lived happily ever after somewhere in the residence hall complex, but I think we were both victims of some self-delusion.
So there you have it. When my children brought up pets, their father was not like other dads who would take their side in an effort to sell Marianne on the idea. In truth, I am allergic to cats, which was my official reason. But after my tragic experiences at pet ownership, I realized that I was in no position to offer guidance to children on the care and keeping of animals. Today my home is free of pets. Except, of course, for a few peeves I keep around for comfort and companionship. Those have thrived under my care.
Photo credit: Hermit crab photo is from the Flickr page of Ross Garner, under Attribution CC 2.0 license.