Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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Next Week's Column: Heavy Petting


I loved having pets, when I was a kid. There was always at least one dog and one cat running around, often more, and I thought having pets must be the one thing that all happy kids have in common. I still feel it’s good for kids to have pets, but I’ve come to realize that the main reason I was so happy was that I didn’t have to take care of them.

We lived in the country, in a time when there weren’t a lot of neighbors -- and what neighbors there were had their own pets. It wasn’t uncommon to call your dog, and have him show up with the neighbor’s dogs, too. Any questions about how pet overpopulation came to be a problem have now been answered.

We’d keep a bowl of water by the door, and put out some dry dog food, and that was about the extent of our animal care. They didn’t come inside, so there was no problem with housetraining, or cleaning up fur, or having your best gym shoes eaten. Taking them to the vet wasn’t a problem -- we didn’t know there was such a thing as a vet. A vet was a guy who served in Vietnam. And yet the animals always seemed healthy, probably because, like the kids of that time, they spent all day out running and playing, and didn’t sit around on the couch waiting for a disease to sneak up on them.

Now I’m a dad, and I live in town, and having pets is a chore. Several chores, actually. Like most dads, I made the declaration that there would be “no pets in this house until you learn to take care of them”. Like most dads, I didn’t get far with my declaration.

Oh, the kids meant well. But they’re kids.

Still, we have allergies, and they have asthma, and we have budgetary concerns (think pets are cheap? Ha!) I had to be the bad guy, and say it: No pets. Sorry, I feel bad about it, but that’s just the way it has to be.

What surprised me wasn’t that we have a pet, but that we have so many. Where was I? Were they sneaked in, one by one, as I slept? What happened to my dire allergy warnings? Well, I didn’t care when I was a kid, and the kids don’t care now, and my predictions that I’ll laugh at them in the hospital have gone unheeded. I guess it’s important, every now and then, for a person like me to be reminded that I don’t really rank very high on the totem pole of control over my own life.

Let’s take a quick look at the menagerie in my home as of this writing, starting with the lowest, but not including field mice and giant hairy spiders. Or maybe not so quick – I feel another two part column coming on. Why does no one stop me?

Let’s start with:

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Fish. I tried to count them, and so did the cats, but the best we could do is conclude that there are between 50-100 fish of various varieties, in a tank that could float the Titanic. Some are big, some are small; one stays stuck to the side of the tank, allegedly cleaning it by eating stuff that adheres to the glass, and by the way -- ew. I have nightmares about that one. I dream I wake up with it sucking on the side of my neck, and not in a fun way.

Fish are fun to look at for awhile, then the party’s over. You can’t cuddle a fish, and you can’t pet it -- well, you could, but it wouldn’t end well. They don’t make interesting sounds except for the occasional splash; they’re cold, emotionless and dull; they’re a lot like lawyers. On the other hand, rarely does one step on a mess they’ve left behind, they’ve never chewed through a power cord, and a fish funeral requires a single flush, instead of a shovel.

The main chore besides feeding is adding water to the tank, every now and then. This is good in the winter, when the house needs humidified anyway, but when the air conditioner’s running during summer it makes one feel a little silly to add water in one place while trying to remove it on the other side of the room.

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Hamsters. We’re down to one, and in hamster years he’s 114 years old. The old guy doesn’t get around very well, and the only parts that still seem to be working well are his teeth. He has very good teeth but bad eyesight, so whenever he sees any large pink objects approaching, he takes a sample to see if they’re food. He’s getting cranky in his old age, something I completely understand. Thus, his main talent is biting, which is only entertaining if someone else is holding him.

It’s not too hard changing hamster bedding, and the food and water is a snap, so overall hamsters aren’t bad pets. However, if a hamster gets out of his cage you’ve got a problem, and not a small one. I’ve heard stories of hamsters being found years later, usually during renovations, and we’re not talking happy reunions, either. With their talent for disappearing, hamsters often aren’t buried; they’re mummified.

Next week: larger mammals. I mean pet mammals -- don’t get your hopes up.

Kitten Meets jillyh2009 >
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Tags: new era, slightly off the mark, weekly column

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