Sunday, January 29, 2012
If Giraffes Show Up Tomorrow
No matter how much I love my dog, I just can’t think of myself as her ‘parent’. That’s what I heard pet owners called last night during a cat food commercial. But I’m pretty sure I would have remembered giving birth to something with four legs and a tail. Stuff like that sticks with you.
Our pooch is part of the family, but on our terms. As long as she remembers where her personal bathroom is and where it isn’t, I don’t mind renewing her dog license once a year. But I’m not her parent. I decided long ago to reserve that title for addressing my human progeny.
Uh, oh. I’m already offending somebody--I can tell. Hang on--it might get better. Remember, this is just my introspective indulgence here.
Let me lay some groundwork. When I was a kid, we lived in a trailer park. And, like every other kid on the planet, I desperately wanted a pet. Having a little sister didn’t count. But where do you put a pet in an eight by forty foot mobile home and still sleep two adults and two kids? In a fish tank. To this day, I can spot betas and mollies and angel fish from across Petsmart without even trying. But fish aren’t good playmates for kids. One good game of Catch! and the next thing you know, they’re floating upside down in the aquarium. That’s followed by a short funeral and a fun ride through a porcelain water slide.
It turned out the fish were more of a hobby for my parents anyway, so one summer they gave us a turtle. ‘Cuz turtles live in small spaces and it’s okay to hold them. Or at least, in the sixties, everyone thought it was all right. Now we know you can get salmonella from those little green things with the splash of red on their head. But this one didn’t last long enough to get a name or risk our health. We took him and his turtle bowl outside for some healthy sunshine one afternoon and forgot to take him back in. He was turtle soup by supper time. Salmonella sushi.
So on my ninth birthday, I got my very own hamster. You can pet those and let them play hide and seek in your shirt. But they have a very short attention span. One minute they remember how to breathe, and the next they’re doing an imitation of the floating fish, but with fur. I guess we got an old one. Of course, even as a kid I had a guilt complex so I thought Tika died because I didn’t play with her enough. Or maybe that’s what my parents told me, hoping I wouldn’t ask for any more pets. At any rate, I lovingly buried her in the back yard. For a week. Then I dug her up and threw her in the trash can so her ghost wouldn’t haunt me. Well, I was nine.
The next year we moved into a small house with a big yard. And we got a couple of dogs. It was fabulous—for a minute. When I found out you couldn’t just feed them once a week or trust them to find their own water, the thrill was gone. Suddenly, they were just noisy and demanding. And dirty. To this day, I think dogs should be self-cleaning, but they hate getting in the shower. And they’re destructive. I’ll never forget coming home after school one day to find my favorite blouse ripped off the clothesline and torn to shreds by the Labrador we misnamed “Princess”. Royalty shouldn’t act like that.
Do you see why I am ambivalent about animals? And knowing this, wouldn’t you think animals would steer clear of me? Nope. They search me out. I think it’s some kind of a vendetta. I’ve been cornered by mice, stalked by cats, and buzzed by seagulls. I’ve been trampled by horses, rattled by snakes, surprised by zebras. I’ve been teased by gerbils, taunted by tarantulas, and tweeted by love birds. And I’ve had enough. If I wanted to live in a zoo, I’d have stopped shaving my legs years ago. Of course, it’s possible this is some kind of reverse karma for throwing Tika in the trash when I was a kid. I heard hamsters hold grudges forever.
It all came to a head for me a few years ago, about a week after we moved into a new house. I kept hearing scratching sounds above me in the master bath. For days. No one else heard them, and I was about to chalk it up to a hamster haunting when Rob finally heard them, too. Immediately out came the ladder, up he went into the attic, and when he came down he was holding two tiny kittens. Turns out insulation makes a comfy nest for newborns.
“Well, that was fun,” I thought to myself. Convinced it was just an anomaly, I laughed it off and resumed unpacking. But the next morning chaos broke loose as the dog began barking like a . . . dog and running around the cool deck surrounding the backyard pool. I went outside to see what the commotion was all about and saw two ducks floating arrogantly in the chlorinated water, stubborn and determined to lay claim to our cement pond. It wasn’t until our beagle dove in beside them that they decided to check out the resort next door instead and flew off.
I went into the house feeling quite shaken. I had ducks in my pool, cats in the attic, bats in my belfry. There must be a target painted on the roof of our house! Animal couples of fur and feather were arriving without reservations but plenty of luggage. I decided if giraffes showed up the next day, I was leaving. The last time animals gathered in one place like this, a flood followed. And as much as I hate to clean up after a dog, I sure wasn’t hanging around to do it for a floating menagerie.
Then it hit me. There was no impending disaster. This was payback. All the floating fish and sautéed turtles and expired rodents and traumatized tarantulas had met up on The Other Side. This was The Revenge of Tika.
Talk about having a chip on your shoulder. I guess I shouldn’t have thrown her in that dumpster.