Apropos of Nothing: The Joy of Pet Ownership
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett
My house is a humble, tumbledown thing, filled with dust bunnies and dirty dishes. There have been at least two wet towels on the bathroom floor for the entirety of this century and every now and then I come home to find a small puddle in the kitchen that may be a melted ice cube, or something ickier.
This is my life, day to day.
You see, somewhere along the line I screwed up. I got married. And because I got married my wife and I had children. And because we had children, we adopted pets. It’s that slippery slope deal politicians are always talking about. One small, comforting idea leads to another cute little addition, then another, and before you know it, you find yourself living at the bottom of an impossibly large pile of dirty laundry with fur balls stuck all over it.
In the early days, back when I still thought I was fairly bright, my oldest child asked for a pet. A reasonable request. One that most children make at some point. Thankfully, they usually want a pony, or a snow leopard, so something equally impractical for a small nuclear family living in a third floor walk-up apartment. I thought I’d solve that problem by promising to buy him an aquarium with fish.
I regret that decision to this day.
The aquarium was fairly small. Maybe five gallons of water, which doesn’t sound like much, but that’s a lot of real estate to fill with just one fish. So I asked an employee at the pet store what sort of sea creatures might get along well in that tank. A cheerful, lanky teenager with floppy hair and a crooked smile assured me that my son’s first and second choices would get along just ducky in that tank.
With a smile on my face and a song in my heart I bought the tank, and the pump, and the filter, and the replacement filer elements, and the gravel, and the plastic plants, and a miniature deep sea diver, and all the other bits and pieces that go with owning a fish. I also bought the two aquatic creatures my boy wanted. One was a Betta fish, also known as a Siamese fighting fish. It was an amazing iridescent blue color and was blessed with long flowing fins. The combination virtually required that you stare at the little guy in wonder.
On the way home my boy named his new pet, Bruce, in honor of his best friend. I liked that.
I’m an idiot.
We set up the tank, we filled it with water, we got the temperature right, we prepped and primped and noodled around like a teenage girl on prom night. Then we put the cute little critters in the tank and stepped back to admire our handiwork. Bruce floated downward in the tank, his flowing fins waving lightly in the crystal clear water. My son pressed his nose to the glass, fascinated by Bruce’s almost unimaginable grace and beauty. My boy was beaming.
That was the moment when it all went wrong. It seems our second purchase, a crayfish, is not the natural ally of the Betta fish as the young man at the pet store had promised it to be. It is in fact, a predator. And so my boy got the traumatic experience of his young life when his new crayfish leapt onto Bruce the Betta and tore into him like a Panzer tank ripping through Eastern Europe circa 1943.
It was on that day we switched to fur bearing pets and never looked back.
Today we own a dog, and another dog, and a handful of cats. Pets outnumber people at my house. They have for several years. All are salvaged from the wreckage of other people’s lives. When some weasel of a human being abandons or mistreats an animal, there’s a fair chance that animal will end up at my house, where we will fall in love with them, let them climb on the furniture, and even clean up after them should they have some sort of nasty accident in the house.
Believe it or not, we even keep them after they’re gone… if you know what I mean. Murphy the Cat, an irascible rabbit named Mr. Whiskers, and a small menagerie of their furry friends are buried beneath the Camphor tree in our back yard. The ashes of Winston the Wonder Dog remain in the living room, or at least we’re told they’re the ashes of Winston. They could be from a bonfire from someone’s sweet 16 party. We’ll never know. But they feel like Winston’s ashes and that’s what’s important. Reilly the Cat has been similarly preserved in our hearts, as has the Amazing Annie.
Pets have taken over my life, somehow. Thank goodness. We do love them so.