Wednesday, May 11, 2011


We're not pet people. That is, we don't generally own pets. This has consternated my kids from time to time. But I have my reasons.

Years ago I saw a study that reported that people with Multiple Sclerosis (like me) tend to experience greater problems with the disease if they have fur bearing pets that live in their home. On the other hand, people with M.S. that have pets tended to report better emotional wellbeing than those that don't have pets.

I figured that I'd rather be better off physically, so I opted for the no pet approach — or at least no fur bearing pets. Of course, like every other study, this is a single data point that should be considered in a larger array of data to form a more objective picture.

Truth be told, I just don't want to own a pet. I'm frankly not certain why that is. I loved the pets we owned throughout my childhood. We briefly owned a small black poodle that my mother had gotten from a lady with whom she worked after the lady's poodle had a litter. We called our poodle Cinder.

We loved Cinder, but Mom and Dad were both working full time in those days. All of us kids were gone to school all day. We didn't have a fully fenced backyard. So Cinder stayed cooped up in the house for many hours each day with nothing to do and nowhere to ... uh ... go.

Finally, in the interest of being humane to the dog and keeping our basement free of pet excrement, we gave Cinder away to a family that could provide her a better environment. I think I cried myself to sleep every night for more than a month after that.

A few years later a little mutt followed my brother home, although, he tried repeatedly to get the dog to go home. She stayed around our house, so we felt that it was our duty to feed her and give her water. After three days we discovered who the owner was. My younger brother was heartbroken when we returned the puppy.

The owner explained that the puppy was part of a litter that was going to have their shots within a week. If we were interested, we could buy the dog for the price of the veterinarian visit. My younger brother got Poochie for his birthday. She soon became part of the family.

13 years later, Poochie was suffering from a heart condition that caused her a great deal of pain. We had a neighbor that was a veterinarian that gave us medicine. He explained that if the medication didn't help within 48 hours, no treatment would help.

The medicine didn't work for Poochie. One night after she spent the whole night walking around the yard coughing and in obvious intense pain, we held a family council. We decided it was humane to put Poochie down. I was the only family member that had both the time and the fortitude to take her to the vet to have her euthanized. It was a difficult chore. My Mom, who didn't particularly care for the dog, cried.

Poochie was the last pet I had until my oldest son brought a goldfish home from school when he was in fourth grade. Over the next few years we went through several episodes of owning fish. Most died quickly. If the fish lived long enough, the story was always the same. The same children that had begged and pleaded for a pet, promising to be ever vigilant in caring for the critter, would prove to be reliably unreliable in cleaning the aquarium.

We actually had one fish that lived quite a while. It started out as one of a whole passel of goldfish. Eventually it was the only one left alive and it was over half a foot long. When nobody in the family was willing to care for the fish any longer, we gave it to a local pet store.

A number of years went by before we obtained our next pet. That was just a month and a half ago when my youngest son received a tree frog for his birthday, along with a good terrarium and all of the necessary supplies. This only came about after many months of pleading and painstaking research.

My son was tremendously proud of his little frog, which he dubbed 'Stickers' due to the way the frog could stick to the surfaces of the terrarium. For the most part, my son was pretty careful about caring for the animal — sometimes only after we reminded him of his duty. The terrarium was kept in the proper temperature and humidity range. The water was changed on schedule. The frog received the best diet possible.

Then yesterday evening we found Stickers lying feet up in the soil-like material on the bottom of the terrarium. My son was completely broken up over this loss. He cried that he wasn't worthy to own a pet. I did my best to explain the circle of life and the inevitability of each pet's demise. Only prayer and blessing seemed to comfort my mourning son.

At my son's request, Stickers was left in the terrarium overnight. Today my wife found a small box just the right size for Stickers. My son forbade us from flushing or trashing the frog's remains. Rather, we buried Stickers in his little cardboard coffin in an ornamental bed in the front yard. My young son actually got his much older brother to play Taps on his trumpet prior to putting the dirt back into the grave.

My son then fashioned a cross out of two popsicle sticks. He wrote "RIP Stickers" on the tiny cross and placed it on his frog's grave. I get the feeling that, although my son has known Stickers for only a few weeks, he will long remember his first real pet.

1 comment:

Susan said...

our backyard was filled with all sorts of graves for all sorts of pets, included 2 dogs ... and the raspberries that grew over them were the best and strongest ever. i understand why you don't have pets but i love pets. and as old as i am (62), i am heartbroken when one dies. We now only have a bird and an Italian Greyhound. i dread the day we are alone...but when these 2 go, we will be alone. i don't think i can be heartbroken when i'm 70+. Great entry!