It’s always been perplexing as to why folks would choose to have both children AND pets.
It seems redundant in the responsibilities, risks, regrets and rewards.
Pets seem the obvious choice and sure, I see where they have a lot in common with domesticated human youth.
Children, like animals, can be raised to respect, obey, entertain, behave, perform and offer lovingkindness.
Pets however, offer an unconditional quality when bringing all these aforementioned gifts to your home AND you can keep them outdoors if you prefer.
Also, you can invite them in and talk about them in front of them and they listen to you and rarely roll their eyes.
They usually forgive and forget unless you are a real A-hole and if so, that’s your baggage and you should probably not have pets nor children.
If you do have pets or are considering them and weighing that decision against to children or not to children, perhaps this little vignette will help.
There’s one thing you can do with pets that is humane and which you cannot do with children.
And that’s abandon them without recourse (for them or you IF done correctly).
That’s why my vote is for pets (just in case you missed my earlier bias).
We grew up in a home that had not made up its mind (or where they could not tell the difference) between pets and children because, and goodness knows why, there were both.
At a very young age I felt blessed and comfortable with my animal siblings because they truly got me.
We were a mess, we made a mess and we were loved.
That sums up what I consider the most perfect existence.
I’m not sure if I knew the difference between my dog, cat, rabbit, mouse, hamster, tarantula, turtle, guinea pig, gold fish, gerbil, duck, hermit crab, and my self honestly.
Until life shows you that there is a difference or, you internalize a schism in order to preserve your sense of self outside these “creatures” so as to prevent their fate from becoming yours.
Stay with me here.
We lived near Disney Land and Knott’s Berry Farm.
If you have never had the pleasure of living in the shadow of the Matterhorn, you might be unaware that your home becomes very popular and attracts almost as many visitors.
Proximity privileges, I suppose.
Just like the unforgiving metal turnstile that would hit you in the head or bladder (depending on your height) when you entered the park, our spare bedroom had the same rotating quality in housing guests.
It was always great to see friends and family from afar and to rest in knowing you had to do nothing to entertain them while they were in town.
That was a job for costumed characters and risky, rickety, rotating rides.
If you could get used to the idea that most of your days would be spent watching childlike wonder on the faces of adult others while you pleaded with your parents not to take you to Disney again, it was a reliable routine that brought a predictable tradition to an otherwise chaotic existence.
So, oft, off we would go, despite our heel digging and tearful tantrums, to the happiest place on earth!
The real happy place for me was back home in the loving paws, fins, shells and flippers of my “real” family.
If I had been over the age of 3, perhaps I would have known that pets, like kids were a real chore.
But, I only saw the best parts.
The warmth of the thick, black coat of a Newfoundland in the California sun felt better than any shag carpet.
His underbelly was my cave ceiling.
I could wrestle him like a bear.
I could cling to him like he was my gorilla mother or sit atop his broad back and say giddy up.
I recall nothing about my kitten as far as responsibilities go.
There were no feedings, no clean up, no vet trips.
We simply coexisted in unified love and naps.
Our hot dog dog was quite a scoundrel but still so cute and lovable.
He really taught me how to make your peculiarities work in your favor as long as you could flaunt or feign cuteness in the guise of “puppy dog eyes”.
Don’t bother adult humans with your basic needs, he telpathied to me.
Simply pop your tiny dachshund head out from behind the floor length curtain, whilst the rest of your oddly, oblong and elongated body remains obscured.
And since adults cannot see the ass end of you, do your business here.
It’ll be hours until the aroma wafts, days until the evidence is discovered and you’ll be long and long gone (he liked to say).
Then one sunny day, the rabbits came.
I can still see the writing on the back of the pictures that were snapped to capture the blessed event.
“The kids with their rabbits – Sugar and Spice”.
Fast friends forever we thought.
They were fast alright.
Fast to jump from our strangling, loving arms onto the concrete driveway before even getting them out of the car and into the house.
Fast to leave little trails of pellets wherever they went and to make the trail of food pellets in front of them disappear.
We were fast to love them.
Our dog and cat relatives felt differently.
It seems the dynamic had shifted in trying to accommodate our new housemates and the unrest soon turned into unruly.
In our desperate attempt to bond with and imprint on our kit kin, we of course wanted them with us 24/7.
Since cages were for “animals” and we did not see any of our housemates on that spectrum, we just assumed the rabbits would roam freely as did we.
We tried everything we could within the house to let them live with liberation, within reason, without them becoming a dog toy, cat prey or tripping hazard.
Too many variables.
We moved the solution to the backyard.
Sure, fences are like cages but, they are so large in scale that we hoped the rabbits would not notice their confines.
Sadly, not only did they notice but, they were not pleased.
In fact, I think we really insulted them because they felt threatened enough to dig their way to sweet freedom.
We are talking total daylight jailbreak.
In the blink of an eye, they were gone.
Until the doorbell rang.
Our neighbors and our long lost lapins on the lam were deposited back into our care.
I wiped my tears with their bunny fur.
They seemed less moved.
Do rabbits hold grudges?
We were about to find out.
Having exhausted the indoors and outdoors as hospitable environs, we pondered if only there were a way to replicate the indoors out of doors?
Welcome the TENT!
Yes let’s take them camping in the backyard!
They would never want to leave us again.
It seems, however, in answer to that earlier question, rabbits do hold grudges.
In the time it took to place said bitter bunnies in a backyard tent, un-zip, re-zip and zip out for a quick snack, we returned with a handful of carrots and a tent full of gaping holes.
Daylight burst through the torn tarpaulin and tore a similar hole in my stomach, then heart.
This did not bode well for any of our fates I fretted.
Following the bunny trail from the torn tent to the tufted turf that was once again displaced near the prison fence, I ran in the house awaiting the ominous re-tolling of the doorbell.
Same bell, different day, same rabbits, different neighbors.
Sugar and Spice were smart enough to not only escape again, but also shrewd enough to not retrace their tracks.
As fed up as our rabbits had become with their accommodations, it seemed my parents were equally displeased.
That’s why I was so relieved and shocked with what I thought was a very quick to forgive re-approach to the guest-host relationship that happened next.
The familiar phrase resounded that we had 10 minutes to “get in the car; we were going to Knott’s Berry Farm” (yet again).
My heart leapt as I imagined how excited and un-bittered the bunnies would be at hearing this news.
It would fall upon their felt-like ears as if it were an apology twice over.
Not only were they being treated better than family and instead like guests with a theme park outing but, they were also being taken to a BERRY FARM!
They’d think they’d won the lottery.
My mind flashed forward as I envisioned their whiskers awash in anticipation the closer we would get to the Farm entrance.
Why we’d roll down the car windows just a smidge so their pink noses could get their first hints of that sweet, sweet boysenberry nectar.
Maybe we’d ride the log flume and pan for gold, take a spin on the bumper cars and visit the penny arcade.
We’d cowboy saunter through the old west ghost town and tip our freshly purchased sombreros from fiesta village at the heavily shellacked replicas of cancan saloon girls bolted to the courtyard benches always at the ready for the next Kodak moment.
We’d ride the rio grande train, the stage coach and the bumper cars.
We’d stuff our bellies with egg and pimento sandwiches, that cherry rhubarb sauce, and chase it down with pineapple milkshakes until the cows came home.
While I had been daydreaming all of this, mom had switched into “this is not a drill” mode and my brother, the bunnies and I were already rolling around like loose luggage in the terrarium-like swelter of the family hatchback.
The wake up call came when that familiar searing sensation hit me.
First you think, what’s cooking?
Then you realize you are wearing polyester short shorts, no shirt and the realization strikes that the ratio of flesh to sun soaked metal is no match.
Hot metal always wins and skin always welts.
The next miles would feel like an eternity in an inferno as you appeared to be playing a game of Twister with no visible polka dotted vinyl sheet.
You’d contort limbs and lard lumps in the infinite struggle of switcheroo, seeing how long each piece of you could stand the heat before blistering.
Mom skidded the death mobile to a halt and she must have known how eager we were because she got us as close to the farm entrance as possible.
Our flesh was now pressed into the back seats and we hurriedly tried to unglue.
Haste helps when tearing your hide from naugahyde; like the ripping off of a bandaid.
But, some caution and care is needed in order to discern which is dermis and what is not.
The rabbits had been deposited into the front seat upon impact as we touched down.
Mom had both under one arm and we awaited her unlatching of the rear bay window so we could get the family pass into the park that awaited us just past the fake farm frontage.
We had always loved that farm feel.
It seemed more real than the rest of the park and much more authentic than Disney.
Knott’s Farm had real trees with wide branches and leaves so big you could wear them as aprons.
They lent shade and hung low under their own verdant healthy weight and acted like air-conditioned canopies.
This made for green grass that swayed cooly in a lazy breeze.
Ducks and chicks and geese and rabbits roamed across this chicken wire and wooden fenced vista.
Little ponds and grazing nooks made it bucolic, edenic and idyllic.
Until it became a blur as I once again regained present moment awareness.
Ducks and chicks and geese and rabbits…and mom and Sugar and Spice.
Everything was not nice.
Slo-mo had gone into fast-forward as we watched in horror through the steamed car windows, wriggling and writhing in our own blubbery sweat.
Our wills were fast to exit the vehicle.
Our lack of coordination and body mass indexes produced the opposite result.
We tossed our baby seal like bodies from the way-back to the back seats and flung wide, very wide the caramel colored car doors.
We rounded the front bumper and regained site of our mother as she was walking toward us from the farm, nothing in arm.
The livestock behind her was as hearty as ever.
The pasture was filled and our car was empty.
She ushered us back into the car with the wave of one of her now free hands.
With the other, she spun the car keys on her finger the way we had seen the gunfighters do in the western movies.
I imagined her with her best Clint-squint and an errant straw shard hanging from her lip like a cigarette or toothpick.
There was no question that we were not going to be entering the park today.
No family pass, no family.
Now we were on the run.
And, our rabbits were running the other way.
The dream-like state that had teleported us from home to Knott’s was now a nightmare as we reversed our trip.
Time crawled although the car sped.
It may have been the onset of heatstroke or simply the slow swallowing of the reality pill setting in but, the recent events were becoming quite lucid.
You start to wonder if all of the animals over that fence had arrived in the same way.
And, if that was a possible truth, then equally possible was that the fate that befell our bunny brethren at the farm could have easily been us on any other day at Disney.
When you realize that you were spared AND have the fingers and ability to write, the onus seems clearly upon the obvious human in this case to tell the story.
You were the one that could have been abandoned anywhere in that theme park.
Those were the days of no security cameras and almost no security.
It’s a Small World was actually and ironically large enough in and of itself to have housed deserted children of any race, color or creed and would anyone have noticed?
Not to mention the ease of access to countless murky water ways like in Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Adventure or the Flamingo Cess Pool (that’s not an attraction per se but, it offered just as much potential for an “accidental” drowning).
As unsettling as it can be to consider the consequences of what could have happened, surviving is very fulfilling as long as it has meaning and one is responsible with their awareness.
I feel a comfort in knowing that although I did not go on to contribute to the ancestry of my upbringing, my rabbit brothers and sisters lived long, prospered and their progeny still roam.