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We Bought a Zoo

August 3, 2012

Essays for Giggles

All my life, I have loved animals.  As a child, our family had dogs and cats, but also rescued birds, squirrels, raccoons, and even a falcon once (rescued from a fallen nest, and released back into the wild when he could fly).  The falcon was named “Illegal”… get it?  Ill (as in sick) – Eagle?  Yeah, we were a laugh a minute in my family.

I “don’t like spiders and snakes” (but that ain’t what it takes to love me… maybe too arcane a reference, I realize), but I did love just about everything else.

As a single adult, prior to marriage and motherhood, I also had dogs and cats, plus birds, hamsters and a guinea pig.  Even in my 30’s, I never lost the sense of excitement one has when getting a new pet.  You come home with a $10 rodent and $200 worth of cage, food and toys and the fun begins!

I once tried sleeping with my guinea pig, until it bit my nipple through my nightgown.  I guess that juicy little nugget reminded him of his hamster kibble.

I lost one of my beloved hamsters to a stray cat I had taken in – the cat quickly became a stray again.  Actually, my friend’s mom took it, and it lived a long and healthy life, with the flesh of my Precious being digested in its stomach.

A rescued, stray Collie of mine used to run off, and one night, after travelling a couple of miles on foot to catch the stupid thing, I realized that I could not walk her back bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame holding onto her collar for TWO MILES… so in a brilliant move of ingenuity, I whipped off my bra and used it as a leash.

I could go on for days with stories like these.  Seriously.  My life has been filled with one funny, sad, disastrous story after another with regard to my pets and various animal rescues.  I once got a bleeding, 30 pound snapping turtle from the middle of the road – not knowing it was a SNAPPING turtle. (I turned it loose in a nearby pond, though it probably didn’t survive).  I am lucky to have all my digits.  That thing was HUGE.

I once stopped my car in the middle of the street to get a cat that was toying with a mouse, letting the little bugger go free, and depriving the cat of his nightly Dinner & a Show.

I believe there is a genetic predisposition to love animals like this, which I think can be encouraged or discouraged by your family.  I know people who just don’t get it.  And I get that they don’t get it.  I really do.  ‘Cause I am not sure I understand it myself.

I get it that they think I am a nut because I go to great lengths to get humane mouse traps, or that we caught and released squirrels from our attic, driving them across the interstate so they couldn’t make their way back “home”.  I have a friend who humanely caught and released RATS from her house (not naming names).

But I have always felt sorry for folks who didn’t get it.  They are missing something.  They don’t know it and they can’t miss what they don’t know, but they are losing out on a joyous human experience – which is to love a pet.

Once I had a child, of course, I realized what a nut I had truly been.  Oh, yeah, I still love my furry, feathered, scaly friends, but my child is my child… all that other stuff: Stockings?  Christmas presents?  Souvenirs from my trips? That was for me, not my pets.

But crazy as I was (am), I have always wanted my daughter to love animals as much as I do.  I think it is a big part of what makes us the best of being human.  Since birth, she has never lived in a house without animals.

So now, in my zeal to give my daughter the excitement and gift of a new pet, we keep getting NEW pets.

We have our one small, ten pound family dog, and our 18-year-old cat that is the feline equivalent of Cujo.  Seriously.  I have had this stinkin’ cat since she was a 6-week-old stray.  There has never been a mean thing happen to her in her LIFE.  She is just evil and not afraid of the devil, himself.  I warn people about her every time they enter my house, but you always get those crazy cat lovers who just gotta prove that THEY can commune with the beast… be warned… I am sure you can manage your life quite well with 9 fingers.

But a cat and a dog?  That’s for amateurs.  We also have a cockatiel, a hermit crab and a guinea pig… ALL THREE in service to my daughter’s thrill of a new pet, and all a surprise to my husband until they were officially ensconced in the house.

My sister gave us the 6 week old cockatiel – which has a life span of FORTY YEARS.  I am 47 years old.  Guess I’ll be making provisions in my will for that one.  Thanks, sis.

Then, Sheldon, our crab, was acquired on a beach trip.  Oh, how we loved Sheldon … for a few weeks… now, he could be dead for up to a month and we would never know.  Seriously, short of a Pet Rock, they have got to be the most low maintenance pets in the world.

While our small aquarium is currently clean and dry, we also periodically have a variety of goldfish swimming around.

And now, Kibbles.  Our guinea pig.  I love this little pig.  I think it’s why I keep doing these things, ‘cause I love the excitement of a new pet as much as my daughter does.

But guess who cleans the habitats of up to 6 species a day?  You guessed it.  Me.  The Zoo Keeper.  I have been scooping shit out of a plastic pan for EIGHTEEN YEARS.  And I am NOT a cat person!  And as spry as Bella is, she looks like she’s got a couple of years left.  I mean, I’ll be sad, but hey, she has had a good life:  “I release you into the light.  Go and be in peace.”

The dog is my second child, but still, I gotta do a little work there.

And in my free time, I clean bird cages, crab cages and hamster cages, plus the occasional aquarium.  And then there is the daily rotation to check on food and water supplies and the upkeep of making sure I don’t run out of cat food, cat litter, dog food, bird food, bird treats, fish food, aquarium water treatments, crab food, guinea pig food, hay or treats.

Going out of town for any length of time, requires military precision on staffing pet care.  Do you think I can put this experience on my resume?  I should at least qualify as an experienced animal keeper at some shoddy, road-side stand in Florida.

All this is to say, there are cleaner homes than mine, less pet hair, and general upkeep, but a home is not a real home without something wild shitting all over the house and tearing up the new leather furniture.

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About reneadijab

Renea Dijab

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