By Hallie Bandy
If your kids are asking for a pet this Christmas, I have two words: do it.
It has long been my conviction that children cannot have a normal childhood without a family pet. I used to think any little creature was adequate and gave credit to parents who were honestly too busy for a dog or cat and made due with fish or rodents. But time and experience have convinced me, there is a reason we have domesticated cats and dogs. (And really, is there anything more picturesque than small children with kittens and puppies?)
Over the years, my soft spot for kids and creatures has basically ensured I can be talked into anything. Cats regularly come and go on the farmette – and most of them have special needs. I’ve raised a puppy and infant simultaneously — twice. And now that our nest is slowly emptying, we have upped our canine population.
But our mob has not been limited to cats and dogs.
A few years ago I found myself the not-so-proud owner of four very small, and, I’ll admit, adorable ducklings. The only creature cuter than those silly ducks was my toddling daughter who squealed in delight whenever she approached the box where they lived.
Of course they quickly outgrew that box, and I had to house them in a small shed, retrieving them each morning and filling a small wading pool to create the ambience of their natural habitat. And yes, they followed me everywhere, as they would a mother duck.
And then those darling, yellow, waddling creatures grew into not-quite-so-darling green and brown, honking nuisances, and we were faced with the obvious question: what do we do with full-grown ducks? Because — oh yeah — we don’t have a pond.
Some time later, one of my children decided she wanted a rat. (I know: eww.)
On paper, rats appear to be great pets. They are smart, easy to care for and don’t live very long. In real life, they have the world’s grossest tail.
I couldn’t really go “all in” with her request, but I did buy her a gift card to PetsMart for Christmas. And so the rat joined our menagerie.
The good news was I didn’t have to touch it. Ever. The less-than-good news was, owner/child left for college a few short months later, and I was left with the care and feeding of …a rat.
Nonetheless, for the sake of the child, I took care of the pet rat. Such good care, in fact, that he outlived the normal life expectancy of a domesticated rat. (Not that I was keeping track or waiting for him to die or anything.)
The day came when the rat passed on to the great landfill in the sky. We had a moment of silence and cleaned out the cage. And then I had a moment of weakness. Two other children decided they wanted to put the rodent enclosure to good use by purchasing gerbils. With their own money. (Of course.)
On paper, gerbils appear to be great pets. They are smart, easy to care for and don’t live very long. In real life, they soon lose their appeal and require some kind soul to remind children to feed them and clean out the enclosure.
Also, that part about not living very long is not true. Apparently, our home is Rodent Shangri-La. These dudes are a year beyond their life expectancy and still going strong.
When the inevitable day comes, I have no doubt there will be negotiations for another pet. I have at least one child who thinks we don’t have enough cats. And I think my border collie would enjoy the company of a goat or two.
But I can say this with near certainty: no more rodents. I’m back to my firm belief that cats and dogs are “real” pets. But if your children are asking for a rodent for Christmas, give me a call. I’m hoping I’ll have a cage available soon.