Yesterday, I discussed the beginnings of our pet ownership, with fish and ant farms.
Although Cordelia’s desire for pets ended with the ill-fated art farm experience, her sisters were different. First the middle one asked for gerbils for her birthday, so we got two females and put them together into a 5-gallon fish tank (and where do you think we got that tank?). All went well for the first year or so, until the now adult female gerbils began to fight – blood everywhere! They had to be separated immediately! We now had two 5-gallon tanks, side by side, each with one gerbil residing in it. Those little ladies lived another couple of years, eventually dying of old age.
Meanwhile, the youngest daughter was upset that she did not have her very own pet, so on her birthday we went out to find gerbils for her. It was September, the beginning of the school year, and all the gerbils had been purchased by returning science teachers. We wound up with a hamster. Which, of course, required purchasing a hamster cage and hamster toys. My daughter named her hamster Tribble because it looked like the Tribbles from the old Star Trek series (remember, The Trouble With Tribbles?).
Tribble was a nasty little thing. It was bad enough that hamsters are nocturnal, and we would hear that little wheel squeak-squeaking all night long, but that critter had an evil personality and absolutely no qualms about biting the hand that fed it (me).
One night, I got up about 3 am to use the facilities and while sitting on the throne, I happened to notice movement out of the corner of my eye. My first thought was, “My God, that’s the biggest centipede I’ve ever seen!” Nope, not a bug – Tribble had chewed its way out of the cage, crawled across the bookcase to the staircase, and climbed up the stairs to the bathroom, where it had been happily sleeping under the floor cabinet when I came in. Eventually, I managed to catch it, and it latched onto my finger with that long, sharp tooth. I shook it off my finger and accidentally dropped it. It seemed Ok afterwards, but a short time later it was dead from internal hemorrhaging. I was the one who found it. I never told my girls how it died, just that it was gone. I felt bad enough without admitting my guilt to my children.
Maybe it was the guilt that eventually led me to replace the gerbils with two of my own. They’re such adorable little critters, requiring very little care and only a small amount of specialized food. I went to our local pet store and bought two – I was assured they were both male. They didn’t both look male to me, but then what do I know? I wanted boy gerbils, because they generally don’t fight.
And they didn’t fight, but they did play. Sure enough, a month or so later, one of my daughters was walking past the gerbil tank and said, “Hey, Mom, I thought you said these were both boys? So what’s that running around on top of the bedding?”
I looked. [sigh] Baby gerbils.
I took the father out of the tank and put him into his own tank. When the babies became big enough, I separated the boys and girls, and put the boys into the tank with their father, leaving the girls with the mother.
But gerbils are as prolific as rabbits. Before I could separate the parents, the mother was already pregnant with a second litter. When those babies were born and got big enough, I had to again separate the boys and girls, putting the boys into one tank and the girls into another – and they couldn’t go into the tanks with the first litter because they would fight. Now I had 5 tanks of gerbils. I took one to work, where they became the office pets.
Fortunately, I apparently knew more about gerbil sexing that the pet store personnel because there were no more babies after that.
But to get back to the subject of children and their pets:
After the first set of female gerbils had died, the middle daughter remained petless for quite awhile – until she decided she wanted a pet she could hold and cuddle. At that point, she was in her teens and old enough to care responsibly for a pet. Puppies and kittens were still on our no-no list, so we got a guinea pig.
She named the guinea pig Quiggley, and he was the best little pet ever. Each night we would lock him in the bathroom while we cleaned his cage, and he would happily run around in there – but then would realize he was alone and would chew the frame of the door trying to escape. Those tooth marks are still there. But he was a cuddly creature – he would let me hold him while I cut his little toenails, and he loved to be petted. He was also a decent watch-animal – my daughter (who was in her late teens by then) could never sneak into the house without us knowing because Quiggley would start squealing in excitement at seeing his owner.
Quiggley lived a long time. After my daughter went away to college, Quiggley became my pet. When he eventually died, I was the one who took him to the vet and then to the SPCA for burial. I still miss Quiggley.
Join me again tomorrow for the final segment of this sage. Bigger pets, bigger headaches. See you then!
Image by Cordelia’s Mom