Pet cemetery

January 23, 2013 Comments Off on Pet cemetery

My mother believed that career-wise, you could dream, but you needed something to fall back on. Simply put, follow your heart and go to Hollywood if you want to be the next Charlize Theron, but get the law degree first – just in case.

Thanks to my children – even though I now work in my chosen career – I have something to fall back on. If all else fails, I’ll be opening a neighbourhood store selling second-hand pet equipment.

Larger livestock, like our beloved dogs, have not been a problem. We’re on dog number five now, and the three who’ve passed on lived (mostly) as long as they were expected to. Other pets, however, have been more problematic.

Take the fish, for example. We seem to be pathologically incapable of keeping goldfish alive for more than three or four weeks – and those occasions were triumphs! Most don’t last the week.

Countless unsuspecting fishies have been carted home in plastic bags, goggling innocently at us through the pet shop’s magical waters, blissfully unaware of their fate. In a matter of days they will be swirling down to the place where all fish go to die in our house – that marvel of modern plumbing, the flushing toilet.

I follow all the instructions from the pet shop to the letter – really, I do – yet without fail our goldfish either begin to swim upside down, swerving drunkenly, or they die and their little bloated forms bob around the surface of the water.

Of course, I should have suspected that genetically I was programmed to become a fish murderer. An early childhood memory is my mother’s frustration at the water in our goldfish bowl, which turned lurid green at the slightest provocation. Then she had a brain wave – she dropped a few granules of pool chlorine into the water. The result? Beautiful, sparkling water, and two goldfish, bloated and floating.

But back to my household – having failed dismally with fish, we moved on to canaries, hoping that a simple regimen of birdseed, fresh water and a weekly cage cleaning would do the trick.

We came home with two male canaries (because the females don’t sing) named Albie and Sarah – at the time, my younger daughter simply reassigned gender whenever it suited her. All was well for three or four months, until we found Sarah lying upside down the cage floor. Many tears were shed, and Sarah was ceremoniously replaced. A week later, the replacement too was dead. “Third time lucky,” I thought as the next canary came home, but he too, lasted only a week.

I had to conclude that Albie was killing the others, either by pecking them to death, or depriving them of food – Albie the killer canary was very fond of his food. And so I declared a moratorium on canaries and decreed that Albie would be a shared pet. Predictably, about six months later he died too, and the birdcage and its accoutrements joined the goldfish bowl in the shed.

And so, we progressed to hamsters. Charlotte came first, and was well taken care of by my eldest, but any mother who looked at the cage knew my husband had bought it. Only a man would buy a cage like that – it was a plastic jungle gym for hamsters, uncannily similar to the play areas for children in fast food restaurants. Of course, the hamster loved it. Cleaning it, however, was a nightmare, so I put my foot down – he bought the cage, he had to help with its cleaning.

But it wasn’t well made, and several crucial little plastic bits broke off. I despatched my husband and younger daughter to buy a simple wire cage; they returned with two simple wire cages – one containing Rosie, hamster number two.

Rosie, however, was problematic. She’d been in the pet shop too long and – I kid you not – snapped at you if you tried to pick her up. A snapping hamster is a rather unpleasant pet. And so, given that her owner was only four at the time, we swapped her for a baby hamster – who was very sweet, but had aspirations of doing long jump at the next Hamster Olympics, not to mention the 100-metre dash. We never managed to catch her.

A week or two later, however, we realised that the hamsters weren’t very happy in their very boring wire cages. It was entirely understandable, given the jungle gyms they’d had before. So the wire cages joined the bird cage and fish bowl, and we acquired wire and plastic cages that were a little easier to clean.

Of course, in time, they died too, and those cages were dispatched to the shed. Charlotte actually lived an unusually long time for a hamster, thanks to a vet who was prepared to operate on her, and yours truly, who had to play hamster ambulance for a week so she could have a daily antibiotic shot. But I’ve declared a moratorium on anything that isn’t canine when it comes to pets.

Years later, our shed still looks like a second-hand pet supplies shop. With a lick of paint, I’m sure I could transform it into just that. But at least, I tell myself, if journalism doesn’t work out, at least I now do have something to fall back on – although with my luck, it’s likely to be one of the dogs.

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