Extra Pulp: No Pets Allowed (Yet)

With two “wild animals” in the house, Laura Anders Lee contemplates adding more to the mix.

I have something to admit. I’m apprehensive about telling you because as soon as I do, you’ll judge me. You’ll think I’m a cold-hearted person. So I’ll just say it: I’m not a pet person. I’m not your standard dog or cat person; I’m not a trendy yard-chicken person or a low-maintenance goldfish person. I’m just not really into pets. So do you hate me?

Instead, my husband and I take care of two wild animals named Anders and William, our sons whom we affectionately call our two hot messes. While pet owners complain about chewed-up designer shoes, ruined down pillows and stolen Thanksgiving turkeys, we have our own laundry list of horror stories. When Anders was two, he painted the entire living room with thick, waterproof Desitin diaper cream. When William was three, he colored all over the walls with black pen and peed inside the McDonald’s PlayPlace “to watch it go down the slide.” A puppy can be housetrained in a matter of weeks. My little humans still haven’t mastered the art of the bathroom in five and seven years. I’m just not sure I can manage another living thing in our house that pees, poops, eats and destroys.

I grew up with pets, but we experienced a sad and bizarre string of bad luck. Our lab-mix puppy, Bo, died of the Parvo virus shortly after we brought him home. My younger brother, Will, who’d gotten immediately attached, was heartbroken.

We also had two cats, Caravan and Catie, that my parents rescued before we were born. By the time Will and I were 10 and 12, the cats were pretty old. Catie had been missing a few days when we noticed the awful smell coming from under the house. My dad called Critter Control only to discover a pricey removal fee. He hung up, appalled, then turned to his two family members still small enough for the crawl space. He offered Will and me $10 each to retrieve our dead cat. He gloved and masked us, but once at ground zero, I simply could not stomach the smell and promptly gave up. Dad upped the ante, and my brother ended up with the cat and $40. (I did receive some pity money from my regretful father, who felt sorry for me.)

After that episode, our family remained petless for four years. Then my grandmother started dating my late grandfather’s first cousin, who conveniently owned the farm across the street. Cousin Bobby, wanting to be accepted in his new role, presented us with an iguana. We loved it! What teenagers wouldn’t want a reptile for a pet? My parents, on the other hand, weren’t so thrilled. They did the math and figured by the time we were off at college, the iguana would have grown to five feet long, and that wasn’t something they wanted in their empty nest. When the iguana escaped and was rediscovered two weeks later in a cabinet by my very startled mother, it sealed the deal. Our iguana was put up for adoption.

Now as a mom myself, I’m relieved my boys’ pet snakes, fish, birds, turtles and iguanas are kept at school, in the care of their teachers. Anders took home the class hamster once for the night, and I panicked when it escaped its exercise ball and ran freely around the house. I already have all the chaos I can handle.

Then another borrowed pet came into our lives. Our babysitter mentioned she had a therapy dog and asked if she could bring him over to meet the boys. I agreed, begrudgingly. But as soon as he came trotting in, I saw how Anders’ and William’s faces lit up. Mellow, controlled, and bright, Baloo was nothing like the hamster. The boys attentively filled his water bowl and walked him to Woof Gang Bakery for treats. They took trips to the playground and the Fort De Soto dog beach. They loved Baloo, and Baloo loved them back. The boys actually acted calmer and kinder in his presence, too. It was the perfect scenario: all the benefits without the responsibility. Last summer Baloo moved away, but we all still think about him.

“Please, Mama?” Anders and William sometimes look up at me with their big blue eyes, begging me for their own dog. “We’ll take care of it, we promise! You won’t have to do a thing!”

I’m holding firm—for now. But with their every plea, I find myself getting softer. Who knows, I’ll probably end up with a dog and our own yard chicken. Fresh eggs would be nice.

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