Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Animal Planet: Search for the missing link.

When I was little I loved rabbits. I thought they were the cutest, cuddliest, most adorable creatures on the planet. In the spring time our local outdoor supply store would have a pen full of them and I would stand pressed up against the mesh, oohing and ahhing, while my dad swapped stories with the counter man. I’d beg him to get me one, but he would always say no. Instead I’d get a Slim Jim and a Yoo-Hoo which, let me tell you, went a long way in placating the fat kid.

Then one summer day dad came back from boating with his friends and said he’d brought me a present. I ran outside and discovered that instead of the cute, pink nosed, fluff balls from the supply store he’d picked up two enormous, wild, island rabbits. They were black and white with bright red eyes and sinister, beat up looking ears. They were also really pissed off about being captured and penned for pets.

He couldn’t have picked a creepier location, putting them in a chain link dog pen on the side of the house by the woods. I tried to make the best of it, letting them get used to me and feeding them carrots and lettuce through the fence, but those rabbits were assholes. They would calmly sit while I stroked their heads or backs, then suddenly latch on to my finger or throw in a roundhouse kick to the face. (I have a suspicion that this is what happens to the women that attempt to have relations with Chuck Norris uninvited.) After a particularly nasty brawl, I accidently left their gate open and they were never seen again.

This was par for the course at my house. I’d want an animal, my parents would refuse, then I’d suddenly get some cracked out version and they’d expect me to be all “you guys are the best parents ever!” They would have done better to stick to their refusals, as I was never very enamored with any one pet for longer than a few days or weeks at a time.

They had ducks at the supply store too. But my dad, the stoned Southern Jeff Corwin, just stole a baby from a wild duck and ran like hell. I’ll bet he even had a cigarette in his mouth. The duck itself wasn’t so bad because it was too little to be an asshole; it was really just his acquirement of the thing that bothered me. Why couldn’t he be a normal dad and buy a fucking animal instead of hunting for one in the neighbor’s yard wearing only cut off jean shorts and a belt with a built in beer opener?

Mr. Peepers stayed in a blue plastic swimming pool on our porch. He would follow me down to the lake and swim beside me, which was cool. But he would get pissed if I swam underwater and when I’d pop up he’d jump on my head and quack really loud, which wasn’t so cool. And, as it turns out, ducks shit everywhere, so I was mostly relieved when he got older and decided to permanently hang out with his own kind.

Then there were the turtles I just HAD to have. I had four of them in an aquarium and named them after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. My cousins and I would make them race across the carpet, much to my mother’s horror. When they failed to move fast enough we would sometimes assist them by way of matchbox cars and duct tape. And once with a firecracker and duct tape which, ironically, earned them an express ticket out of there. Again, I wasn’t too disappointed. I never wanted to clean the aquarium anyway because it smelled like swampy ass.

My mother thought I would do better with fish so we bought a small tank shaped like an octagon and decked it out with colorful rocks, plastic plants, and a ceramic sign that said “No Diving”. Picking them out, carrying them home in plastic bags full of water, and decorating the tank was the extent of my interest.

But mom really seemed to enjoy them. They sat on the counter that separated the kitchen and the living room and she would sing to them while she cooked or talk to them about the merits of dolphin safe tuna. Unfortunately, she was a little over zealous about feeding them and toilet funerals became rather routine. I’m sure the people at the pet store thought we were murderous jerks, but in truth, each time a finned friend circled down to his watery grave, my mom was appropriately somber.

Around the time my mother was killing off fish, I was clamoring for a bird. I managed to drag The Grandmother into a pet store one afternoon under the premise of “just looking”. And while I didn’t manage to talk her into the giant white and yellow cockatiel that said “shit” repeatedly, we did walk out with two colorful parakeets.

The lady at the pet shop said they could be taught to speak, which is why I agreed to get them rather than continue my dogged pursuit of the vulgar, expensive cockatiel. Unfortunately they had to stay at TG’s because my mom was afraid of bird diseases from Africa and I didn’t have much time to properly educate them in the use of profanity. They were adorable little things and loved to play with their bell and fly around the screened in porch. But TG grew tired of being their sole caretaker and gave them away to a lady she went to church with. To this day I still maintain that I was not only heartbroken to lose the germy bastards, but that the church woman in question had some rather colorful new feathers in her Sunday hat not long after she claimed ownership.

And what child’s menagerie would be complete without a few hamsters?

I received two of them one Christmas, along with an enormous cage of twisting tubes and exercise wheels. They were entertaining little buggers and I actually stayed interested in them longer than any of their predecessors. I would put them in their clear travel balls and let them roll around the house for the amusement of my mother’s poodles.

Sheeree, the black poodle, was obsessed with them. She would sit under the cage and watch them every day and bite Puddin, the (you guessed it) white poodle, if he edged too close. In hindsight, I never should have given those dogs so much hell. It’s possible my heckling pushed them over the edge: Dancing around them singing Ebony and Ivory, tossing Sheeree out the window (as instructed by my cousin, but still), putting their toys in the hamster’s cage. Or, I could be accepting too much blame.

My dad once tried to blow Sheeree away. She came in, dripping with mud, and rolled around on my parent’s water bed which was covered in clean, folded laundry. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet he was drunker than 40 hells when he grabbed the gun and started shooting up the bedroom. He missed poor Sheeree, but the majority of the clothes, the bathroom cabinets, and the wall received a few holes. Miraculously the waterbed remained intact (I suppose it was because that bed was destined for...not-so-greatness). Anyway, whoever was at fault, Sheeree finally ended up snapping and going all Hannibal on my hamsters.

We thought both of them were male, but as it turned out, Houdini and Coolio (I had an early obsession with rap, specifically Coolio’s song Gangsta’s Paradise) had been doing the nasty on the sly and I woke up one morning to find their little dome house had a few extra guests. At least that explained why Coolio had been having trouble fitting through the tubes.

After his babies were born Houdini, whose escapes were already quite frequent, started getting out more often. (His bitch was probably naggin.) Unfortunately he never closed the door behind him and when the babies were a few weeks old and moving around, they could sneak out after him.

One morning I woke to find the cage door open again. I quickly located Houdini hiding under a towel, but the others were nowhere to be found. It was my sister’s scream that gave them away. They’d managed to slip past the barricade wedged under my closed door and scamper into the bathroom where they made Sheeree’s acquaintance. There were pieces parts all over the floor and only one bloody, traumatized survivor. I named him Mohican.

When Coolio looked like she was pregnant again I shipped her off to my cousin’s house. I was planning on getting her back and letting him keep a few of the babies.

But a few weeks after she gave birth, tragedy struck. My cousin’s mother, in a typical display of familial drunkenness, left the oven on and burned their house down. Everyone got out safely... except for poor Coolio and her brood. I had nightmares about their terrified squeals as the plastic and wire melted around them. Houdini must have sensed his love’s demise because it wasn’t too terribly long after that that I found him on his back, dead as a doornail. Traumatized Mohican would never come out of the corner so I just let my dad get rid of him and my plastic gangsta-gerbil paradise. He probably sold them for a sixer and pack of smokes.

My mother insisted that Sheeree and Puddin were all I needed and for awhile I made due: dressing them up, pushing them in baby strollers, and attempting to glue their mouths together with bubble gum. But one day we came home and my dad had given the two of them away...just out of the blue. We’d had Sheeree for at least 8 years and mom was inconsolable.

Feeling guilty, dad decided to replace them in his usual odd way. He went to an acquaintance’s house to look at a litter of wild kittens that were living in the woods. In a tree stump. The catch was, he said, that the stray had mated with his acquaintance’s pureblood Himalayan. Why this was such a good thing, I didn’t know. But he stuck his arm down in that stump and pulled it back out, covered in scratches and blood, and brought home the white and grey, blue eyed Chloe.

She was a beautiful, mischievous little devil and my sister and I terrorized her appropriately. We locked her in the clear oven of my sister’s play kitchen, tied doll bonnets on her head, put her in the Christmas tree, spun her around on the bar stool then set her on the floor and watched her weave about. And we pushed her around the house at breakneck speed in the play stroller. But, unlike Sheeree, Chloe actually enjoyed the stroller. Our half feral cat had an insatiable lust for speed. It was a little pink double stroller and the divider would fold down to make it into a bed of sorts. She would lay in it and yowl until one of use would push her and she would yowl if we didn’t push fast enough. It was quite a lot of exercise for me and soon became a chore rather than a game.

Finally, when I was 17 and living away from home, I acquired my very own pet. Ownership is different when you pick them out, pay for them, and care for them completely by yourself. Every one I’d had previously might have been called mine, but this was different.

It was springtime and I was visiting a friend and her parents. My friend’s mom was like the stray cat whisperer and there were always prowling felines around her deck. She told me about a litter of kittens that she’d found under the gazebo, only two survivors and their mother gone. They had been taking care of them for the past few weeks and decided to keep one. When I saw them, the decision to take the other was instantaneous. He was grey with tiger stripes, a wide flat face, and green eyes. The lover of the two, I knew he was perfect for me.

I took him to The Grandmother’s, where I was staying at the time, and the two became instant enemies. He had to stay in my room when I wasn’t there and he would pull at the carpet underneath the door with his claws that, for some reason, didn’t retract. Not long after he succeeded in unraveling several feet of TG’s carpet, I got my own place out in the middle of nowhere.

I’d been calling him kitty because I couldn’t decide on a name. But one night, when I came home from work, I found him laid out on the floor on his back. I’d left a relatively large, expensive, beautiful bag of pot on my coffee table and I found it half gone and half scattered around the living room. He’d eaten a lot, puked up some, and was tripping out on the rest. I was beyond pissed, but it didn’t take long for me to see the humor in the situation. And so I named him Nugget, after the bud.

I finally had to have his claws removed because he kept getting stuck. I’d moved back in with my mom and was working at the vet’s office. I’d talked to the doctors about his issues and they all agreed that it was best, but I’d been putting it off. The turning point was the day I nearly beat him to death with my bedroom door.

I attempted to open it and it smacked into something. Being the bright shining star that I am, I slammed the door against the unknown obstruction a few more times before I heard the faint yowling, looked down, and saw his paw sticking out from underneath the frame, claws stuck deep in the Berber carpet. I immediately freaked out. I bent down and attempted to pry him loose, but couldn’t. I was crying by this point, convinced he was near death from the head trauma, when my sister came to help. She took a spatula and pried his claws loose. When I got him out and examined him, he bit the shit out of me while everyone else laughed.

My family claims his excessive drooling and trouble meowing stem from his pot ingestion and accidental beating. I tend to agree. He seems quite happy though, even if he is a bit stranger. He and I now either ignore or irritate each other the majority of the time and he’s recently taken quite the shine to my mother’s boyfriend.

He no longer runs toward me when I use the voice I used with him as a kitten – a shrill rendition of baby talk. “Nuggggggg! Mommy loves him! Loves him, Nuggggg!” Instead he gives me the eat shit and die look and runs away. And he slaps me in the face when I make him dance on my lap. He’s gotten old and crotchety, but I still love the little fucker.

The fact remains that after all the failed, and often strange, attempts to keep an animal, I finally realized...

I am absolutely a cat person.


Anonymous said...

Haha! Dude. The trials of being an animal lover. I grew up with a dog that I loved more than any human I knew. My dog was THE SHIT. I had no experience of cats till way later - in my twenties and then I was a cat person. Because dogs will love you unconditionally and let you know it, but if a cat doesn't want your goddamn lovin' it will, in no uncertain terms, tell you to fuck right off. A cat will listen to your baby talk and your whining and give you the stink eye. And I sort of admire that attitude.

Plus come on, you don't have to walk a cat. Self sufficient little bastards. :)

P.S. Poor baby hamsters.

Anonymous said...

He's gorgeous... I think they are all strange in their own right anyways... that's why I love cats.

Jenny DB said...

oh my gosh.. your poor brood of animals. seriously!! i love that your dad caught your pets. i mean, kinda.. if that is indeed true. well its good blog material anyway. ok i'm gonna stop now..

Tony said...

That first picture of Nugget looks like he's saying, "I'm king of the Jungle, bitch!" What a bad ass looking cat.

mo.stoneskin said...

I've not known many ducklings that smoke, let alone strut their stuff with a fag hanging out of their beak like some sort of twisted farmyard Andy Capp. But hey, I respect them nonetheless.

Actually, I'm thinking of ditching my pair of Doberman and going for the cheaper wild "Chuck Norris" rabbit version.

miss. chief said...

I can't get over the image of your dad shooting a gun in the bedroom (!!)

I wuv kitties too!!

mylittlebecky said...

this single dude from down the street just waltzes up with a wild california jack rabbit this one time when i was five and was all, "here." and i was all, "thanks?" because that thing was the DEVIL. my dad built it a house and everything. that em effer "accidentally" got out as well.

Vic said...

Are you SURE we're not related? I swear I know your family My dad bought us bunnies, but then one night we had "chicken" for dinner. No more bunnies. The goat disappeared the same way.

Sara said...

Ah, you only hear stories like this from Southerners. : )

TS Hendrik said...

I keep trying to tell people that hamsters don't make good pets. Tragedy always befalls them. It's their lot in life. Well, that and to dance.

sAm said...

Wow. Your pet stories sound similar to my fashion stories - just a bit "off" the norm. Parents thought they were doing the right thing, but all I have to show is the trauma from looking weird (and not yet by choice) as a child. I always thought I was a dog person until I realized how much care they need. I am currently a bunny person, but once they're

Eric said...

A friend of mine from Serbia was talking about the time when she begged her father to get her a parrot, but she ended up keeping it in her shower and mistreating it.

Birds are outside pets I think.

Judearoo said...


Am definitely a cat person too. Still miss my nasty ole rascal who smelt dreadful, was fatally lazy, boinked everything that moved and who the other members of my family utterly despised. He really was rather awful but we adored eachother.

Also @Vic - Nooooooooo!!!!!

Colleen said...

This goes to show that some people are simply not meant to have pets... ;)

Maryx said...

I agree with Colleen. But yes, I'm glad you came over to the 'dark side' of Cat Lovers. Welcome to you. Hehe! I'm a total sucker for cats. But I've enjoyed white mice, a couple of dogs and a whole lot of fish. I loved the fish. And I also had the thinking that the mice were two males. Turns out the weren't. The one got fatter and fatter and then one day lost a lot of weight. You get the picture. And the stink!! I had friends who put their hamsters in the freezer on a warm day 'just for a minute or two cause they are getting hot', and forgot about them. Disturbing. But I never did the wild childish abuse of pets like you did though... ahem! hehe

JUST ME said...

God that post was good.

I can't have a pet because I'm too poor right now, and the last time I had a cat, it waited for a few months, flipped it's shit constantly, and got to the point where we either had to buy it anti-depressants or give it away.

I felt horrible, because of course I didn't have money for CAT anti-depressants.

I hardly have money for PEOPLE anti-depressants.

So. No cat for me. At least not right now.

Mr London Street said...

What's fascinating about this post is that it's ostensibly about pets but the character that jumps off the page is your father. Beautifully done.

otherworldlyone said...

Veg Ass: You don’t have to walk them and they leave you the fuck alone. Exactly my reasoning.

Rita: Thanks. He was having a good hair day.

Jenny DB: Ha, it is definitely good blog material. Thanks.

Tony: He’s about as badass as they come. I mean, hello! He eats pot.

Mo: Sometimes you are just too weird.

Miss.chief: He’s a class act, my daddy is.

Becky: High five!!

Vic: Goat? Gag. You poor thing!

Sara: And Australians?

TS Hendrik: The Hamster Dance! Hate it. But love to hate it. :)

sAm: You definitely need a cat.

Eric: I would say I was an animal mistreater. I simply wasn’t responsible enough to have them. Birds suck.

Judearoo: Cats do the most disgusting shit...and we love them anyway. I lost count of how many effing hair balls I’ve stepped in over the years.

Colleen: Too right.

Maryx: Mice. Ew. Hamsters in the freezer? Ok, whole other level! Ha.

Just me: Thank you! Yeah, animal meds are expensive. And pet insurance is too. I used to work at a vet’s office and GAWD the money people spend on pets.

MLS: Thank you very much. :)