Let’s cut to the chase: I am not a pet person. I would happily have no pets, never. Forever.
On the other hand, if my kids had their way, our house would look like Dr. Doolittle’s waiting room. They actually like animals and would like nothing better than to have a bunch crawling underfoot.
Being ever-mindful dad, I’ve tried to find ways to compromise over the years. First attempt? Fish. Fish seemed easy, they live in a small glass box, and I would never have to take them to the vet. This was, in a word, dumb. First off, fish take a ridiculous amount of work for inch-sized creatures whose life consists of swim in circles, dive for something to eat, lather, rinse, repeat. Second, although they “like” the fish, my kids were never really interested in them—which means that these particular pets have, from day one, been solely my job. Nothing I love better on a Saturday than cleaning out smelly tank water.
So from fish we started negotiating warm fuzzies, with the caveat: Nothing that could run underfoot. I already had two kids, I wasn’t trying to trip over anything else. That led to—what became the first in a series of—hamsters. These were Daveon’s pets, and true to form, Mr. Man took excellent care of them. Not just the requisite feeding and cage-cleaning, but talking to, holding, playing with them. Unfortunately, hamsters only live about a year and a half, and after a while I think Daveon got tired of the little funeral ceremonies we would hold in the planter box on the side of the house. Later he talked about wanting an iguana.
My biggest pet mistake was the rabbits. For a long time Mark begged and pleaded for a rabbit. Clearly my inner voice was working strong here, because I held back. But he persisted, and persisted, and … after about six months, I relented.
When we got our first rabbit, Blackberry, from the shelter, he came with a phonebook-thick set of instructions. The “dos” and “don’ts” included an endless list of what he could and couldn’t eat:
- Iceberg lettuce, out—too much water, makes them gassy. Romaine, OK.
- Pellets? OK in small amounts for one meal only. The rest, greens. Organic greens. Pesticide residue is bad for bunnies.
- Carrots are the perfect rabbit food, right? Wrong. Too much sugar. One baby carrot per day, tops.
Once I was at the store buying organic dandelion greens, basil, mint, and cilantro. The woman next to me said, “Wow, you eat really healthy.” I told her, “It’s for our rabbits.”
Update: This truly just happened this morning, same grocery store. Bagger: “You buy a lot of herbs, huh?” Me: “For the rabbits.”
That’s just food. You’re also, according to the instructional phone book, supposed to let your rabbits run free in your house. Let me repeat: Rabbits, which are basically big mice with cuter ears and tails, running free in your house. Except: They love to chew on cords, so you need to unplug everything, keep the cords high, and cap your outlets for good measure.
Did I mention I work from home, writing for tech companies? Do you know how many cords are in our house?
Then there was: You can’t let your rabbits outside, because it’s too cold and they might get picked up by a hawk. The shelter wasn’t even wild when I told them I was building a pen in the garage, because even that would be too cold.
In our garage. In Oakland.
When I was a kid, I had a rabbit who lived for 12 years, outdoors, in the Northeast. Sniffy ate nothing but pellets, and survived real winters. My mother would have no sooner let him in the house than the Grim Reaper. Sniffy was kind of grumpy—maybe he missed getting organic Italian parsley—but otherwise he seemed fine.
Not to mention: When we first got Blackberry, he lived in a pen in Mark’s room, under the loft bed. That worked for a while, except Mark was scared of the rabbit. So it made perfect sense that he started pleading for a second one. When I finally agreed and we went for number two, I built a large, two-story pen in the garage—the one the shelter said was cruel and unusual punishment.
This led us to: Bunny dating. I am not kidding. You bring rabbit 1 to the shelter, and put it in a small enclosure with a series of rabbits, one at a time, and see how each pair does. Sometimes they go straight for the jugular—not good. Sometimes one chases the other’s butt—not good. Sometimes they ignore each other—not great, but better than the other options. If they sniff and start grooming each other, that’s the best-case scenario. We tried about 10 potential roommates with Blackberry, never getting any farther than ignore. So that was the one. And into our life came Hugs.
At which point Mark immediately decided he didn’t want to take care of the rabbits, and could we bring them back.
Luckily Dr. Daveon Doolittle stepped in, agreeing to take over half the chores. And there they remained till Hugs passed on to rabbit heaven, two love bunnies in their split-level garage condo. And my electric cords survived to live another day.
Next: (I) Love You