“Sure, we’ll take it!” (Part 1)

How to fill your home with animals

I am a magnet for small animals. It started with a dove. Or was it a mouse? The details are sketchy because I was barely out of nappies.

 It runs in the family. For this one, I can point an accusing finger straight at my dad. He was the one who found a half-dead, hypothermic little mongrel chihuahua-type dog under a bush one day, and brought it home (this dog can fill a chapter by himself – some other day). I am just following in my dad’s footsteps. He’s also the one who gently euthanized a baby chameleon that was injured beyond help, using a drop of chloroform on cotton wool (scientists have this in their garages) and held me on his lap afterwards while I cried about it.

So my “career” as a helper of small animals began with picking up baby doves that fell out of the nest in the play park down the road. And, yes, you guessed it, we raised them on Pronutro!

Growing up in this green home, there have been countless animals crouched in various types of cages, nests or jars: an orphaned mole, baby baboon spiders (long story), a leech (don’t ask), several swallows, starlings and other baby birds, a baby bat named Gollum, weighing in a whopping 3 grams (three, not 300), mice, frogs, reptiles and snakes (my brother’s department)… When I was six, I picked up a huge chameleon that was slowly crossing the road, and she promptly gave birth on my hand. She had dozens of tiny black babies, who lived on our curtains for I don’t know how long. The whole family pitched in to catch flies to feed them.

These little rescued animals were destined to be released, and if they survived, they eventually flew, slithered or hopped into the sunset, with us humans dabbing at our eyes and waving fondly.

Some, of course, didn’t make it. The rescued mole was due to go to school with me for show-and-tell, but climbed out of his basket during the night, and got taken out by the rescued dog. There were two baby birds that were only skin, beak and bulging stomach, kept inside a pink knitted slipper, that sadly passed away after a few days, while I was at school (grade one). I remember coming home and hearing the devastating news and how hard I cried, and how my mum held me like a baby. There have been many of these small losses. Our philosophy was always: if we can’t save it, we can at least try to make the end as comfortable, quiet and stress free as we could.

I will never forget the day a small snake was injured by a lawnmower next door, and brought to my mum. It wasn’t going to make it. My mum put it in some sort of liquid to euthanize it, and I remember how she cried as the snake twisted and writhed for a few minutes. It’s one of my most vivid memories.

Another rather sharp memory involves – on the other end of the spectrum – the killing of a frog for scientific purposes. My brother decided that a reconstructed frog skeleton would make a good school project. So, he caught a frog, gently euthanized it, then put it in a pot and cooked it till it was really, reaaallly tender. It had to soak a bit more until all the… never mind, too much information. So the pot went into the fridge. I came home from school, starving and hoping to find leftovers for lunch. Guess what I found. Yep. My brother got a B for the project. Not even an A. Unbelievable. (This same brother is now, not surprisingly, a full-time vulture rescue man.)

It wasn’t unusual to open our freezer door and have a frozen lizard, snake or bird fall on your head. Road kill, waiting to be taken somewhere for autopsy.

And then of course, there were the actual PETS we adopted, mostly dogs (lots), cats (several) and budgies (countless). We’ve also had owls and snakes, a sulphur crested cockatoo (google it), ducks and a monitor lizard (google it) that bit my brother’s thumb while they were watching TV (and wouldn’t let go).

My first budgie, Pikkie, was very tame, and we had clipped his feathers so that he wouldn’t fly away. One day I was walking in the vegetable garden with him and he disappeared. I looked everywhere, under the cabbages and between the carrots but he was just plain gone. Our sad conclusion was that he had “run away” on foot. Thirty years later, my mum says something about “the day Jorsie (the dog) killed Pikkie…”

“But hang on,” I interrupt, “Jorsie didn’t kill Pikkie, he ran away!”

There is a moment of shocked silence, and my mum says, “Oops…” So the truth finally comes out, after all these years.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that my house, now that I am the mother, is filled with animals: three dogs, four cats (two of them rescued when they were smaller than my hand), three guinea pigs and one horse. OK, the horse is not IN the house, and the guinea pigs live in the garden. But you get my drift. We did have a horse in the house one memorable weekend, but that’s another story.

Kuzina

There are no black cats, only cat-shaped holes in the universe.

The guinea pigs arrived in a bucket carried by a neighbour. “You have kids, don’t you? Well, there you go! Here are some furry things. I found them in my garden.” How could I say no? They lived in a crate, got bigger, and then started multiplying. Eventually we had to give the babies away and then managed to find the male among them and donate it to the pet shop, where it became a stud pig.

Guinea Pigs: ideal pets

These things are ideal pets. I don’t know why God invented guinea pigs, but I suspect he invented them shortly after inventing children. They don’t smell, bark, bite, dig, climb, need vaccinations, walks, grooming or fancy food. They eat grass! They whistle when they see me (I’m serious!) and live out their furry little lives in a small enclosure in the garden.

I can’t keep the dogs in the garden, though. They are my kids’ best friends and the two smaller dogs sleep in the arms of their owners. It just can’t be helped. Yes, blankets get smelly. And little muddy footprints on the sheets are inevitable…

nocats

Never mind the sign

I’ve just finished wiping a surface in the kitchen, when a cat jumps up and walks disdainfully over the clean surface, leaving, you guessed it: little muddy footprints.

Our labrador is allergic to anything and everything, especially flea-spit (really!) and as a result, she scratches all summer long. I could knit an entire new dog out of the hair that she sheds over a season. I really should vacuum every day. I try, but I don’t manage it. So we live with hair.

This dog is incapable of sleeping through – she has to go and wee at least once every single night. She can’t stay outside, because she barks all night. So I get to choose: either get up and let her out, or mop up wee in the morning. Tough choice. She also has the sweet habit bringing us little gifts whenever she comes in from outside – a leaf, a ball, a bit of whatever is blowing around the garden. She likes taking socks out of the laundry basket. Apparently it’s a Lab thing.

We have a slightly deranged kitten who is still too young to catch mice, so instead he catches leaves, kills them quite mercilessly and then carries their corpses into the house. The house is littered with dead leaves.

My partner of the past five years, known only as the Moonman to protect his identity, has a small herd of animals as well. Three dogs, four cats, 20 fish, 75 snails and one snake. When he is overseas for work (up to six weeks at a time), guess who looks after this bunch. You got it. Moi.

He’s just like my dad: catches rain spiders bare-handed, cooing tenderly, “Look how beautiful she is!” Now, you have to understand, a man who is this gentle with a spider, is hard to find. Or a scorpion, for that matter. If it wasn’t for my intervention, he would pick up scorpions bare-handed as well. He once put a small chameleon in his mouth, to demostrate that they are not dangerous. It bit the inside of his cheek and we nearly died laughing.

As you can imagine, pet-sitting for this man is interesting. The dogs, cats and fish are category A animals. No problem. The rats, now passed on/away, were category B – pretty easy, but a slightly higher fee. One morning I woke up when the Moonman’s eldest son, coming for an early morning cuddle with his dad, said in a muffled voice from under the duvet: “Don’t get a fright if something runs up your leg. It’s just the rat.”

snake

Hey, I'm trying to work here!

The snake, however, is category C. Big bucks. I wish someone would invent snake food in a dry pellet form! So this is how snake feeding goes: Initially, the little boa constrictor (“She’s soooo beautiful”) ate tiny mouselets. You buy them live or frozen at some pet shops – but don’t say at the counter “I’d like a baby mouse to feed my snake”. The little old lady and kids standing behind you freak out. You say, “I’d like a frozen pinky, please.” As time goes by, “pinky” is replaced with “fuzzy” and then “hopper”. The guys at the shop know what you mean and come back with a box discreetly sealed. And because I work close to the petshop, I am the mule.

Once you get home, if the food is frozen, you have to gently warm it up in hot water (sealed in a ziploc – it mustn’t get wet). Microwaving is not recommended. So, here goes. Unfortunately the ziploc leaks and the mouse gets wet. I’m already close to tears. Now what?! I go get the hair dryer. I give the mouse a thorough blowdrying (it’s a fuzzy). Now you have to put it into the cage, using the wooden spoon, and wiggle it a bit so the snake sees it. Withdraw the spoon quickly, and look away. It’s over very quickly.

The snake is more than a meter long now and needs large rats. Yes, there was a rather odd period when the Moonman had pet rats AND had to buy rats to feed the snake. The Moonman, feeling very sorry for the rat, usually euthanizes it so that the food is “lightly killed” (big rats can harm a snake which was bred in captivity). But when he is overseas, it’s up to me. First time, I beg the people at the petshop to do it for me, I can’t bear it. I race back with the rat to feed the snake before rigor mortis sets in. But the guy at the petshop says, he can’t do this again. Next time, I’m on my own. So next time, I chuck the rat in alive, and run away squealing like a girl. Oh wait, I AM a girl.

And from that day, Snakey ate live food. It’s not nice. I dread it. I hate it. But I love the Moonman more, so I do it.

Once, a rat that was purchased for the snake, looked into the Moonman’s eyes, and he fell in love. It was just the cutest rat imaginable. Big dark eyes, little pink nose, sweet little tail… So he decided to spare the rat and keep it as a pet. But not alone, that’s not fair. So he went back and bought a little rat friend. A few days later (days, not weeks), rat number one had six babies. So there were eight. And the snake was still hungry. When the cage got seriously overcrowded, I had to take all the babies to the petshop. The tricky part then was trying not to buy our own rats back for snake food. It would be immoral, you understand.

Thankfully snakes only eat once every two weeks or so. Which reminds me, it’s that time of the month again… Sigh.

So, in conclusion: if, like me, you would like to create a similar environment filled with love, noise, furry creatures and muddy footprints, all you have to do is start saying, “Sure, we’ll take it!”

Erica Neser © 2011™

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