Our family dog passed away last spring and our elderly goldfish met his maker shortly thereafter, and so the last year has been the first extended period of petlessness in my life. (Yes, the spell-check flagged “petlessness,” but I’m going with it anyway. You know what I mean.)
Truth be told, our two boys don’t seem overly concerned about the petlessness of our lives. They don’t beg for a dog every time they see a Purina commercial on TV, and they don’t make any melodramatic promises about feeding and taking care of a puppy if only we could get one, pretty, pretty, please. They haven’t asked to go to the pet store or to the county fair to buy or win a replacement fish. And, truth be told, part of me is kind of enjoying this little break from the daily chores associated with pet ownership. (We all know who actually feeds and cleans up after the dog — good old dad.)
Still, another part of me does think that it may just be time for a new pet. A family does need a pet, right? What kind of a dad would I be if I denied my boys the companionship of a furry, feathered or scaly creature? Who am I to stand in the way of all the cherished childhood memories that go along with owning a domesticated animal?
We always had a dog while I was growing up — and, at various times, fish, guinea pigs and hermit crabs. And I can tell you a story about each one of those special animals. In fact, as I size up what type of pet might be best for our family now, I’ll tell you a little bit about the pets of my past.
Sorry cat owners, dogs are the classic American family pet. Our first family dog when I was a kid was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Lucky. Built with 120 pounds of pure muscle, Lucky was one of the last of the suburban yard dogs. When I tell people today that my childhood dog lived in a wooden doghouse out in the backyard, and was out there in rain, sleet, and snow, they say, “Aw, how mean.” Well, let me tell you, that dog was not made for the indoors. In fact, I remember one day when my mom tried to pull him inside the house on a leash as he cut toenail tracks in the wood floor while straining to stay outside. He was a great dog.
Pro: Dogs are super fun. They’ll go with you on a walk, fetch a ball, and eat any spoiled meat — no matter how foul and nasty — from your refrigerator. Loyal to a fault, they’ll guard your house while you are at work.
Con: Loyal to a fault, they may shred your house to pieces while you are at work in a fit of separation anxiety.
I never owned a cat in my life, so I’m probably biased, but I do have to say this: when you look in a dog’s eyes, you can tell if it is friendly or mean. When you look into a cat’s eyes, you have no idea. To me, that’s a little scary.
Pro: Cats go to bathroom in the same little litter box every time. That sure beats hunting for dog poop in every corner of the backyard.
Con: My wife is allergic to cats, so that’s that.
Pro: The kids did love watching their dearly departed goldfish, Grady, swim in his tank. And feeding him fish flakes was a task the kids could handle.
Con: If you introduce a few new fish to the tank, and you’re not careful, one of the fish will eat all of the other fish. Also, if you’re not careful, three months go by in a flash, and you realize that you can’t see the fish through the green algae. Is Nemo still alive in there?
Pro: They talk. My wife had parakeets as a kid, and says that they taught their birds a few words. That’s pretty neat.
Con: My sons teaching a bird a few choice words may not be so neat.
I never owned hamsters, gerbils, mice or rats as a kid, but I’m guessing that however I feel about guinea pigs can pretty much be translated to any other rodent. They’re all furry and smell like cedar chips.
Pro: Cute? Yes. Adorable? Absolutely.
Con: Cute? Yes. Adorable? Absolutely. Durable? Not so much. My childhood guinea pig, Sugar, was my pride and joy until one afternoon when our cousins visited. When I went to check on my sweet baby, I found her “sleeping” on her side, which was weird. Upon further inspection, I noticed a lollipop stick protruding from her mouth. The same lollipop stick my young cousin had been sucking on earlier in the day. Verdict: guilty.
When I was a kid, we’d visit my grandparents in Ocean City, MD, every summer. For my brothers, the highlight of the trip was time spent at the beautiful beach or at Trimper’s Amusement Park. For me, it was the eight-hour ride back home with the hermit crab I had bought for $1.99 at the surf shop.
Pro: Totally easy to take care of.
Con: Short shelf life. These guys lasted just long enough for me to need to pick up a new one the following summer.
So, there you have it. Six great animals to choose from — all with pros and cons. Now, I just have to decide which is right for our family. Of course, an ant farm doesn’t sound too bad either.