Yes, I love animals ... No, I don't want any more pets
Imagine for a moment that aliens visit Earth from a galaxy far, far away. When they first arrive, they witness a man walking his dog. Then, that dog takes a moment, does what doggies do (doo), and then the man stoops down to pick it up and place it in a bag for disposal. Who do you suppose those aliens believes is in charge?
Pet ownership is a near universal thing that binds us all together. Most people have at least one animal they care for and keep in, or near their home â€“ dogs, cats, fish, birds, horses, chickens, pigs and more. All these responsibilities in life from work to child-rearing to daily errands, and we choose to add care for an animal or two … or three or four or…
My house is currently home to our family of four humans, plus two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs and a fish. This may not impress some of you, yet others might wonder how I keep my sanity. Because you see, I believe we all have what I like to call a pet threshold â€“ how many animals can you stand to take care of before you lose your money or your mind?
As a youngster I had a very high pet threshold. I never met an animal that didn't need to live on my property. We often had a couple dogs, but that didn't stop me from wanting every puppy I encountered. When stray kittens roamed the neighborhood, my siblings and I were all too eager to provide them shelter. We had hamsters, parakeets and cockatiels. We caught frogs, lizards and snakes and kept them in outdoor aquariums â€“ outdoors because our parents said so, not because it was our idea. One time, some baby robins fell out of a nest, and next thing my parents knew, they were sitting in a shoebox nest in the garage as we tried to figure out how to feed them. I was even brave enough (stupid enough?) to catch fire ants and put them in a jar of dirt â€“ free ant farm! My parents LOVED that idea.
But somewhere between childhood and fatherhood, something happened to me. That kid who said yes to every pet turned into the father that holds veto power over any pet under consideration â€“ and I use that veto power a lot, despite what our current pet total suggests. I may have seven animals under my roof (that I'm aware of), but if my wife and kids had their way, that number might be doubled or tripled.
It's not that I don't love animals. I still think that puppies are cute, that kittens are adorable and that rodents are fascinating to watch in their little rodent wheels. I am aware of the unconditional love and comfort a pet can provide â€“ I'm not a cold-hearted robot, for crying out loud! But…I also have enough life experience (pet experience) to know that puppies chew on the wrong things, pee on the wrong things and leave behind bombs that don't belong on the carpet. Cats beget litter boxes and their unique, um…fragrances. And you have to feed them and take them to the veterinarian and figure out what to do with them when you leave town. In summary, they're a lot of work.
This wouldn't be such a big deal if I could trust my children's promises as they plead for a new animal. "We'll clean the litter box," they say. "We'll scoop dog poop." "We can feed them. You don't have to worry about that."
I have learned that these bargain-chip promises only last a few days beyond the moment the pet is brought home. Just the other day, I cleaned the litter box, then I moved on to the backyard dog bombs. Those chores were sandwiched around two cat and dog feedings … and after filling the guinea pigs' food bowls. If any aliens were watching, they know who is NOT in charge.
If I were one of those aliens, I would wonder what caused us to start keeping animals in a home in the first place. We work so hard to keep our houses clean, and they are filled with possessions we prefer not get damaged. Yes, cats and dogs and even some types of pigs and goats have gotten domesticated to the point that they can live in a human home and not completely destroy it from the inside out. But according to a Smithsonian article I recently read, it has taken several thousand years to get to this point. And I have cleaned up enough messes and replaced enough damaged household goods to know another few thousand years of domestication is likely necessary before I would feel comfortable bringing home another Fluffy or Rover. Perhaps another couple millennia of perfecting domestication would result in dogs and cats using a toilet. Perhaps they could fill their own food bowls. Heck, while we're at it, why not teach them to clean the house once in a while?
It could happen â€“ but sadly I won't be around to see it if it does. So, like it or not, I will continue to occasionally cave in to the pleas of my animal-loving wife and kids. Lately, they are hoping for a new puppy. They'll probably get their way.
I might end up taking that puppy for a walk someday, ready to bag up whatever drops along the way. If you're watching, Mr. Alien, please don't judge too harshly.
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