Rearrange the letters of the word pets and you get pest. Those who have provided a home for a domesticated animal can in one breath use a term of endearment for the adorable Whiskered Fluffernutter, but then one shredded couch later Fur Face becomes a Fury of Greek proportions. One hairball too many and “She” becomes “It”. The first urine stain on the new rug and man’s Best Friend needs relationship counseling. Steadfast adoration toward the animal you provide food and shelter to is rare. Our feline, canine, reptilian, aviary, and cutie-pie friends in cages can just as easily work their way into our hearts as get under our skin. Don’t get me wrong. I like animals. I just don’t like the drama that frequently presents itself in animal husbandry.
In my boys’ lifetime we have provided shelter and vittles for a cat, a five-day fish, a two-day turtle, two anole lizards, a panda hamster, a rabbit, a leopard gecko, and a ball python. Over the course of fifteen years we have purchased various volumes of “Care and Feeding of ___” (insert species of pet store animal). We have scoured garage sales for affordable habitats. We have made countless trips to PetCoSmartLand for food and habitat bling. We have gone to extremes in diagnosing and curing lapses in health. In an effort to be good custodians of our critters the definition of “pet” has, at times, been reclassified in the Curtis household.
After a particularly challenging episode of trying to contain Maxine-the-Houdini-Hamster in her cage I vowed that the real definition of “pet” should in the future only refer to animals that come when called. Would it be too much to ask that all my affection and goodwill be reciprocated by this cute little fur-face? If I have to create walls and lock cages just to keep the animal from running away, then it’s not a pet – it’s a wild beast. How can it be a pet if its main goal is to get away from me? Bitter? No, just frustrated after all my search and rescue missions for the escaped “pet”.
I remember the time I was shut in our bathroom holding onto the tail of Jack’s ball python as it tried to slither its way into a gap where the cupboard meets the floor. Rex had decided to go exploring the bathroom floor while Jack cleaned his cage. I was supposed to look after Rex, but I side with Indiana Jones – not fond of snakes. One minute he’s innocently crawling behind the toilet and the next minute all I see is the back half of his body poking out from beneath the cupboard. All I could think of was Rex crawling somewhere around the rafters, lost, and possibly reappearing in my bed, closet, or somewhere shocking. I had to hold onto that snake for dear life but not tear the beast by pulling too hard. Rex the ball python flexed his muscles, but I was more determined to contain him than he was in escaping. Eventually he relented and I was able to pull him out of the hole. I erased reptiles from the list of “Pets”, and categorized them as “Adversaries I Spend Money On”.
I haven’t consulted either Darwin or Aristotle in my own personal animal classification methods, but I’m sure they would be sympathetic when I show them the $100 treatment bill, the $25 cockroaches prescribed as new food source (ick), and the $120 speeding ticket I received in transporting the sick leopard gecko home after treatment. That absurd day, “Basilisk’s” cute factor did nothing to improve his taxonomy ranking. He hovered near the general Life category, without specification of Family, Genus or Species. A few months later I was able to forget the maddening circumstances that led to his temporary reclassification, and I ranked our leopard gecko amongst his fellow Eublepharis maculariuses.
“From Adversary I Spend Money On” to “Family Member”, these animals hop around between “pets” and “pest” on a daily basis. As much as they occasionally get under my skin, I appreciate the learning and loving journey all of our beasts have brought to the Curtis household. Albeit unappreciative little buggers, I will always prefer those that are classified as Animal Kingdom versus Battery-powered Kingdom.