Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Time for Pets

Finley & Co. (in other words, his parents) spent the Memorial Day weekend with us. The little fellow is six and a half months old. That is to say, he’s reached the stage where personality and physical prowess have matured enough to make a baby pass from cute, lovable blob to actual person. He smiled, a lot. He played with objects. He rolled over. He made adorable sounds. He let Gilda and me feed him a bottle. He ate some solid food. He hardly ever cried, even when stuck in traffic in his car seat for hours during a failed attempt to introduce him to the joys of Coney Island. He even slept through the night. Almost. Way better than his father and Aunt Ellie did at that age.

Finley went home Monday to a quieter house, if you can actually ascribe noise to a rabbit. The rabbit in question, Peanut, was shipped out last Thursday, the most current casualty in the Forseter Family’s continuous struggle to balance bringing up children with taking care of pets. Peanut, along with Fluff who regrettably died a couple of years ago, enjoyed several years as Dan and Allison’s pet. He had his own room, more or less, off the kitchen. In the evening, Peanut often roamed freely in the living room. But rabbits really aren’t all that playful. Cuddly, yes. Playful, not so much. They are low maintenance. Hardly make any sound. Yet Peanut still required attention, and as Finley required more attention, the competition for time simply did not favor the grey hare. After a search for a suitable new home, Dan and Allison gave Peanut away to what is hoped will be a more fulfilling life.

Growing up, my brother Bernie, sister Lee and I had two dogs. Each lasted a year with us. I was about four years old when we got Cookie, about five when our parents gave the small white dog away. I vaguely recall accompanying Cookie on his going-away ride. I remember a row house on a street with a black iron fence. I suspect Cookie’s fate was sealed when our mother decided to go back to work in our father’s business around the time I started elementary school.

I was 11 when we took Dusty home in June 1960, 12 and at sleep-away camp with my brother and sister the following summer when our parents gave him away. We got Dusty during our father’s round-the-world trip and just before we went off to camp for eight weeks. Dusty became Mom’s dog during her time alone. Dad wasn’t too happy finding a dog upon his return home, but he tolerated Dusty until the following summer. To this day we grieve about losing Dusty. We couldn’t accept our parents’ rationale, that their work schedule did not mesh with the needs of a growing dog. A border collie, though I suspect he also had some golden retriever in him, Dusty was a little more than a year old. He already had grown into a size capable of dragging me down a street against my will, not that it was too difficult a feat considering I was a 60-lb weakling at the time. I won’t bore you with Dusty stories now. Look for them another day. Just keep in mind today’s theme of children vs. pets and the decisions parents make.

Fast forward 21 years, to 1982. Married, I had six other mouths to feed—Gilda’s, Dan’s, Ellie’s and our three cats, Walter, Leonard and Snowflake. Against my judgment, Gilda had brought the cats home while in nursing school some eight years earlier, to keep her company when I was working the night shift at the newspaper. I didn’t want them because I knew I’d get attached to them. Naturally, I loved them. They returned the love, always running up to me when I came home.

Shortly after Ellie was born, I took three-year-old Dan to Los Angeles. Back a week later, I was in the middle of telling Gilda about our trip when I commented that Walter and Leonard had not yet come by to welcome me home. Gilda started giggling. Immediately I knew she had given them away (as it turned out, to her brother). Indeed, had I been delayed by 15 minutes she would have disposed of Snowflake as well, to a neighbor. I quickly quashed that idea, despite Gilda’s protests that with two young children she didn’t have the time or energy to care for a cat as well. I couldn’t imagine repeating my parents’ actions. Snowflake stayed with us another 14 years.

Of course, not every parent chooses to give up a pet. When moving into their then new home, my cousin Linda carefully conveyed her daughter Jessica’s pet guinea pig to the new house. Fearing Sammy might escape in the hubbub of the move, she placed him in the downstairs bathroom and closed the door. Days later, we’re not sure how many, but definitely more than a few days later, Jessica opened the door and freaked out. As Linda now recalls, Sammy was flatter than a pancake, dehydrated and definitely not better off than Peanut, Cookie, Dusty, Walter or Leonard.

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