Whenever I visit my mom’s, I’m greeted at the door by fifty pounds of rollicking black mutt, whose rapidly swinging tail tells me that ohmygoodness, ohmygoodness, someone is happy to see me. Sadie, my mom’s dog, treats me like the long-lost sister she considers me to be. She’ll vocalize at me like a gossiping neighbour, and once I’m seated, she’ll settle down with her head in my lap big black eyes looking up at me. “She only ever does this with you, you know?” says my mom, every time.
Once Sadie’s calmed down, Sweeney the cat will make his appearance, meowing incessantly until I acknowledge him. He’ll then do that thing that cats love to do, rubbing themselves in a figure-eight around your legs until you’re rendered nearly immobile. He and the dog will then get into a spat over who gets my lap, which is when I usually get fed up with the pair of them and shoo them away.
Funny thing is, Sweeney hates everyone. Everyone, except my mom and me.
Pets? They love me. I’d love them too, if I wasn’t so darn allergic to them. That reason alone is a good enough reason not to have a pet (although, there are some days when, in the abstract, I long for a pet and wonder if I could fit in weekly antihistamine shots, and then I remind myself I can barely find enough time to floss my teeth) but the truth is, I love animals enough to know that I’m not the right person to be a pet owner. I leave that to those whose hearts are a bit bigger than mine, because I’ve been traumatized by the demise of too many pets over the years, and I don’t know that I’ll ever truly be ready to go through pet ownership again.
I grew up with animals: Keela, my first cat, who died when I was two. Sasha, the guard dog — my grandfather’s dog, and not a friend to anyone, really (frankly, he scared me). April Asphalt Cohen the first animal I truly loved, who blessed us with a litter of kittens at an unfortunately young age (and then I fell in love with all of her kittens except Porky the runt, who was just mean, and sobbed as they were given away) and who died one summer while I was away at camp and no one told me. There was Eggie, found in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in our school yard and taken in by my mom. He died a few weeks later. There were lab mice who escaped and fish who floated and budgerigars that I generally ignored because I was too young to care about them, and my sister’s unfortunate newt, James Dean, who taught us that newts decompose at an alarmingly fast rate. She named the subsequent newt Frankie, for Frank Sinatra. He stuck around much longer.
Then there was Dijon, the neurotic and inbred Bichon Frise inherited from friends of my mom’s, who thought him a bit too much to deal with. He marked his territory in the house (being “pure bred” and apparently of show dog stock, he wasn’t fixed when we got him) and chewed the crotch out of our pants. I used to joke that I’d marry the first man who walked into the house and who the dog didn’t bite on the ankle, as he was so furiously overprotective of us girls (my husband to be only ever got a nip on the pantleg; I figured that was close enough). He died at home, and we buried him in the back yard.
And then there was Suki. Another mutt, of pointer and lab parentage, inherited from neighbours who didn’t know what to do with her. Smart, intuitive, with the kindest eyes and softest muzzle. It was with her that I posed with on my wedding day. She developed cancer at the ripe old age of 17 and when it was time to say goodbye to her, I’m not lying when I say that I was glad I was a few hundred kilometers away from home so that I didn’t have to go with my mom to the veterinarian. I wanted only remember her in her prime.
It was after Suki that I decided that no, pet ownership was not for me. My mom has two pets, my sister three, and like a good pet auntie I go over to their houses and play with their pets (and wash my hands after) and leave satisfied. My home is pet dander free, and that’s the best thing for me, health wise. My boys are fascinated by other people’s pets, which probably means they’ll go out and get dogs or cats as soon as they can when they leave home, and that’s alright. Our lives are chock-full of activities and I don’t want to figure out how to fit in the care and feeding of anything more vital than a pet rock.
Mostl though, I don’t want to say goodbye to another animal any time soon.
While I know your pain, my house is open to pets. Guinea pigs, a turtle, rabbits, and a dog are the current selection. But I do draw a line. I had a friend rescue a kitten that was only a few weeks old. She nursed him and rubbed his tummy to make him poop.