Monday, July 18, 2011

My Childhood Pets

We didn’t really have any pets when I was a child. Not only was lack of enough space a major factor, but my parents weren’t too keen on animals in the house – especially cats and dogs. Animals, according to my folks, were...well...animals. And dirty. And smelly. And dirty, smelly animals belonged outdoors. You see, both my parents had grown up in small towns, villages really, with farmland and livestock. And cats and dogs on their land were not considered – or treated as – pets. They served a purpose. A cat’s job was to keep the home and the surrounding area free of rodents and bugs, and a dog was supposed to keep the farm animals safe from predators. And while you tossed the dog some food, and gave some table scraps to the cat on days when her hunting expeditions didn’t result in enough to eat, you never, ever caressed, slept with, kissed or fussed over the animals. And you absolutely never, ever allowed the dog to lick you. Ever.

So with my parent’s lack of enthusiasm for the customary pet dog or cat, the most we could hope for was some fish, which we had for awhile. But not fish in an aquarium, mind you, just fish in a bowl. One fish. And always goldfish. Because that’s what all the parents I knew, who didn’t believe dogs or cats belong in the house, had as pets. Goldfish. Only one. In a bowl. And each and every solitary goldfish in a bowl in our house seemed to mysteriously die within days and end up flushed down the toilet. Now, I don’t know for sure but I suspect that the premature death of all these goldfish had something to do with their environment.

Here’s why I’ve come to that conclusion...

My parents were not the most knowledgeable people when it came to keeping fish as pets, nor did they feel the need to expand on that limited information. They did what they felt was right, and if it worked, all the better. Taking care of fish was one of those things; there was no thought put into it. Filtration, removing chlorine from the water, checking ammonia levels, making sure the temperature was right...none of that was part of the ‘taking-care-of-the-fish’ equation. As far as my mother was concerned, fish lived in water, and whatever came out of the tap at the sink was water. The care process was simple: put the fish in a bowl (no need for gravel, decorations, filters and all that nonsense), add some water from the tap and voila! If the fish died soon after, it had nothing to do with the care. It was old, weak or sick. And if it died, it was flushed and promptly replaced by another. This went on until we got tired of the fish bowl, which didn’t take all that long. There is only so much interest a child will put into a pet that does...well...nothing.

But the pet fish era wasn’t completely dull. I used to get a kick out of watching my mother changing the water and cleaning out the fish bowl. She would scoop the fish out of the bowl, put it in another container of water while she rinsed out its home, add fresh water and then plop it back in. And for whatever strange reason, the whole process simply fascinated me. Simpler times, simpler pleasures... And I wished I could do it myself, but because I was too young, I wasn’t allowed. That’s the funny thing about all this: chores that I find tedious as an adult were fun things to do when I was child. For awhile. Until they began feeling like a chore, or until something else got my attention.

That was the pet fish era...

The pet situation got just a tad more interesting when I received a blue parakeet on one of my birthdays from my mother’s best friend. Okay, so it wasn’t a dog, cat, turtle, rabbit or hamster, but at least it wasn’t a fish. And it actually did something besides swim back and forth and not much else. So it was a step up. And when you don’t really have much of a history of exciting pets, it’s a very much appreciated step up. So we moved into a more sophisticated pet-ownership club, and since it was about as far as my parents were willing to go, we embraced it - tightly. Over the years we had numerous parakeets. But we didn’t just place them in a cage; we took the time to train them. We let them fly freely, placed a finger in the cage to teach them not to fear us, and so on. Some of them turned out to be incredibly tame and friendly. We bought several parakeets over the years, and we even managed to find some over the years - obviously runaways from another household – that we adopted.

From all the feathered friends we ever had there was one amazing little fellow that left his mark. He was beyond tame. I don’t think he knew was a bird. He interacted with everyone, had a temper and sought revenge if you upset him, knew everyone’s schedules and feared nothing. He would jump into the pot when my mother was cooking anything that looked edible, wait at the door at the same time every evening when my father got home, stand on your pillow in the morning to peck at you until you woke up, explored every crevice in the house (sometimes putting himself in danger) and did almost everything except act like a bird. He didn’t even bother to fly everywhere. He’d walk on the floor just like we did (I’m surprised no one ever stepped on him). He was so unique and adorable that you couldn’t help but love him. Unfortunately, being the adventurer that he was, we lost him one winter day when he made a run for it through an open door. We never found him; never even saw which way he went. It was the midst of winter, and extremely cold, so I don’t think he got very far. It broke our hearts...

So fish and birds were the only types of pets I had as a child. But before we graduated from goldfish to parakeets, there was the ant collection. Somehow the idea of keeping ants in a jar as pets was exciting, and my brother and I collected quite a few and brought them into the house. We were fascinated with them, like most kids are about insects, pressing our faces up against the glass jar to watch them do whatever it is that ants do. And, oh, the plans we had! We buzzed about building an ant farm, and how it was going to be the greatest, most extraordinary one anyone had ever seen. And although our little ant jar was safe in the kitchen when we went to bed that night dreaming about the adventures awaiting us, when we woke up the next day, the ants were no more.

Nacho (left) & Bailey (right)
Apparently, throughout the night my parents kept hearing an annoying clanking sound. One of them (if I remember right, it was my father) got up to investigate and discovered that the ants in the jar were causing this commotion. It seems they were banging up against the glass, obviously looking for a way out, and the sound that the little buggers were making as they bounced onto the glass was loud enough to wake you up. Needless to say that ants and jar were tossed out into the night. The lifespan of the ant adventure was very short-lived – just one day - but I did learn a couple of things in that short period: 1) ants don’t think living in a jar is as cool as you think it is and 2) don’t leave your jar in the kitchen where your parents will find it; hide it.

And that was the end of the pet ant era...

Now that I’m an adult, the choice of pets is mine to make. And since I’ve no qualms about introducing animals like cats or dogs into our household, we’re up to par with many other North American homes with our two cats. And a little bit out of the norm with our two ferrets. Perhaps in time there’ll be a dog. Probably when I’m willing to brave the winter walks. Brrr...

And this week’s Monday post just wouldn’t be complete without a video on how to build an ant farm, would it? No, it wouldn’t, so here it is...

What kinds of pets did you have as a child?


  1. Our pets were rabbits and dogs. They had to live outside because my Mom also did not believe in letting animals in the house. But she made an exception for one of our boxer dogs, Ginger, who was quiet and well-behaved. Ginger was allowed to sleep in the house during the winter.

    Now my cat, Her Royal Highness, is a strictly indoor cat and rules my life.

  2. We too had a pet life similar to yours. Dogs and cats were outside pets. When the cat no longer came around, she wasn't replaced. We did continue to have a dog until all the kids moved out. When that dog died Dad never got another one.

    And like you, we are now a two cat household. Our current two cats are rescued cats. One is a weird color mixed breed and the other is a Maine Coon.

  3. Somehow I missed this post yesterday..! really enjoyed hearing about your amazing parakeet. I love that he would exact revenge lol - he sounds like he was quite intelligent. I feel bad about his tragic end though - I can only imagine how upset your family would have been. We had an ant farm as well - they are very fascinating creatures. Growing up we had a cat (it was nasty and mysteriously 'disappeared' one day), a dog for many years, a budgie and turtles when we were quite young. Also, a big fish tank (with all the goodies and quite a variety of creatures) - so I guess my parents were pretty good in the pet arena.

  4. I grew up with the same mentality, and not until I was a teenager did we get a cat. Which my parents proceeded to treat with the same benign ignorance as your parents with the fish. Now that I'm an adult I too have surrounded myself with cats, abundantly so, although we don't have time for a dog yet. I love the parakeet story too, sounds like he was quite a guy!

  5. I don't remember the bird..... My memory has gone blur.... But nonetheless I loved the article. I really enjoy when you talk about your younger years... its straight from the heart.

  6. Debra, at least you had rabbits and dogs! The parakeets were the most my parents would ever agree to. We have two cats that are also indoor cats, and they do rule our lives...correction...they mostly rule MINE! I'm the softie in the house.


    WebDebris, our two cats are also rescue cats! That makes me so happy -- that they both found a permanent, loving home. And I love Maine Coons; they are so gorgeous. A friend of mine has one here in Kingston. The cat is huge! Apparently Maine Coons are big cats.


    Jane, I was running late yesterday with this post. I have an entire week to work on it, and yet I leave it to the last day...or hour. Yes, the whole family was very upset about that bird. He was very special. Sounds like you had quite an assortment of animlas. If I'd known you as a kid, I would have been at your house all the time to see your pets!


    Tatiana, our parents didn't know any other way, really, so I don't blame them. But once I hit the adult years, the decision was all mine, which I took advantage of! That little bird was truly special. I've never forgotten him.


    Hellas, you wouldn't remember the bird because we got him a couple of years before I met you. And thanks for the kind words. You know me....always love to write...