“Maybe they should talk to the fish…”

There is much excitement in the house today – we have two new critters.

Now – if you are not familiar with our family’s history of pet ownership and the comedic tragedy know as the great fish fiasco – start here.

For those of you up on the family history – you’ll be wondering what in the world has possessed us. I’m wondering that along with you.

Our 7 year old son wants a pet.  Has wanted one since he was about 2. While he has a love-hate relationship with dogs, he has asked for a dog with regular frequency. Our 6 year old daughter loves getting together with my siblings – not to see aunts, uncles and cousins but to hang out with Aunt Stacia’s dogs.  The standard response to their eager attempts to get a dog into our house has been, “No – we already have an old cranky cat. And we are way too busy and travel too much to worry about a dog.”  Clearly the message has gotten through like a good game of telephone- as our daughter tells people, “No we don’t have a dog, we have an old cranky cat – but when she dies Mommy said we can get a dog.”

Don’t get me wrong – I love dogs – grew up with a German short-haired pointer that I loved dearly. But I hate the smell of wet dog and I’m not at all a fan of picking up dog poop. And everyone knows – family pets only survive past the first few weeks of a family due to the kindness (or resignedness) of the mom. I’m not that kind or resigned.

Thus we’ve endured.  We’ve endured our son’s attempts to catch and sneak lizards into the house. We’ve endured his claims that the two ants we found in the kitchen one day would be great pets. We’ve endured his endless requests (combined with detailed drawings) for hermit crabs (“we could get them at the beach”), his attempts at trapping every insect known to man, his excited description of the gerbils in his math teacher’s room, his whispered questions of “how long do cats live”, and his growing zoo of self-designed LEGO animals.

Two weeks ago, he took a different tack – showing responsibility.  I was amazed and surprised when I heard his alarm go off for school and two minutes later he emerged from his room – dressed and ready for breakfast.  As I lifted up my jaw, he casually mentioned, “I’m just showing you that I’m responsible enough for a pet.” I gave him 2 hours…..he kept it up for 4 days. What loving mom can deny such self-discipline?

During all of this I’ve been doing my homework on pets.  Searching for two main criteria: easy care and short shelf life. I’m not ready to commit to many years of a dog, a bird or another cat. I’m 16 1/2 years into this whole cat experiment (she came along before hubby and kids) and I’m pretty sure she’s too mean to die.  I remember my sister’s bird who lasted way longer than anyone would have predicted.

Thus – I looked into the whole gamut of possible pets.  No on reptiles…too pricey and I hate live crickets and salmonella. And frankly – the kid wants something to play with – to pick up. And that just totally rules out the world of cold-blooded critters.

So onto the furry ones.  My husband had a gerbil as a kid (“Whoopie”) who apparently had good genes and lasted way longer than your average gerbil. And he had a rabbit as an adult….but the story of the rabbit is full of joy and but also tragedy so we don’t talk about the rabbit years much. The other day we gave a ride to a birthday party to one of our son’s friends. We got a chance to peek at her new hamster who was really cute.  (Okay – I confess – I have no idea of it’s a hamster or a gerbil….they’re pretty interchangeable in my mind….might even have my husband’s former pet wrong….but really – does it matter?  They sell “hamster/gerbil” food…or is it “gerbil/hamster”…?)

And on a side note there is the family story about the year my dad bought my cousin a guinea pig for her birthday.  My aunt has glared at him ever since.  Particularly because unbeknownst to my dad – the guinea pig was with child. My cousin came home from school one day to shriek “Someone broke into the house and brought me ANOTHER guinea pig!!”  Yeah – our family is fraught with pet issues….

So in searching through the information on furry ones (read: rodents)…I hit upon what many may find truly surprising….(but as a psychologist I knew)…the best furry pet for kids….rats.  Yes rats. As in my mom asked me, “R-A-T-S?”  Yes Mom – good spelling although I suppose ratz works fine too these days. Then my mom promptly stated that she won’t be visiting us any more.  Hmmm….

We told the kids we’d be willing to get two rats for them (they are social creatures and do better in pairs – of course they do). Which promptly started the “WHEN will we get them?” The date was set for this Friday when the kids were off from school for end of the semester.  All week, I stopped by each of the four big pet stores to scout out options. Nothing but signs saying “rats coming soon”.  Clearly there was a recent run on rats.

We set out on Friday under the caution flag – we might not find any to get today we will have to wait. Sure enough – four stores and only 1 rat at one store and 1 store that sells feeder rats.  (As in “let’s feed ‘er to the snake”.)  Guy recommended getting rats sold as pets and then tried to downsell me on some gerbils.  I gave him the stink-eye and left with two kids in near tears.  Our son was so upset that he suggested we go back and get a hermit crab as a “waiting pet”.  (He refers to appetizers as “waiting snacks”….)

Steve called me from work as we were leaving the store. After giving the update – I suggested that he call the pet stores near his office. I didn’t want to venture through downtown unless there was an actual rat to get.  After a few phone calls he managed to find one store with “several rats”.  So – plan B – in which Mommy races home to throw some sandwiches at the kids (It’s nearly dinnertime not to mention rush hour) and get gas in the car so we don’t stall in the middle of rush hour and also in which Daddy (heretofore named “Best Daddy in the World”) races from work to the pet store to prevent anyone from buying the rats before us.

Food thrown at kids – check. They complain about the options – check. Go get gas in car – check. Hear some crazy guy barrel through the station and smash another car – check. Note 5 people with cell phones who saw the accident and had no urgent rat mission who are helping woman – check.  Off to downtown.

As I’m working my way towards the interstate, Steve calls from the pet store. He says something about small and medium rats and other people.  Stupid cell.  So I’m yelling “What???” at the speakerphone. Finally figure out that he says there are at least 4 rats but there is another family looking at them. I said – tell them to save two for us.  “Can’t do that,” says the Best Daddy in the World.   “Why not??”  “Cause they are from Southeast Asia and are not speaking English.”

Now at this point my brain decided this family was the one buying up all the rats in town and I feared they were about to buy out this store too.

“Well – STOP THEM.”

As we rushed through rush hour traffic, the kids of course kept asking if we were there yet. I didn’t even have the energy to be sarcastic and just stop in the middle of the interstate.  Finally got a call back from Steve, “Okay – they bought two but there are still two small and two medium rats. And a large one.”  Also got the skinny that “small rats” are simply younger (i.e. cuter) ones. They eventually become medium and large rats along the way.

Let me just note that I assume this rat journey will be much like kids.  Our kids are adorable as babies – and then when they become teenagers – we will wonder where they came from and how they got so weird but we remember they were once cute. Cause I really think our rats are cute – but that one large rat I saw – eeewwww.

We did manage to make it to the store and Steve kept all other rat lovers at bay. The kids were just fine with the two choices left – two small rats ($4.99 each).  One albino and one with white and gray patches.  (Steve kept wanting them to look at the medium rats too – I was just happy with the small and gave him the second stink-eye of the day.) They come with a 14 day return window – no questions asked but bodies required for death refunds. We managed to keep requests for hundreds of dollars of rat toys at bay. Mind you the kids asked – the rats just sat in their going home boxes being rather pissed off.

As the store employee was handing the box off to our son, he mentioned how great rats are as pets. And he asked, “Do you have any other pets at home?”

Instantly our old cranky cat’s life flashed in front of my eyes.  Her cute kitten stage (brief) and her years of barely tolerating a husband and two kids. Her tendency to puke at the door to our bedroom in the middle of the night. And her willingness to poop next to the litter box just because. And the fact that I’ve watched many hours of Tom and Jerry. And I realize that this could bring the whole deal crashing down if our house doesn’t meet certain “safety for rodents” requirements.

“Well we have a cat…”  (Store employee’s eyebrows shoot up!) “….but she’s old and doesn’t get around much and frankly….(stage whisper)….these are anticipation replacement pets….for when….you know.”  Store employee nodded and my stomach hurt – from guilt and the realization that the darn cat is going to live another decade just cause I said that. The rats will survive 2 years tops….if I’m lucky.

So we made it home – me with two kids and two rats in the car.  Our daughter (who is the reincarnation of Lerner and Lowe together) sang sweetly to her rat, “I will always love you. It doesn’t matter if my friends say ewww or think you’re dirty and nasty and ratty.  I love you. You are my rat.”   Grammy material…

Best Dad in World set up the cage (from a friend) and fished them out of the tub where they were getting a reprieve from the port-o-potties they came home in.  (Yes apparently you can scare the poop out of rats when you take them home from the store…and yes I scrubbed the tub with bleach for 15 mins or so afterwards…Grandma is not only not visiting anymore, she’s likely not going to shower here either.)  They are very cute – and very male.  (Did you know male rodents are *ahem* well endowed?  That should be fun as they get bigger….)

And now Skywalker and Rascal have come to live with us. I argued for pair names like “Raggedy Ann and Andy” or “Skywalker” and “Solo” or “Rascal” and “Rebel” or even “What” and “Was Mommy thinking?”…..but I got outvoted.

Now let’s see if that responsible kid who started this all is still responsible when it comes to cage cleaning…..

And let’s hope the rats don’t get a chance to talk to the two remaining fish in the house….


6 thoughts on ““Maybe they should talk to the fish…”

  1. Um. Well, my dear. I know your kiddos will love them & that’s why we do what we do, right? (It’s why I stopped typing this comment halfway through, so I could join M & J in doing the Hopkins Hop)

    Here’s hoping they fare better than the fish, though. 🙂

  2. Time for an update! How are the rats? They really can be awesome pets (said by somebody who has never owned one). You reminded me of Soukup’s rats back in college. SO friendly and interactive. Hopefully your kids are loving it! (And I agree with “Mom” above – this should be in a magazine somewhere!)

    • LOL! I need to provide a lot of updates don’t I? The rats are doing quite well….they are by far the most interesting pets I’ve ever had. Will definitely post news soon….

  3. Pingback: Why I didn’t run on Monday…. | Stumbling Forward

Comments are closed.