Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pet Sitting

We are currently “pet sitting” a friend’s dwarf hamster, and I am nervous. We don’t have a particularly good track record in the pet sitting department. Our family is relatively free from any wrongdoing or mayhem, but a number of our former pets have been murdered by others while we were on vacation. A small measure of comfort can be found in the fact that all of them were fish, and actually, technically, one of them committed suicide.

Our very first pet was a betta fish from PetSmart. I named him Alpha, because I am just witty like that. I really don’t have any idea how we ended up with a betta fish that I didn’t want in the first place. It started when we made the mistake of strolling into PetSmart one sunny afternoon when the boys were very young, just killing time and thinking it would be fun for them to see some of the animals. Sort of like a really low-budget zoo with no admission fee. As it turns out, the admission fee was whatever I spent an hour later on a fish, a fishbowl, and special betta fish food. I still have no idea how that happened.

The boys were super-interested in Alpha for about the first thirty minutes that he was at our house, then he lived out his remaining days being roundly ignored by everyone except for me, who was in charge of feeding him. Actually, technically, he lived out his remaining days at our friends’ house, before he gave into despair and ended his own life by launching himself out of the top of his little round bowl, and suffocating on their countertop. They came home from the grocery store to witness the horrific scene, and were beside themselves with grief and VERY misplaced feelings of guilt.

We got a call from them while we were still on vacation, saying there had been a tragic accident. Alpha had perished. My first thought was, “Great!” Then I was given the really bad news. Without consulting his next of kin, they had foolishly rushed to PetSmart and replaced him with an almost identically-colored betta fish, Alpha 2.0. Not only that, they had purchased a little green fish net, and a few other aquarium supplies, for some unknown reason.

“What were you thinking?” I yelled into the phone. “This was our chance to be done with him. I was a few days away from flushing him myself, and you bought a new one?!?”

I don’t think I took the “bad news” the way they were expecting. Alpha 2.0 lived out his remaining years being completely ignored by everyone in the house except me. I fed him with contempt in my heart every day until his last gasp, then pushed the toilet handle down without the least bit of ceremony. One of the boys casually inquired, “Where’s the fish?” about a month and a half later.

Because my boys were so enamored with our first (two) fish, it was a little bit of a surprise to me when a year or so later they came home from the carnival with grandma holding a bag full of goldfish. I set up the goldfish bowl, all the while giving grandma the evil eye. I don’t really remember how many fish she allowed into my home that day, but after the standard carnival goldfish die-off period, we were left with four good fish. I fed them each day while the children failed to care or even remember they were in the house. Then one day we went on vacation again. The four goldfish went to our next door neighbors’ house, this time with very explicit instructions that if any or all of them were to die, they were not to be replaced under any circumstances.

I’m very glad I remembered to express our no replacement policy, because the Great California Goldfish Cleaning Massacre took place while we were out of town. Their son, who was only one or two years old at the time, decided to feed our fish one evening. He climbed up on the counter, and grabbed the big bottle of “fish food,” which was actually Comet, and shook a liberal amount into their bowl. It turns out that Comet is not very good for goldfish. Instead of just getting really clean, they die. Unfortunately, his older sister realized what had happened a little too early, and managed to save one of the fish.

When we came home, they returned to us one very sparkling-clean fishbowl with one very mangy-looking fish. The chemicals hadn’t done him any favors, but he was one tough little carnival goldfish. He managed to hang on for a few more weeks and finally rode the porcelain highway to goldfish Heaven.

With all of our past pet sitting issues, needless to say, we are a little afraid to own anything larger or more emotionally valuable than a goldfish. We do have a pair of small garter snakes as pets now, but they live in a large fish tank and can go for weeks without eating, so they don’t require any sitting when we leave town. Their food does, though. Guess what we keep in the house to feed the snakes? Yes, goldfish.

I’m back to feeding goldfish twice a day, but at least this time, since they are snake food, I don’t expect the kids to pay attention to them. If one of these goldfish dies, I don’t flush it. They only cost eleven cents each, but I can’t stand to just throw them away, since their ultimate purpose is to expire anyway. Plus, our snakes are actually pretty lazy and prefer the dead ones. So besides the bowl full of live goldfish on my kitchen counter, I have a plastic jug, half full of water and floating dead goldfish in my refrigerator. Let’s just say, you don’t want to go exploring for a refreshing drink at our house without a tour guide.

Anyway, back to the hamster. I am nervous because this is our first real pet sitting experience watching someone else’s animal, and I don’t know if the cloud of pet sitting death that hangs above us is only reserved for our own pets, or if we are universally cursed. We have managed to keep our own snakes alive for months now, but they are very low maintenance. A while ago we watched a hermit crab for a week, but again, how hard can that be? We could have accidentally left it in the car all week and it wouldn’t have known the difference.

Hamsters are a whole new ball game. They are cuddly and furry and soft and cute. They require food and water at regular intervals, and my three boys constantly want to hold him. I’m afraid for the little guy’s life when they start arguing about who gets him next.

The two little boys who own this hamster will notice if they don’t get it back. They might also notice if they get a different one back, so we are playing a high-stakes game here. One reason they might notice a covert hamster switch-out, is this one seems to have a bald spot on its right side. Also, its butt looks a little swollen and funny looking. Hmm… That almost looks like it could be a tumor. Crap!

Was it like that when we got him? Did he already have that bald spot, or is his fur falling out because of the curse? Is he even a he? His/her/its name is Hammie. That could go either way. How do you even tell if a dwarf hamster is a boy or a girl? I guess I’ll Google it.

Whoa!!!! OK, forget it, I don’t want to know! We only have him until tonight, so I’ll just feed him a little more food, refill his water bottle, pray that he gets picked up soon, and pray that I never accidentally Google “dwarf sexing” again.

See you soon,


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