Sunday, April 02, 2006

How to end up a zookeeper without even trying

Here's how you, too, can find yourself living in a zoo.

I spent 21 years as a military cop, and one of the many lessons I've learned is that, according to criminals, the best burglar alarm is not electronic, and is not some kind of mechanical, Bugs Bunny-style Acme Safe with optional explosive trapdoor. It's a dog. So for many years now, we've had a medium-sized dog running around the house.

Not a useless little yappy dog, but a good German Shepherd-sized, fang-laden, friendly (but slightly territorial), four-legged burglar alarm.

My wife, however, is a cat person. She's happiest if she has a small bundle of fur purring in her lap. So, for many years, we've had two cats to keep each other company. Bucky (short for Buckethead) has grown into a fairly relaxed, if stubborn, old matriarch, and Phantom (because he has a mask like the Phantom of the Opera).

My youngest son has a bearded dragon, a 25" lizard, which stays in his room and hardly infringes on my life, so, other than to mention that we go through about a dozen crickets every two days, we won't really deal with him much.

Now, our primary dog, Tasha is a Labrador /German Shepherd mix: a lab/shep, in the simplified shorthand that we like to use. She is an even-tempered, pure-black German Shepherd in appearance, with a Labrador undercoat and webbed feed, so she swims like a fish and shakes off water like a seal.

So, of course, we brought her to Albuquerque. Where else would you take a water-loving dog but the middle of the high desert?

She has one minor personality quirk. When we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we didn't have a fenced backyard, so we put her on a run. And there she was, tied up, when a pack of dogs came along and attacked her. So she's never really gotten along with other dogs. Cats, yes. But dogs, no.

As she got older, we knew we were eventually going to have to replace her, and we thought it might be nice if she had somebody to play with. So last year, we got a puppy. Like all of our dogs, he came from the pound. We're reasonably certain that he's a Chesapeake Bay Retriever - a light chocolate-brown shorthair.

And sure enough, her maternal instinct overcame her dislike of other canines, and we were allowed to bring Boris into our house.

Unfortunately, as Boris got older, we discovered a minor problem - he's an idiot. Dumb as a bag of hammers. This might partly be due to a badly-healed skull-fracture that the vet discovered, which also led to his nose curving ever-so-slightly to the right. It might be due to the fact that Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are known to be a little vague. Or it might just be that he doesn't even have two brain cells to rub together.

Whatever the reason, we have Natasha and Boris. Tasha is a dignified, intelligent, beautiful beast, and Boris is both moose and squirrel rolled into one dust-covered package. He's lazy - he doesn't just sit, he'll lie down, or he'll lean against a wall. Some stray atom of thought will roll through the dark recesses of his skull, and he'll go bounding down the hall, running into walls, and either skid to a stop in the living room or ram, full-speed, into some piece of furniture. And then he'll stand there, looking around confused, because whatever phantom had momentarily interested him has apparently vanished into thin air.

Boris is also extremely friendly. He loves other dogs, people, cats, birds - anything that moves is his friend. We have hopes that a burglar breaks into our house while Tasha is still around, because left to his own devices, Boris will lick their faces and show them where we store the good china and the big TV.

So, there we were, with two dogs, two cats, and a lizard. Enough animals for one family, right?

Oh, no. My daughter Nicole broke up with her boyfriend, and the only thing that could console her was a kitten. So she ended up getting Pandora, a little black kitten with the strangest needy spells - she'll suddenly realize that she's alone in the world, and nothing can console her except to be held and actively petted. Which can be annoying at 2 a.m., by the way.

And I put my foot down. "We're done. No more animals." Is that unreasonable of me? We don't have a big enough house for the five humans we have living in it, and we're suddenly outnumbered by the animals! How the hell does this happen?

It just does.

But never make magnanimous statements like "Nope. No. More. Animals." Because Fate loves to hear a challenge like that.

My older son brought home another kitten one day, a younger version of Bucky. My first words, upon seeing this cat, were "Nope. We aren't taking it." And being a relatively reasonable human being, Luke (that's my older son) agreed that, indeed, we had no need of another cat. We were just watching it for his girlfriend, who'd be taking it off our hands any day now.

Well, as days rolled into weeks, we discovered why his wannabe-Goth girlfriend wasn't taking the kitten. She already had two cats at home, and she needed to get rid of them first. Or, more accurately, somebody else needed to get rid of these cats for her, because her family had apparently turned in their quota of cats to the pound already that year.

Luke's now-former girlfriend liked kittens, but once they weren't kittens any more, it seems that she didn't want them any more. So she wanted Luke and one of his other friends to each take one down to the pound, so that she could clear her house of cats, and her parents would let her have a new one.

That was a little too much for me. Nobody's going to kill two adult cats just to get a replacement, who'd probably suffer the same fate as she also grew into an adult (as kittens tend to do, after all). So, against my better judgment, we ended up with a fourth cat.

Did I mention that Luke's now-ex-girlfriend wanted to be a Goth? She did. And she'd named the cat Abandon. Stupidest damned name in the world: a verb, present tense, with negative qualities (like, say, Sting). So we truncated it, to Abby (or, occasionally, when she's particularly dim, Abby-normal, in honor of Mel Brooks).

That's how you end up living in a zoo. It's not your fault, it just happens.

And somehow, I have the feeling that, even if we can ever convince the kids to move out, the animals are going to stay.

Because that seems to be how my life works.

1 comment:

Joyful Alternative said...

Maybe it's because you live in the desert that you acquire animals only by people bringing them home.

In Pennsylvania--when I was in densely packed Philadelphia and when I lived on the edge of an exurban forest--cats pretty much knock on my door and invite themselves in.