Why I Don’t Own or Take Care of Pets

If you couldn’t guess from the title of this blog post, I am not an animal person. (Or extremely tactful.) I used to think I was (an animal person, that is), back in first grade. Since then, circumstances have forced me to admit that I do not have the aptitude or attitude to be a competent pet owner. Or even a temporary caregiver.

My journey to self-discovery began in first grade. Our neighbors went on vacation, leaving us in charge of their beta fish and turtle. After successfully killing scores of fish, I was overjoyed to have a pet that I could take out of its cage. One day, my self-unaware, six-year-old self carried the turtle out to our sandbox to play. I can’t remember why, but I ran into the house for a few minutes. When I returned, the turtle was gone.

I was devastated. Surely I would never be forgiven. I doubted that I could ever forgive someone who had lost my turtle.

My mom called the family to let them know. I cautiously approached her, trusting her judgment to see if I still had a friend. Mom assured me that I did. She also revealed the turtle’s name – Speedy.

Don’t you just love when irony decides to give you a little slap in the face?

Last summer, my neighbor (who, for purposes of this blog, I will call Danny) asked me to watch his gecko, Irwin, while his family was on vacation. (Thankfully, he can’t see the twigs tied into crosses that mark my hermit crab graveyard from three houses down.) I agreed, but warned him that I was volunteering at Vacation Bible School that week and wouldn’t be able to feed Irwin in the morning. He said that was fine.

And in doing so, he sealed poor Irwin’s fate.

My sister took care of Irwin in the morning. In the afternoon, when I got home, I brought up their mail and watered their plants (I am an excellent plant-sitter, by the way). My friend Brooke spent the night after the last day of VBS. In the morning, we walked to his house to fulfill my promise.

In Danny’s room, three decorative geckos climbed his wall. Glass bottles with lizards on them were lined up on his windowsill. There may or may not have been an Irwin shrine. And there was a slightly strange smell.

I looked in the glass cage. “Brooke…I don’t think the gecko’s moved all week.” I lifted the glass. “Brooke…it doesn’t look like his food’s been touched. And he looks really skeletal.”

Brooke looked in the cage. “Is he dead?”

We paused for a moment, staring at each other in shock. Then, we both sprinted down the hall, out the door, and into my house. Running from the lifeless, four-inch gecko much like the good people of Tokyo fled from his cousin, I left Brooke behind to fend for herself as I banged my screen door, yelling, “MOM! WE KILLED IRWIN!”

Not seeing any reason to disturb Danny with the news of his beloved reptile’s passing, I continued to refresh his water and give him fresh blueberries every day. (Just call me Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.)

The next time I saw Danny, he thanked me for taking care of Irwin. “He’s still alive?!” I blurted. Danny assured me he was. I smiled graciously, assured him that it was my pleasure to care for his gecko, and demurely pocketed the $20 he handed me.

Not really. The whole story tumbled out in a hysterical frenzy of babble. And his family paid me off with $40. (I’m sure they think I need to save up for therapy.)

Today, as I was running, I noticed a girl from my senior class walking what looked like Danny’s dog. A quick check on Facebook confirmed that Danny is in Georgia. Which means the family asked a girl who lives much further away than three houses down to take care of their pets.

Some of us learn from our little mistakes.

The rest of us grab a spade and take another trip to the pet store.