Monday, October 1, 2012

No More Pets for Me. Sigh.

I have no pets currently residing in my house. And now I'm going to declare something that probably will offend you. I say this without shame. Alright, maybe with a little shame because it sounds heartless and selfish and there are so many shelter animals needing homes, but at midlife (this is not a decision made lightly) I don't want to live with a pet and probably never will again.

Please understand--I love animals. Well, not rats or those huge scary water bugs that skitter across floors in tropical hotels. I adore, from drive-by distance, the lambs that gambol on a farm near my home and the horses that roam the pasture down the road. Most of all, I love dogs and cats.
No only child wanted a dog more than I did. I lived in a New York City apartment building where pets were allowed but most families didn't have them. Space was limited. In some cases, funds were short. It was an era when mothers had just begun to work outside the home and parents' time and attention were at a premium. I remember there being only one dog in our building--Watson, a Cocker Spaniel who lived with an unmarried physician.

I pled for a dog. My father had grown up with a Chow Chow named Ming; my mom with Ginger, a Fox Terrier. So they were sympathetic...but unyielding. I had to settle for the typical Brooklyn apartment default pet, a turtle purchased at a Ringling Brothers Circus souvenir concession. Myrtle sported a clown decal on her shell and probably salmonella beneath it. When she died, there was a succession of goldfish including Caesar, Cleopatra, and Nero I, II and II. My mother used a kitchen strainer to scoop the final Nero from his floating funeral at the top of the fishbowl. My father said a prayer over the tiny tarnished body nestled in a square of toilet paper. Then we gave Nero III a burial at sea. Flush!
I've had two cats in my immediate world. First, Tabu who slipped through an open brownstone window to adopt my husband and me. Tabu combined a gentle soul with the wary alertness of a vagrant who'd seen action on city streets. We had a decade with her and after she died we adopted Carrie, formerly a mouser on a farm in rural Maryland. My son Gary promptly named her "Psycho Cat" for the way she arched her back, electrified her coat and hissed menacingly each time he reached to pet her. My daughter Amanda, in pre-school, named Carrie for her best friend. Carrie seemed kind of a kitty version of me. Red highlights glinted her fur. Her bones were tiny. She never weighed more than 4 1/2 pounds. And her personality was an unpredictable amalgam of purring warmth and feisty, spitting spirit. Amanda was in graduate school when Carrie, tamed by a gentling dementia, died at age 24. She was the oldest cat our vet had ever treated. Post mortem, the medical staff pressed her paw into plaster to make a remembrance paperweight that I keep near my laptop where I spend a lot of time.

So I'm not without a history of close personal relationships with animals. But now I'm convinced my pet-in-residence days have passed. Not only because their inevitable loss is another reason to grieve, but because their presence is inconvenient. And before you convict me of incredible self-absorption, I mean inconvenient for them as well. Also unfair. My kids are grown and out of the house. I miss them but cherish my freedom. I come home late some nights. I'm away many hours some days. Dogs need romping, Frisbee-throwing time. Cats, despite their reputation for independence, are made quietly content by human companionship. And I've lived with litter boxes in guest bathrooms long enough. Bonus: now I can plan more travel. I know folks who kennel their animals and take off for Africa for a three-week safari. I repeat: Unfair! 

I've been told by a physician friend that the presence of a pet lowers human blood pressure, reduces stress and adds to longevity. I've noticed, however, that he doesn't share his premises with a pet for all those therapeutic benefits. Truth is, I'm not without pet company. I'm close to a number of dogs. Lefty is elegant and exuberant in turn, a real charmer. I love him and live with him during vacations spent with his parents. My pal Allan Zendell chronicled his connection with Haley, a fabulous Golden Retriever, in his book A Boy and His Dog--An Unfinished Love Story. Two adorable Havanese pups make visits with Cousin Erica even more fun. My daughter's family includes Chaucer and Avery, a pair of aging toms. And Louie, an affectionate tabby, rules my son and daughter-in-law's house. But when time spent with these wonderful creatures is over, I go home to a pet-hair free, dander free (and one set of grandkids is allergic), muddy-paw-print free, slobber and bark free life.

I know you're going to skewer me for this post. In spite of which, I welcome your responses. Really. Please be aware however that all threatening comments will immediately be forwarded to the FBI-- copy to the ASPCA (sigh).

Toby Devens

19 comments:

  1. Def not going to chide you on your decision--you decided what was right for you. I love having a (small) dog, and feel I would miss out not having one. However, when my now 5-year old mini-poo passes on, I may decided not to re-up again. We do travel--a good bit--but I found a home that will board my pooch and he loves it there. So, it is possible to manage,it's just a question of what one is really motivated to do.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Toby-

    From the time I was 4, I desperately wanted a dog. My mother ruled the house on that issue: NO. The best day of the week was Sunday, when my father would take me down to the store on Market Place so he could feed Susie, the part Dalmatian/part Beagle. Eventually, I was allowed to have goldfish. I had 19 of them. Since I am a monogamous pet owner (one pet at a time), I had a goldfish until it died and got flushed. Did I mention they were all named "Sam?" My sister and I used to walk around the house lamenting "Poor Sam..." Could it be that they died because I used to pet them? Hmmm...I got my first dog when I was 17. My last dog died in 2005. No more dogs, I vowed. I loved them too much and was always heartbroken when they died. And who wants to walk the neighborhood in the rain or snow at 3 AM? Why go through all of this tsouris and angst? And then my late best friend Nancy's husband died - and I inherited their cat, Mitzi. Yikes! Since I knew nothing about felines, I depended and still do depend on my cat friends to keep me and Mitzer on the straight and narrow. No, I can't give up having an animal. I need someting furry to cuddle with. It's something basic in my soul...someting I suspect I was born with. I have dog lovers on both sides of my family. I guess it's in the blood. Sometime, I call my cat Puppy...Sigh...

    Miaow from Mitzer and Binnie Syril Braunstein

    ReplyDelete
  3. We're debating the same decision when our kitty goes across the rainbow bridge - still years away, probably, since she'd always been as healthy as the proverbial healthy horse. But we also have a couple of lengthy trips on our bucket lists and although we have a lovely pet sitter as well as (finally!) neighbors who can visit her, she's MY kitty. One of us has separation anxiety, and it's not her. Anyway, we'll take a break from fur-babies for a few years to travel and then who knows? I may turn into the crazy cat lady.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As much as I loved Haley, I only had shared custody - she belonged first and always to my son - he's the Boy in the title of my story. She was more than a pet, she was a source of endless, dependable love and affection. Just by being Haley, she taught my wife to overcome her fear of animals, no small thing.

    When it fell to me to nurse sweet Haley after brain surgery, I put all of myself into it, and Haley did likewise. Some people say dogs don't love, they just learn behaviors because of their dependency. Say what you will, what I felt with Haley those five months was a loving bond unique in my life. She died with my son and me holding her nineteen months ago, and I still feel the pain more sharply than anything else I can remember.

    But when you and others have said, "Why don't you have one of your own," my response has been the same yours, Toby. I'm too old to be a full time pet owner. It would be selfish and not fair to the animal that trusted and depended on me. And I never want to have the power of life and death over a loving friend again. So I'm with you on this, Toby, 100 percent.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I still selfishly, perhaps, have cats. We do travel a lot, and if we didn't have such a reliable cat sitter we'd be in trouble.

    I do remember when a cookbook editor friend in NY died, leaving her cat Rose. I always hoped that Rose got a good home.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Our beloved family dog had to be put to sleep when I was in college. I cried for weeks. After that, my parents (life long dog owners) decided they didn't want another. My mom said it would be too painful and plus, they wanted the freedom to travel. Being a pet owner is a big responsibility. Now that I have my own dog, I wouldn't trade her for the world and can't bear to think of the day when she will no longer be part of our lives. I'm sure we'd get another because I want my daughter to have the joy of growing up with a dog in the house. But I can't begrudge you the freedom of non-pet ownership, Toby. Sounds like you have some grand-pets to go along with the grandkids!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I adore my two tiny chihuahuas and they do relieve my stress every day. They can often calm my high-strung self when nothing else can. But sharing life with an animal is a lot of responsibility and certainly not for everyone. No one should feel apologetic about choosing a pet-free life. Besides, you never know when some fur-friend will just walk into your life unbidden.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have two westies and they add fun and bit of craziness to my life. But I can understand the decision to be pet less.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Toby et al.:
    I understand completely, as not only an animal lover and owner for most of my life--but as someone who can relate to the benefits (for both pet owner and pet) of not continuing to have pets when the time is right for that change---for whatever reason. Now, having said that, I am still grieving the loss of our beloved "Max," a Springer-Spaniel-Beagle mix, who literally saved my husbands life (after Matchmaker.com led me to him, as I shared in last month's post....) by alerting me to him having a hypoglycemic attack in his sleep, and becoming unconscious. Had Max not barked, yelped, and nudged me awake at 3 am, my hubby would not be alive today. Nonetheless, I don't think we could go through such a loss again....we are comforted, however, by the presence of three felines that adopted us (in truth, I am more comforted than my husband, who is not a "cat person"), but when the time is right to stop our days of pet ownership, we have already talked about another option: fostering a homeless pet. We have had friends who have done this for both dogs and cats, anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months (or more, but this is optional), as an alternative to pet ownership, and I just wanted to throw it out there as an option. PAWS (Partnership for Animal Welfare) maintains a list of rescue organizations that need foster caregivers for homeless pets, and it might be something to consider, even if you only did it once a year! (see: http://www.paw-rescue.org/others.php) Yes, this is a completely different relationship with an animal, but without such volunteers, animals could not be cared for long enough to be placed in permanent, loving homes of others who are more able to care for them permanently than we may be....
    ~Deb

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nancy and Rebecca, you're very fortunate to have found private homes for boarding and trustworthy pet sitters to provide care and company for your cats. That's the solution for long trips away. Part of my situation is never being sure when I'll be back from, say, a day visit with the grandkids who are local. Rainy nights, I may chose to stay over with them. A one night absence is okay for cats--applied sparingly. Making coverage arrangements for dogs provides greater challenges.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ah, Binnie, I'm glad you inherited the cat of your dreams after a nineteen goldfish childhood. Personally, I've never wandered through my house lamenting, "Poor Sam." But I did mourn when the Airedale I mentioned in my post barked his last.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks, Willa, for taking time from your busy schedule to respond. BTW everyone, check out Amazon for Willa's new book, just released on Kindle. "Highland Healer," a historical romance set in--what else, with that name?--Scotland, is a riveting read.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Alan, you've said it all. Haley was a wonderful dog and you were there for her throughout, even if you weren't her primary care provider. She knew it too!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Ah, Toby, there are times when I wish I could go petless, especially as I pack a bag for a trip and Willow sits watching with an "How can you leave us?" expression on her puss and Lucky disappears to express his displeasure. And I guilt-trip the whole time I'm gone, even though a pet sitter comes to see to their every need. But the truth is they're my heart, a major reason to get out of bed in the morning to escape being walked on - my furry alarm clocks, as it were. And I need their companionship as much or more than they need mine. So we'll suffer through the occasional week away and when they make the trip over the Rainbow Bridge, I'll get another one or two. Again, they're my heart. And a body needs a heart.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Cindy, so pleased you chimed in. You're giving your daughter a great gift. And a dog is much better than a turtle, believe me. Who wants to snuggle up to a cold-blooded animal on a frosty winter night?

    In child rearing years, we always had a beloved pet in the house. But for me,those times have passed.

    On the other hand, for all my protests, one never knows if, when the day comes that I'm too old to wing it to Paris or Istanbul, I'll change my mind and find a Chihuaha (a la Elizabeth) or a Westie (like Eileen's two) to ride in my lap as I spin down the nursing home halls. Maybe I'll reconsider in about thirty years!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm with you, Tob...snuggling up to a cold-blooded animal reminds me of my Ex...I lost my faithful and adored Trixie (Boxer) over 5 years ago. My heart was broken but the thoughts of replacing her were too painful. Last week, a woman called and asked me to come see a "rescue" Boxer. Against my better judgement (when has that ever stopped me?), I did. Big Mac (stands for BM and we all know why), lives here now. He eats window blinds, marks his territory, and don't even think of leaving food on the counter. Sigh...but BM loves me. He fills me up. We all have to do what feels right for ourselves. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another. I applaud you for living YOUR truth! Now 'cuse me while I hawk one kidney on Craig's list. It's time to buy dog food.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Okay, you shoved me beyond hysterical laughter and into snorting with that one, Georgia. I know, I know...dogs slobber you with unconditional love. Cats, if they twitch a whisker at you, you feel adored. And I love them back, all pets, even guppies (who don't give a fin). These days tho, I just don't want to have to take care of anything that sheds, barks, or requires worming.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'd eliminate the "Sigh" in the title. Good for you for knowing what is best for you. The last pet is gone as of today. I can't remember not having a pet. Often, it was a matter of taking on the care of children's pets. Perhaps two of the lot over the years, were truly wonderful. I don't think that parents should inherit their grown children's pets. Enough. Frankly, I'm looking forward to life without pets - just discovering what that is - I have no idea. Like babies, for the sake of babies, having pets is a curious practice, really. Nothing is going to substitute for developing a full life. For many, that obviously includes pets. Don't get me wrong. In the past have deeply mourned the loss of a pet for five years. I don't even want to volunteer at a shelter. No more. It is past time to experience this life without dependents.

    ReplyDelete
  19. In my teens in the 70's I had a Golden Retriever named Leslie. Where we met is where I buried her. A day doesn't go by when I don't think of her. If there is a life after this one we will be together again. That said there is NO place in my life for animals anymore and never will be again. I don't care what anybody thinks!

    ReplyDelete