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).