The people involved in the conversation discussed how owning, and subsequently losing a pet helps children come to terms with death. I was very uncomfortable by this point. I'd already been spouting forth with my opinions regarding the benefits to children of owning a pet however this particular subject left me feeling uncomfortable. I had two choices open to me.
CHOICES OPEN TO ME AT THIS POINT.
- Stay, gather people closer and tell them the tragic tale of our dearly departed pets, knowing that they'll shed a tear, then envelop me in a warm embrace and thank me for my honesty (perhaps end on a song, probably the theme from the littlest hobo- 'there's a voice keeps on calling me, down the road thats where I want to be') Expect tears, high fives, group hugs etc
- Remember a terribly urgent (made up) meeting and rush off knowing the subject of our dead pets was never going to win me any friends/supporters, in fact I'm very likely to end up on some kind of register if not 'hit list'
We had a fair few fish in the early days, which despite being well looked after, died As all good parents do, we replaced the fish, however we were sprung when I replaced a black fish with an orange one. We tried all the excuses in the book:
- when black fish grow up they become orange (it's the same with children, we've no idea what colour you're going to end up)
- we've fed them orange fish food which changes their colour (I'd be cutting down on the baked beans if I were you)
- you're a halfwitted child who clearly has no idea what colour your sodding fish was in the first place
WE GOT A HAMSTER
The hamster was dark brown and we called it 'Button' (as in chocolate button). It was very cute to look at but less cute when you touched it. In fact it was a vicious bugger. Both children spent months with bleeding fingers Often when Joe was cleaning the hamster out, he would run past me, screeching and waving his hand above his head, in a mad windmilling gesture. A closer look revealed that the hamster was savagely clamped to his finger. (To give the hamster its due it must have been brave, I wouldn't put Joes finger anywhere near my mouth, they're like portable listeria) By this point I'd given up on dealing with hamster related injuries, so I letft him to it. Sadly we found the hamster dead in it's cage a couple of weeks later, apparently hamsters can have very short life spans. Breaking the news to the children was not as traumatic as I'd expected. They didn't even feign grief, instead they made a suggestion, so.....
WE GOT A GUINEA PIG
After the hamster incident, any parent in their right mind would have refused, based on fact that if owning a small rodent in a cage wasn't enjoyable, owning a bigger rodent in a cage was unlikely to be a barrel of laughs. However as I am not of sound mind I agreed. The guinea pig came to live with us in the June. He was black and we called him Ozzy after the prince of darkness. I'm sure guinea pigs aren't know for their sparkling personalities however this thing was dull. He just sat in his cage, looking at things, sometimes he walked a few inches, then did some more sitting and some looking. You couldn't pick him up because he bit you. Like I say DULL.
His only redeeming feature was that he ate his own poo. Now I'm not suggesting for one second that eating ones own poo is acceptable or even welcomed, however it does give you an edge above the 'norms' in terms of talking points. 'Marion, this is James, he's an accountant, enjoys stamp collecting and in his spare time he eats his own poo' See instantly you're intrigued, you're probably repulsed too but the point is you've changed your opinion of James. He might sicken you to your very stomach but at least you have an opinion.
This animal died too, I suspect we over fed it actually, because it did no exercise and just laid around eating, it was the size of a small badger by the time we found him passed away in his cage. PS I later found out that all guinea pigs eat their own poo, so its not like it was his own, original idea. This disappointed me, he really was a dull as we all thought.
There was still very little grief or weeping or wailing from the boys.(none) Now I know you'd think I should be glad, but every book on parenting I've read (none - I'm just making it up as I go along, stumbling from one parenting disaster to the next) said that losing a pet helps children come to terms with grief. WHAT GRIEF? These two were practically giddy with delight trying to decide what pet they could lose interest in next. What will they do when I slip off this mortal coil, toss me in a skip and get a labrador no doubt.
We refused another pet for nearly a year, however the boys started to moan that everyone had a pet but them. I caved eventually after a particularly long bout of good behaviour (35minutes) and agreed to get another pet. Now, this one seemed more hopeful, it was interesting and educational and I thought it would probably hold their interest, so we did our research and
WE GOT A SNAKE
The snake was a big hit from the start. He was a 5ft black and white cornsnake, he was very friendly, and everyone seemed to like him. We didn't know what to call him at first (Thanks go to the pet shop for their 'oh so' useful tip. 'Whatever you do, don't call it Syd. Its a common name for snakes'. I covered poor Syd's ears when he said this, no child wants to know his name has hit #1 in the top hundred boys names for snakes for the 25th year running) So obviously we called him Freddy after Freddy Mercury (no, no idea either!) and he held the boys attention.
The only downside to owning a snake was having a tupperware box of frozen mice in the freezer. When we bought our first box of mice the useful pet shop man gave us some hints and tips
- If the snake doesn't take the mouse dance it around in front of the snake so it gets it interested (is merely jiggling it OK? Should I attach strings to each tiny paw allowing the mouse to attract the snakes attention by dancing to thriller?)
- If the snake won't eat the mouse brain it (I wish I'd never asked, I'm not telling you google it if you've got a strong stomach)
- Some snakes are picky and will only eat certain colour mice (do brown mice taste different to white mice - are they like bread?)
- Don't defrost them in the kettle. Yes you heard. DO NOT DEFROST THEM IN THE KETTLE. This is what he told us, apparently he's heard of people defrosting the mice in their kitchen kettles....JESUS WEPT....whatever next, eating your own poo?
About a year later we got our beautiful bullmastiff Mica, who we all completely love, in fact it was when we were in the garden recently with Mica that we started talking about the pets who had gone before. I looked around our garden and asked Phil were they were buried. He didn't seem to understand, so I asked him again, he looked confused,
'Buried?' he asked
'Yes, buried' I repeated, wondering if he was in some kind of delayed catatonic grief state.
'They're not buried' he replied.
I was confused, if they weren't buried, where were they. I looked at him waiting for an explanation.
'I've been putting them in the dog poo bin on the field!'
THE DOG POO BIN....
He had been putting our dear deceased pets, in Morrisons carrier bags and dropping them in a dog poo bin, because he didn't want cats digging them up. I was horrified and couldn't help wonder....
Mica is a 9stone bullmastiff, when her day comes how on earth will he squeeze her into the dog poo bin?
I'm hiding the hacksaws.