This is Sonic.
You might have noticed that he’s a snake. He was the second reptile to come live with us, but he has not been the last. More on all those another time.
Sonic came to live with us just after my oldest daughter’s ninth birthday – somehow, the ninth birthday has become when you get your first non-fish personal pet in our family. A teeny tiny noodle at the time, eight or nine months old, he was only managing a very small prey. He’s a little longer these days, but still not terribly big around.
He’s a Sunglow (or Sunkissed) corn snake, a colour morph, and he’s been very, very easy to take care of, probably spoiling us for future reptiles, in fact. If you’re not familiar with snakes, he, like most corn snakes in my experience, is fairly tolerant of handling. Interactive and well, not affectionate as reptiles aren’t really programmed that way, but he holds on and doesn’t try too hard to escape.
At this point, he’s almost 9 1/2 years old, and normal for a corn snake in captivity and good health is adding up to about 20 or so. I understand the verified record is 32. He’s also what 5 1/2 feet long, which is a little bit longer than his average. We met the world record holding corn snake a few years ago at a science fiction convention, much thicker around than sonic, and also about a foot longer than he is now.
Were not really worried about world records, though. He’s cute, fun, and interactive, and we’ve enjoyed having him around.
Say hi to Sonic.
Be well, everyone.by
by Moments before I had to leave for work this morning, my wife discovered that our menagerie had lost one of its members overnight. Peach, the last and oldest of our Ps in a pod, passed sometime during the night, sleeping in her hide.
This is an old picture, but a favourite. Peach is the one hiding I the back. (We both lost Peanut, left, and Pepper, right, last year, months apart.)
Based on age estimates when we brought Peach and her sister Pepper home, she was somewhere between five and six years old, which, by everything I’ve read, is at the higher end of average for the little fur balls.
Peach was always super skittish for a Guinea Pig, only settling in the last few months to the point where I could reach into the cage to stroke her without her getting as far away from my hand as she could, and still running away when someone tried to pick her up for cuddling or cage cleaning. In the wild, they’re prey animals, and some of them hold those instincts pretty well. She was one.
I’ve been thinking for a while that she was getting old, and didn’t like how bony she was starting to feel in places (which is also natural when they’re old as weight redistributes), though her appetite and activity level never really wavered that I could tell. Age caught up to her sometime during the night, and I hope it did so while she was sleeping. I missed my chance for a final scratch by going to bed early to relieve some exhaustion.
The Guinea Pigs we’ve had have all technically been my daughters’ pets, though I’ve done most of the cleaning over the last couple of years, at least, as well as toenail clipping duty, and have shared with my wife in making sure there’s always food and water, and that the cage was always secure against curious felines (only one has ever even really looked). Cuddling wasn’t so much on my list, though I have held her at times, and she was warm and furry and cute. She loved carrots and kale, tolerated affection well, at least once you caught her, preferred to have a blanket or a towel to hide under even when in your lap, and didn’t pee on you very much, which I’ve certainly experienced with other rodents.
It’s strange how we get attached to the other life forms around us. Peach wasn’t a big part of my life, but for the last several years, she’s always been there. Running from my attempts at affection, yelling for treats when she thought she was entitled, quietly wheeking when the food bowl, hay rack, or water bottle wasn’t as full as she thought it should be.
I might not be feeling it as intensely as my daughters, but I’ll feel it more intensely because of them and I’m certainly feeling the small hole Peach’s departure has left in my life. To borrow a phrase, my mental pathways have become accustomed to her sensory input patterns.
Once upon a time, we had three Guinea Pigs. Now we have none. There are no plans for more, but if we drop by the shelter some time and they have one or two in the cage at the front, it will be hard to say no.
by So I’m not sure why the phrase “pet parent” irritates me so much, far more than pet owner.
Actually, that’s not true. I am sure, but that surety actually had a couple of people willing to argue about it with me yesterday, even after I offered a better word.
What’s the word?
Guardian. You’re not a parent, you’re a guardian.
Someone is shouting semantics at their computer screen right now, but it’s not. The difference between parent and guardian is not like the difference between big and large, far and distant, or brother/sister and sibling. Parent and guardian are not synonyms, they define two different relationships.
As a parent, your job is generally to raise a child from birth (or sometime later in childhood in the case of adoption) to adulthood, gradually teaching them how to think and act for themselves and to become a functional member of society.
This is not what you’re doing with your pet. (There are exceptions with children, too, but these are not the rule, and then I’d suggest both parent and guardian as relationship titles.)
Any animal you bring into your family—and that’s absolutely what you’re doing, no matter how small they are—you’ve taken responsibility for every aspect of their life, from the moment of their arrival to that horrible day when they die in your arms or you have to make that decision no one wants to make. You’re a guardian.
Children eventually start to detach themselves from you and find their own place in the world. Pets don’t. You’re never going to explain sex, love, death, or other complicated things to your cat. You’re never going to teach your dog to drive or help your Guinea Pig study for a math test. Your gecko isn’t looking for dating advice and your corn snake won’t need to be taught the realities of social media.
Your child will eventually learn to feed her/himself, but you’re opening a fresh can of dog food every single day for as long as that dog is with you. Your child will (someday) clean things up on their own, but you’d better keep scooping the litter box.
Pets are not children. You are not their parent. Think about it. Really think about it. To your pet, you are everything, the bringer of food and warmth and affection, the solver of problems and the cleaner of messes, and the absolute centre of their world. Your child will learn how to do or be all of these themselves and if it takes longer for some than others, it also takes longer than most pets will be with you.
Guardian. It’s a different kind of relationship than parent. To your pet, it’s all encompassing.
“Pet Parent”, I’m fairly certain, is a term coined by some marketing whiz to help sell us stuff for our pets we don’t really need.
Be well, everyone.by
by Cyrus came to live with us a year ago today. A year ago today, at the local shelter, he stepped into a little plastic carrier, endured the short ride to our home, and started following us around.
Almost exactly a year before that, Leo left us. 17 years old, plus a little, we’d had Leo since just before our first anniversary, since long before we had the kids. And he outlived his sister Xena by less than three months. We brought them home as a pair, inheriting them from a co-worker of my wife’s, when they were just a year old. So they were about the same age as our marriage. And as far as the kids were concerned, Leo and Xena had always been there.
I still miss them both.
Cyrus is been a welcome addition to our family. He did not fill the slowly shrinking hole left by Leo and Xena. That wasn’t his job. It still isn’t his job. He’s not Leo or Xena, and other than being a cat, he’s not all that much like either of them. He is his own completely separate individual, aggressively affectionate, constantly underfoot, slow destroyer of furniture. At least certain pieces of it. Lactose intolerant, dumpster diver, non-explorer, and possessor of more nicknames than Leo and Xena had combined.
Bubbles. Fluffy the Hutt. The House Wookie. The World’s Largest Tribble. Rigel. Cousin Itt. Yes, most of these are geek inspired nicknames and make note of either the volume of hair, or the volume of his stomach.
Cyrus was three when we got him, and had spent at least one, and probably two, of those years as a stray. He at least licks every item potentially classifiable as food that hits the floor, and he’s still not above occasionally checking the garbage to see if someone has throw out something that he thinks is appetizing. I have teenagers, so that happens regularly in garbage cans he can easily access. The kids are slowly being trained.
When the shelter took him in, he weighed 8 pounds. When we got him, he might have reached ten. After we’d had him for three months, it was clearly time to stop free feeding and establish fixed meal times with fixed quantities, because he was almost 15 and a half. Trying to control his food intake since, I think he’s just a little over 14, or was the last time we weighed him. It’s still hard to tell with all of the fur, but I think he probably should be about 11.5 or 12 pounds.
But as long as he’s happy, healthy, and gets around okay (because he’s got some arthritis in at least one hip/back leg, legacy of an accident he suffered as a stray that didn’t heal quite properly, whatever it might have been—and he has a funky toe on the back foot that goes with it), I’m okay with him carrying an extra pound or two. It’s kind of like me carrying an extra 20 or so.
But it was a year ago today that we brought home a bedraggled, pathetic, scrawny little feline. He’s built his own place in our lives and seems quite comfortable there. We’re happy to have him.
Celebrating a year of cat.
by Is it normal for a grown man to write about his cat?
More importantly, do I care? As far as I’m concerned, we all define our own normal. Therefore, it’s normal for this grown man to write about his cat.
I’m a cat person. This doesn’t mean I don’t like dogs (I love dogs, though I am slightly allergic), but cats have much to recommend them as pets. Even when they’re lactose intolerant, like mine.
They’re affectionate, independent, entertaining, far more adaptable to you working odd shifts than many other pets, and if you leave extra food out to cover them for an extra day due to a crazy work schedule or last second trip, they don’t eat it all in the first few seconds.
Ah, but I haven’t said why you should care, particularly about my cat. Because it doesn’t matter to you that it’s taken him eight months in our house to get around to exploring the second floor in detail or starting sneaking into people’s beds when they’re not looking. It doesn’t matter to you that he understands and adapts to our schedule and family to the point where he meets you at the door when you come home. And it certainly doesn’t matter to you that when I pick him up, he puts a paw on either side of my neck and starts rubbing on my chin.
None of those things, or any of the other cute, funny, or annoying things he does, matter to anyone beyond the immediate family, except perhaps on a reaction level of “Aw, isn’t that cute.”
Except that on some level they inform my writing. Some of his odd little behaviours might find their way into a pet in a story, or a character, or both. The way his fur drifts in the wind when he’s shedding, the scent of a needed clean up when someone has left out half a bowl of cream of mushroom soup somewhere he can reach it, the thump he makes on the kitchen floor when he falls over in front of you so you can rub his belly.
But there’s a higher level, and a far more important one, than that.
The fact that I’m a cat person and how I feel about my particular cat will tell the keen observer many things about me. It’s part of how I see the world, and that can’t help but inform my writing, because it’s part of who I am.
So if I post a picture of my cat on Facebook once in a while, or here, take it for an expression of part of my worldview and smile that he’s cute and fluffy.
Be well, everyone.by