It is a truth universally acknowledged that my family has never owned a normal pet.
Aside from the usual dogs and cats, we’ve had rabbits, fish, crabs, chickens, a goat, and a mouse. Few of them were acquired on purpose. Most simply showed up, and because we are bleeding hearts one and all (even, or perhaps especially, my grumbling father), they stayed.
The rabbits got ear mites. The dogs got mange. The chickens were determined to become housepets. The fish ate each other. The crabs died, mysteriously, one after another after another, until we forbade my little sister from bringing home any more.
My older sister’s “free to good home!” dog caused hundreds of dollars of property damage before, and occasionally after, getting his separation-anxiety meds. (Readers of my book — you know how Shadows bond to one person, whom they love and need and can’t be away from? They are partly inspired by this dog.)
Of the feral kittens we gradually tamed and brought inside, one never quite adapted to being touched. Which made it a twice-daily trial worthy of those creative punishers, the Greeks, when she developed epilepsy and had to be given a pill twice a day. (Pill poppers. Look ’em up. They’re priceless.)
And of course there was Dottie, the Dalmatian who showed up at my grandparents’ house in the country, fat and toothless and ancient. We thought it a small enough kindness to keep her comfortable her last year or two. (Nearly a decade later, much of it with so little hip mobility she had to be steered around by her hind legs like a wheelbarrow, she finally had a stroke. And survived it.)
In my particular case, there was Lucy, a kitten being passed around among my extended relations. I made the horrible mistake of taking her on as a college student. She turned out to have an umbilical hernia requiring surgery, a sensitive stomach requiring expensive food, a lifelong unconquerable insistence on pooping on the floor, and, most recently — diabetes.
It should be noted that none of this has bothered Lucy nearly as much as it bothers me. The hernia was fixed before it became seriously painful — what does she care that it’s probably still included in my unpaid credit card balance? The special food, well, it’s nice enough, but she would so much rather have the other cat’s food, and if it makes her intestines bleed, what of it? Pooping on the floor — well, it’s not like she has to clean it up. And the only difference diabetes makes in her life is that suddenly, her beloved Mommy is determined to poke her with a sharp thing twice a day. What a weird fixation! Doesn’t she know that stings? She’s tried rolling over on her back every time the needle approaches, to communicate her displeasure, but Mommy doesn’t seem to get it. Gosh, humans are stupid.
And if Mommy is afraid of needles and had a complete meltdown on discovering she would have to give a shot twice a day for the rest of her cat’s lifespan, well that’s just really not her concern at all, is it?
(P.S. Dottie is no longer with us — the stroke worsened her condition to the point where we finally had to put her down. But darn it, she never went down, she had to be put down. The entire family is convinced she’d been made immortal, ancient and toothless for decades, wandering from one family of suckers to the next. …We miss her a lot.)