Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Pet pandemonium

Years ago, when my kids were little, I was prevailed upon to take them to a birthday party. It was all I’d expected it would be: awash with small people on screaming sugar highs and moms drinking tea. I snuck into the kitchen, found the cooking sherry, poured myself a stiff one, and went and perched at the back of the living room where a puppet show was in progress, at an open window so I could have a cigarette without invoking the wrath of the other mothers or poisoning the pretty pink lungs of their offspring.

The guy doing the puppet show had a strange little furry mitt on one of his hands which he introduced to his rapt audience as his pet. ‘And do any of you have pets?’ he asked, looking around at the little sea of expectant faces.

My daughter, a loudmouth even then, was sitting right in the front, and piped up, ‘We don’t!’

‘Oh,’ said puppet guy. ‘And why’s that?’

‘Because my mom hates pets,’ my daughter said, and an entire roomful of disappointed human beings, young and old, turned and glared at me. I blew a plume of smoke out the window, took a hefty sip of sherry and said, ‘Cheers!’ There wasn’t really anything else I could do.

The thing is, it was the truth back then. I couldn’t stand cats because the small house we lived in was one of the only dwellings in the neighbourhood with a patch of garden to call its own, and it was used liberally by the neighbourhood feline population as a toilet. As a result, in summer, we could hardly open the windows because of the smell.

We didn’t have the space for a dog, and anyway, I didn’t want an animal whose crap I’d have to personally dispose of every day.

Under pressure from my kids, I’d done goldfish. After stinking out the house for a few months, they ended up belly-up. I was immensely relieved.

And we’d inherited a hamster – unwillingly – from someone who’d had to leave town in a hurry. The stupid thing slept all day, ran loudly on its wheel all night, and was eventually squeezed to death by an overenthusiastic four-year-old visitor. I was sad for the method of its passing but not for the fact of it.

So it’s hard to rationalise why I now have a special-needs dog and four cats. The honest, if slightly bizarre, explanation is that most of them simply turned up at my house and wouldn’t go away. Those that didn’t were (reluctant) rescues of various kinds.

My small zoo has cost me a large fortune over the years. Between sterilisations and vaccinations, ear mites and birdlice, allergies and injuries, I’ve forked out more moolah for my animals’ continuing good health than I ever have for my own or my children’s.

Last week’s visit to the vet was a corker, though. I realised that one of my cats, Evan, normally a chatty, happy creature, had become somewhat withdrawn, and his breath was bad. And I mean not just normal yucky cat-breath bad. Really, really bad.

So off we went, Evan in a cat basket and yowling all the way, to the animal hospital. The vet (who, bless him, has to exercise immense self-control not to rub his hands together in fiscal delight when he sees me coming) listened to my story, lifted the lid on the cat basket, took a gander at Evan’s gums, reeled back a couple of steps, and said, ‘You’re going to have to leave him overnight.’

Evan had advanced periodontal disease, a serious ailment in cats that can lead to organ failure. He had to be put under anaesthetic and have a dentist (a real, live, honest-to-god dentist) operate on him, after which there were five days of trying to get antibiotics down his gullet morning and evening, an exhausting process than involved, mainly, Evan scratching the crap out of me while I tried to prise his little jaws open, then running round the corner and spitting out the pill before taking off for the day and hiding in the roof. Oh, and, of course, my bank account is lighter by about a grand.

Was it worth it? Well, let me put it this way. When I lay me down to sleep at night, with The Wobbly Dog twitching in her basket by my bed, and four cats stationed immovably at various inconvenient points around my body (have you ever tried to shift a comfortable cat? I don’t know how, but they make themselves as heavy as lead), at least all I have to deal with are the normal givings-off of domestic animals – hair in abundance, farts, grunts and purrs. The terrible cat-breath stink is gone, and Evan is happy and chatty again.

And, hell, it’s only money.

PS This reminds me of my sister’s embarrassment, when her then 5-year-old daughter’s preschool teacher asked for ‘a word’ (a mother’s worst nightmare) when she came to fetch her child one day.

‘The thing is,’ said the teacher, ‘I went around the class and asked the kids what pets they had. Your daughter said you had dogs, and when I asked what kind, she answered, ‘‘Fuckens’’.’

‘Well,’ said my sister, making her eyes wide with mystification, ‘I don’t know what she meant. We have a border collie and a maltese poodle.’

But she and her husband had to amend their attitude to their dogs, both of whom were incessant barkers. And when they woke the neighbourhood with a bout of yapping late at night, they had to remember not to scream out in irritation, ‘Shut up, you fucking dogs!’

Stumble Upon Toolbar


meggie said...

I almost died laughing at this. I love it. I love that your sister pretended to be mystified.
Our dogs, as you may note if you look at them are bloody barkers!
They dont seem to get that they need to just shut up!
I was like you- when young, & the kids were young, the last thing I needed was another mouth to feed, & more shit & vomit to clean up.
Of course now, it is a whole other story.

tonypark said...

My mum spent $2000 (about R12000) on eye surgery for one of her cats.

True story. At the time I may have said something uncharitable like "give the money to me, instead" or "why not just remove the eye", but, really, I get it.

angel said...

aw shame... i have three cats. my taxi also had the gum problem and now has only his long canine teeth poor thing!
my furry masters have also cost me money... but i couldn't go without them!