Why is it that a mouse in Shelley’s bedroom results in a cell-phone video of a screaming woman leaping onto the bed while begging her daddy to save her, but a hamster gone missing brings that very same woman to her hands and knees in her son’s room in a desperate search that, please God, will not end with dead hamster number three?
What is the difference between a pet and a pest? Or a science experiment?
The weather is turning cooler and all sorts of critters are looking for warmth. The Animal World Reservation Service has been accepting requests from crickets and spiders, mice and squirrels and snakes. I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but this is just the listing for our house. Some people–usually but not always women (I’m thinking of some sons-in-law I know)–shriek over this. Others–usually but not always little boys and grandparents of little boys–delight in discovering the little “guests,” collect them in jars, and take pictures of them.
My cousin announced on Facebook her horror at discovering in her house two creepy little orange banded snakes. They sound just like the ring-neck snakes that Harper found in our basement last week. He put his in a jar and displayed them on the coffee table in the family room. It is admittedly creepy to find snakes in the basement, but once in a jar, then they are pretty cool to look at. Plus, what is a wild ring-neck snake going to do to you, squeeze your pinky finger off? Real snake fear is finding an empty six-foot long snake skin in the basement and wondering where the heck the snake went that outgrew that skin. John found such a skin in the tool house years ago and stored it in the basement of the house. One day, the Culligan men found it when they came to service the water system. I could hear their frightened voices through the floor. It was great–because I knew there was no snake.
What is not so great, though, are the squirrels dancing across our attic floor at night. They are totally abusing our hospitality. And by hospitality I mean the many trees that we have left for them to live in. Woods. Natural habitat. But they seem to think that the trees near the house are entryways to the grand log lodge. I complain often about the squirrels, particularly to my French students who always remember ecureuil as a vocabulary word. On Friday, a former student stopped by my classroom to tell me about the pet squirrels in her garage. A tree had come down on their property during the recent storms and with it came a squirrel nest. Mama Squirrel did not survive but her newborn babies did. If Mama Squirrel had been running around the garage, the girl would have shattered glass with her shrieking. But baby squirrels…they elicit a high-pitched feminine coo. Awwww, they’re so cute. Why? I say it’s because the baby woodland rodents were in a box.
I heard a D-Con commercial this week promising to eliminate mice. I wasn’t listening well enough to know if they were advertising traps or toxins. But they promised to get rid of mice. I was drawn to the promise. I thought, ” I must stock up on D-Con.” Later, when I heard that Fluffball, the hamster, had gone missing, I thought of the gruesome possibility that a loose hamster could get snapped by a mousetrap. This brings me back to my original question: What makes one rodent a pest, but another rodent, even of the same species, a pet? Is a hamster really cleaner than a mouse? If Fluffball rolled his little blue wheely ball to the pantry and escaped, wouldn’t he go for the cereal boxes, too?
So here is my list of what makes a critter a pet:
1. It is contained. It is stored in a box, cage, or jar.
2. It is provided with exercise, often in the form of a prison-like ball or a treadmill, which is just another form of torture.
3. It is completely dependent on humans for its food, which dramatically reduces its life expectancy.
4. It gets a silly little name like Fluffball or Squirmy.
5. It is loved. Or, to get the full emo meaning here…luv’d.
Note that point 4 is critical. Without a name, the critter will most likely be just a science experiment and its loss will not be mourned. A critter with a name has feelings. A critter with a name is luv’d. I’m thinking of a certain turtle named Sheldon who grew up in the wilds of Maywood long, long ago and was taken in a box to Catonsville. He tried to escape via the sump pump but was discovered and put back in his box. Oh, he was so luv’d by three little girls. Ok, so his box got edged behind a chair and the girls forgot to feed him and their mom forgot they even owned a turtle. But when they discovered him–or rather his shell–months later, they were sad. And even today, as they read about him, they probably are saying, “Oh, poor Sheldon.”
Fortunately, Fluffball #3 is now back safe and sound in his cage. As for Fluffball #4? It’s just a matter of time. And my advice to Shelley the next time she sees a mouse is this: put it in a box and give it a name. Feed it once and then shove it behind a chair. That might kill it quicker than D-Con.