Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fluffy Tragedies: How my parents let my pets teach me about life.

     The other day at work I overheard a woman telling her friend that her son's  hamster had just passed away.
      "It was horrible!" she whined, "I have never seen a dead animal up close before. He wanted me to bury it but I just threw it in the trash because I didn't want to look at it."
     While pets are great for teaching children responsibility, they also teach another very important lesson: Acceptance of death. Every parent should know not to buy their child a small furry animal unless they are prepared to perform a backyard funeral in the not too distant future. The smaller and cuter the mammal is, the quicker and more tragic it's inevitable death will be (dead snakes are rarely mourned to the extent of a dwarf rabbit). Keep this in mind at the pet store.
      While small fluffy death is a horrible thing to experience firsthand, I also believe it is a great way to teach kids about the circle of life so as to prepare them for it in the future. Animals are a great way to have several different big talks with your children. My earliest memory is the death of my dad's golden retriever/fishing buddy Joshua, and I believe that experiencing something that powerful at such an early age helped mold me for the better.
      My parents jumped onto the "life-lessons through pets" train right from the start and I have to admit that while sometimes the experience was not pleasant, between my three siblings and I our family has performed countless funerals and learned some very valuable lessons.

    Example: Our first rabbits were named Flopsey and Mopsey despite them being males. When six year old me brought Mopsey home he was sweet and cuddly, but he turned violent and bitter not long after I named him. He became hell-bent on escape and eventually succeeded. Since he was so nasty to me I eventually gave up catching him and he lived out a short life in the alleys of Silt, Colorado.
        Flopsey on the other hand retained his sweet nature but never really got the hang of being a boy. He never defended himself and was never sure what to do when put in front of a sexy girl bunny.
   Life Lesson: Boys with girl names rarely end up as well adjusted adults.

    Example: Flopsey had a tenuous friendship with our beagle/basset mix. They spent hours in the backyard playing chase, trading off and on who was doing the actual chasing. We always assumed they enjoyed it until one day Flopsey suffered a heart attack as a result of all the excitement and passed away mid-bound.
    Life Lesson: There is such a thing as too much fun.

   Example: After Flopsey passed away our parents decided the miracle of life would be better expressed through female rabbits. My sister and I ,then 11 and 7, were gifted with two more bunnies. They were sisters and had the relationship to show it. They shared the same hutch and spent their time alternately grooming each other and trying to rip each others ears off until we finally had to separate them.
   Life Lesson: The relationship between sisters is always the same regardless of species.
  Example: One night a wild rabbit broke into the hutches and had some sexy time with our precious pets. The resulting pregnancies were stressful for everyone. We considered taking them to the vet to get tested for diseases, and finally resolved that we would love those babies no matter who their daddy was.
          Half of them died soon after birth for unknown reasons and Clover and Molly became sullen and resentful of each other and their unwanted off-spring.
  Life Lesson: One night stands are unhealthy and rarely end well. 
                     STD's are no joke.
                     Never choose misters before sisters.

  Example: We had a male rabbit named Nibbles who was sweet and kind and never hurt a fly until one night we forgot to return him to his hutch and he spent an entire unsupervised night in our backyard. The next morning Nibbles began to show signs of unrest. He fought his return to domestic life and began to bite. By the end of the week he was in a full on rabies rage. He ripped through his wire cage into the backyard and began attacking every living thing he saw. My mother tried beating him over his tiny fluffy head with a broom handle but only succeeded in ruining her broom.
              Nibbles was eventually transported to a wooded area on the edge of the Colorado River and set free with a cardboard box and pile of food, to survive as long he he could in the wilderness he longed for. We are pretty sure he made it at least 24 hours before being devoured by a fox.
   Life Lesson: Be careful what you wish for.

  Example: We bred rabbits several times and while Molly always had a small number of healthy babies that were impeccably cared for, Clover had several large litters of small sickly animals. She never seemed to take to motherhood and often kicked her children our of the nest until we had to foster them all with Molly who nursed them back to health and cared for them as her own.
   Life Lesson: Some bunnies just shouldn't be parents
                       Only have as many kids as you're prepared to feed.
   Example: My sister obtained an over-sized gerbil that had a knack for escape and a tendency to bite. She was dubbed Houdini and everyone eventually became too afraid to touch her. At first she seemed perfectly happy with this lack of attention and spent her days chewing on toilet paper rolls and running purposefully on her little wheel. Then one day Houdini snapped, chewed her own tail off and bashed her brains out on the wall of her cage.
   Life Lesson: Everyone needs human contact or, some bitches be crazy. (interpret how you wish)

  Example: In middle school I had a sweet little hamster ironically named "The Beast". She developed a brain tumor soon after I brought her home and began suffering from seizures. They got so bad that I would spend sleepless nights listening for telltale signs of tiny, fluffy spasms, and I would often have to recover her limp body from her water dish. Every seizure ended with apparent death. She would stiffen up, tongue hanging out, eyes rolled back, and every time I though this was truly the end. But eventually she would recover, often nursed back to life with an eyedropper full of warm milk, only to relapse days later. I spent every waking minute in constant stress and worry.
    Then one day she stiffened up and her body cooled to what my parents agreed was a temperature finally safe for burial. I interred her as quickly as possibly to avoid any horror in the event she suddenly gasped back to life.
  Life Lesson: Sometimes bad things happen to good hamsters for no reason.

   These are but a few of the many examples I have from my childhood. There were many, many more tragic deaths before, during, and after each of these stories. My parents will never be able to do any serious landscaping in the backyard without accidentally exhuming at least a few beloved pets.
    Regardless of the pain, tragedy, and thousands of tears cried over the bodies of creatures of varying sizes and species, I will always be grateful to my parents for letting me experience life and death at such a young age. I know people who never had pets and I believe they are the worse for it. Everything I know about life I learned from my parents, and the countless fluffy tragedies they allowed to take place right in front of me.


  1. I think we decided that Nibbles was sexually frustrated from having only a piece of chicken wire separating him from two female rabbits and it eventually just drove him insane.

    I'm kindof amazed any of us still have pets after the horrible ways so many of them died, although I'm pretty sure I will never have a hamster/gerbil/mouse/whatever again - their lifespan just isn't worth it.

  2. I don't like to acknowledge Nibbles' sexual frustration because then I would have to also admit that he was physically attracted to his sisters... which is a Life Lesson I would rather not know about.

  3. That's not really a problem with rabbits...

    I would also like to point out that we had many animals live very long, happy lives, but most of these were of the cat and dog variety. We've never had much luck with anything smaller or more dependent.