Friday, September 23, 2011

Going to the Dogs, by Way of Pets



The pressure to get a dog is exquisite. There are a lot of people in this house who want a dog, while team 'no dog' has only one member.

It's me, the giant asshole. The huge, soul-snuffing, puppy-eating, cat-strangling, hamster-drowning, goldfish-slaughtering, poop-stain on the cosmic undies of the universe animal hater. This is how I'm portrayed in the family album.

People pile on.
"How can you NOT have a dog, living on five acres?"( You fuckwad.)
"Your kids are the perfect age for a dog" (Don't you love them?)
"It'll teach them to be compassionate and responsible" (Because they're not.)
"Dog's are so great." (You are Hitler)

We had one hamster who threw herself to a rigid death behind the dresser. I plucked her corpse, gingerly, from behind the drawers with salad tongs and told a loving story of how she had escaped to a better life in the fields.

Our second hamster lived in giant fish tank, pimped to look like the Playboy mansion, with grotto, exercise equipment, and a rotating heart-shaped bed made of pine shavings. Every week or so I would heft the glass enclosure downstairs, remove the divine Miss Bitter to a salad bowl, lift out her urine soaked furnishings and commence the room service and bed turn down that she so richly deserved. I bleached and rinsed her igloo domicile. I emptied and refreshed her on-demand drinking bottle. I tipped the twenty-five pounds of glass into our kitchen sink and scrubbed the sides with a scratchy sponge. I towel dried the insides to limit its humectant properties. I sprinkled a fluffy layer of fresh shavings and re-decorated her habitat to stimulate and amuse her. I bought her a car - a sphere of clear plastic that she could ram into walls and park in corners. When she was forgotten, I would take her out and let her run around in my shirt sleeves. I once told my therapist that I worried late at night that I wasn't providing our rodent a rich enough life.

We have two fish left, from the eight we've bought over the years. The two beta's, who share a divided tank on Lily's dresser, are hanging in. They were asked for and delivered within the hour, by the children's father, who shall remain nameless.

Fish, when crammed into an inadequate living space and overfed, are fetid, rancid creatures. I learned this again recently when I thought our daughter's vagina was rotting, but discovered it was only the cloudy fish tank wafting out an other-worldly odor of putrification and death.

Using a soup ladle, as I have many times before, I scooped puke-fish one into a coffee cup and covered her with fresh water. Gag-fish two got his own measuring cup. Holding my breath, I poured the feculent, malodorous, swamp mung down the garbage disposal. The miasma filled the kitchen and discharged into the living room. I have sniffed some pretty terrible things in my day - food stuffs, forgotten wet things, flood damage, sewage, homeless people, wounds - but this is the worst of them. No hyperbole. The worst smell I've known. It's like I imagine other smelly times in history - plague-rotted corpse piles, the underclothes of dueling knights after weeks afield, the signing of The Declaration of Independence; all those hairy men in summer-weight woolens, trapped in an airless room in the July Philadelphia heat. This is why I don't want a dog. Because of the Declaration of Independence.

When I went to a friend's house for the weekend, I came home to six fluffy chicks, pooping in a box under a heat lamp in our guest room. Tiny, sweet things with little peeps, small as a child's balled up sock. A joy. Until, like human babies, their poops turn to shit. Smelly, stinky shit. And they started kicking their sawdust all over my work space. A fine mist of sawdust filled the air, and landed like talc on everything in the room. Before long they outgrew the smelly box that once held my winter clothes, now a pile on the basement floor, and we moved them to the garage, where they continued to grow and crap while walking in an enormous old furnace box made of steel. Every few days I would climb into the clanging box and rake out their space, shoveling their crumbled, dry feces that once leaked wet from their chicken anuses, into a wagon and roll it into the woods. I'd lay down more sawdust, change their water, refill the crumbles, talk to them in dulcet tones.

Soon enough we converted the children's play structure into a coop by removing the slide and swings and flattening the clubhouse into a roost. Vildy and I moved the thing with muscle power only, by walking it, this end, that end, over to a shady spot so as to not prematurely fry the chicken.

They are amusing little pets, chickens. They lay eggs, for one thing, so they are like living slot machines - you pump in about five-hundred dollars in quarters and you get the thrill of a two-dollar jackpot every couple of days. Plus, they are genuinely sweet and curious creatures who act out enjoyable little chicken behaviors, fluffing, pecking, flapping, clucking, while digging forever in the straw and comically kicking it up onto each other's head. But they are profluent shitters, caking their hen house with a mortar of turd that needs to be scraped off with a hoe. Enter me, a hoe, in pajamas and wellies.

I climb into their disgusting little abode, sometimes with the willing help of my girl, often not, armed with my scraper, rake, snow shovel and steely resolve. I chisel their grime off the floorboards. I hose off the broom handle perch. I disassemble the feeder and waterer so I can replenish. I drag the cubic meter of straw or wood chips from the man-barn so I can bed them in clean fodder. I even hooked up a fan, with a long extension cord from the house, to better air out and dry their penthouse apartment. Once upon a time I had only to buy a carton of eggs.

Our cat, Ella, is sleeping next to me as I write this. She is my only friend. She understands my need for personal space, but also my desperate longing for affection. She provides both. She has the courtesy to poop outside, in the woods somewhere, and bury it in the pine needles. She is immaculate in a way I only wish my children would be, cleaning behind her ears with a paw and licking her own butt clean. She requires of me only the occasional lap, and my dexterous ability to pull back the tab on her dinner once a day. She too does not want a dog. We've talked about it.

My husband says a dog will keep the raccoons away. A compelling prospect, considering that I am the ONLY person who wakes up when the raccoons sneak into the kitchen through the cat door to throw our garbage all over the room. I am the only person who goes downstairs in her undies to hiss the raccoon out of the house and then clean the giant steaming man-sized raccoon shit pile off the counter. I am the one who tapes the cutting board over the cat door with duct tape at four in the morning and redeposits the coffee grounds and egg shells into the trash.

In closing, I will relay this impossible story: an OCD friend of a friend, who doesn't like people to disrupt the neat lines in the carpet made by the vacuum cleaner, got a dog. She dries the dog's paws with a towel every time he enters the house and also, I'm not making this up, wipes his asshole with Windex.

Who's the animal lover here? The one who promises never to squeegee a pet's ass with window cleaner, or the person who gets a dog?