I was musing the other day about pets: If I were inclined to get a new pet, what would it be?
My favorite would be a dog, but they’re kind of like a spouse in terms of time required for care, and I already have one of those.
A cat also imposes responsibilities, though probably fewer than a dog because a cat usually doesn’t want as much attention as the caretaker would prefer to give.
A discussion of that issue prompted my wife to reminisce about animals in the family when she was a little kid. I found it interesting and instructive.
First, they tried a goldfish, or two, but quickly found out they’re no fun and they don’t last long in that teeny bowl, so next they got a little so-called painted turtle.
There were five kids in the family, and both parents worked. A turtle wouldn’t need any oversight. And it was cheap. My wife couldn’t remember its name, so for the sake of simplicity I’ll call him Speedy.
When the family bought Speedy, he came with an oval, clear plastic dish to house him. Unfortunately, the engineers who created the dish badly underestimated Speedy’s agility.
Every day when somebody came home, the dish was sitting on the table, empty. Speedy had escaped. He had wandered over to see what was beyond the table and fallen off.
If he had landed on his back, the person would simply put him back into the too-shallow dish. But if he’d landed prone, a serious search had to be launched. After too many such falls, Speedy was not a shell of his former self and had to be replaced.
Next, the family, bored and inconvenienced with turtles, graduated to Sherbert the canary. They named him Sherbert because he was the color of orange sherbert.
The bird sang away all day and into the evening. Long before anybody dreamed of a personal computer, Sherbert was issuing tweets left and right.
They covered the cage at bedtime so as not to turn Sherbert into some fly-by-night operative. But, sometimes, his singing was so unrelenting that they had to put a cover over the cage in the daytime, just to shut him up. My wife’s mother, Janice, was as patient and loving a person as any canary ever shared quarters with, but, when she was around, night often fell early.
Anyway, to Sherbert, sunset had become an unpredictable phenomenon. It could descend at a moment’s notice, right in mid chorus.
Once in a while, one of the kids would let him out of the cage and he’d fly around the room. He became so tame he’d land on your finger, even if you weren’t posing as a tree.
When he toured the room, he wasn’t exactly soaring. Canaries don’t soar. If Sherbert were obliged to migrate south, he’d be lucky to make it next door before pulling up for a breather.
Nobody recalls exactly what happened to Sherbert. For all anybody knows, he may have migrated next door.
But, after years of dealing with Speedy and Sherbert, the five kids realized something was missing. They’d been dealing with pets you can’t pet. Nobody wants to pet a turtle, and nobody is able to pet a bird, unless you are exceptionally good at sneaking up on it.
(I’ve often wondered which came first, “pet” the noun or “pet” the verb. Did you call it a pet because you liked to pet it, or did you call what you were doing petting it because it was a pet? I tend to lean toward the latter because you also like patting it, but you don’t call it a “pat.” Unless you’d named it Pat.)
Anyway, the next interloper was a young kitten that had allegedly been left desperate, out in the wild. Deeper investigation, however (I asked my wife), reveals a friend of her sister Mary owned a cat that had had a litter and begged Mary to take one off their hands.
So suddenly the family had a cat. It had real fur and was warm and soft to the touch. And they could pet it, or pat it! Hallelujah!
So here’s the takeaway from this glimpse back into history: If you’re thinking of getting a pet, get a real pet. Don’t work your way up from the primordial to the modern.
If you can pet it, get it. If not, you’re going to waste your money, an awful lot of your time and lots of peace of mind.
Bob Grady worked for the Press-Republican newsroom in a variety of positions for almost 40 years, retiring as editor in 2011. For 20 of those years, he wrote a weekly column, often based on his maladroit acquaintances, including his wife’s cats and his friend Ted. He still lives in Plattsburgh.