February 23, 2010

Maybe It's Me: Pet Love, or, A Three Pound Critter is My Best Friend

I continue to be amazed by the various degrees of loving and being loved I discover the more life I live.

There are so many shades to love! It isn’t as nearly black and white, as cut and dry, as many people believe it to be. I can love in so many different avenues, that my heart keeps expanding as I’m introduced to new ways of experiencing, interpreting, and expressing love in its many forms.

Truly believing the aforementioned statement still doesn’t make it any less bizarre to me, though, that a three pound critter can make my heart burst with affection and adoration in a love I’ve never felt until now.

That love: pet love.

I grew up having pets. Cats, rats, hamsters, and a series of nearly immortal beta fish (an ice storm got the best of one of them, the others all had unnaturally long lives – so much so that I would move to different countries, come back home, and find that they were still alive. I think it was the elaborate names I was giving them, such as Leonardo DeBetafish, Fire In My Pants The Fish, and PSherman42WallabyWaySydney, that willed them to live so long) were all a part of my childhood. I cried when my pets passed on, but they weren’t at the center of my existence. They were, at best, secondary characters to my life as it unfolded in those very early chapters.

When I moved into my own place, I thought I’d get a fish (and why not, historically, the best bang for my buck had always been my finned friends). I did, and named him Fishtian Dior the Fishonista.

He died three days after I got him.

They clearly weren’t making fish like they used to (or maybe I did a substandard job at cleaning out the fish bowl prior to putting him in it – my parents had always done that for me), so I decided to retire as a fish owner and look back on the “good old days.”

It didn’t take long for me to realize though that living on my own was, well, lonely. Really, really, lonely. When I went to bed at night, there were no life noises happening – people watching TV or taking showers, breathing, eating, or existing under the same roof as me. There was no waiting to see me when I woke up, and no one to see me off as I went to bed.

I was all alone.

I decided I was going to get a pet. I looked into disabled cats. I thought it might be wonderful to get a kitty with three legs or a missing eye. That would be both utterly compassionate and make for something really unique (I wasn’t about to set my pet standards low – I’m a an offbeat kinda gal, I needed an offbeat kinda pet).

I quickly realized that I would never be able to handle a special needs animal – I had never owned a pet before (there’s a difference between having a pet and owning a pet – when you have a pet, you don’t need to do much expect for maybe cuddle with your animal and give it treats; when you own a pet you have to actually care for it and make sure its needs are being met), and that might be a trying task. So, I decided I would get a hedgehog.

But hedgehogs aren’t as readily available as I was hoping and I suddenly realized I had no idea what a hedgehog even looked like outside of the blue video game ones, so I scratched that idea.

Meandering through the farm animals at one of our state’s fairs I came across the rabbits. Rabbits had never impressed me. They were like cats, but had bigger ears. And they hopped. And ate carrots. Big whoop. My sister, on the other hand, had pined for a rabbit since she was barely old enough to speak (she screamed, usually without reason or cause, for the first four years of her life).

The caged bunnies at this fair were all skiddish to the point of being retarded. It didn’t help that small, screaming children reminiscent of my sister when she was younger, were sticking random body parts and items into their cages and hollering, “BUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNY.” If I was a rabbit, I probably would have been both twitching and rocking back and forth in the farthest corner from reach, too.

Eventually I was caught in a child-parent jam and patiently waited for the “oohing,” “aahing” and “no, honey, you can’t have a rabbit” to stop and move along so that I could escape these inferior pets and get to something way cooler, like, oh say, the goats.

And then, suddenly, this cow-colored rabbit called a Mini-Rex reached through his cage, grabbed onto my sleeve with his mouth and started chewing. I tried to pull my arm back, but his teeth had a vice grip on my shirt. And as he alternated between licking and biting my sleeve something happened.

I fell in love with him.

His big ears! His hopping! His carrot eating ways! I needed to bring him and make him mine! As I was counting out money to hand to the farmer, I called my roommate to let her know I’d be bringing home a new friend. A bunny rabbit. She said, “Absolutely not, they are the smelliest creatures on earth.”

I walked away from the cutest creature on earth, my heart breaking a little.

But the damage had been done – I knew that I needed a bunny as a pet and there was absolutely no way that my mind could be changed. I researched the smelliest animals on earth and bunny rabbits were not it. Ferrets were. I printed out my findings and hung them on my roommate’s door.

With a promise that I would be neurotic about my new pet’s cleanliness and that if at any time he started to smell we could get rid of him, she caved (they always do) and agreed to a pet bunny. Which is a good thing, too, because I had found a breeder of Mini-Rex’s an hour away that had just had a litter.

The breeder and I stayed in touch over the course of the following few weeks. Of the three babies, two were boys. She highly suggested I take one of the boys (apparently boy bunnies are less temperamental), and my options were a black one or a blue (silver) one. After sending a picture of her Baby Blue Mini-Rex I fell in love harder than I had with the cow-colored one; harder than I had for past boyfriends.

“That one’s mine,” I told her in an email. “That one’s my Boone.”

She and my seven-week old Boone met me in a parking lot halfway between our homes. As she handed me over the orange-sized creature the first snow of the season started to fall. The breeder rattled off a list of things to know about raising and keeping a pet bunny. Some of which I processed, a lot of which was overwhelming and fell on deaf ears (but that I quickly learned either by instinct or obsessive-compulsive late-night research) as I stared in total wonder of the small bunny that sat so still and trusting in my nervous hands.

Fast forward and Boone has become quite the pal to me. I litter trained him within the first five months. He quickly became more cat like than bunny like, hopping into his cage to do his business, but spending the majority of his hours freely roaming around the house. It was nice to once again hear something else breathing and existing under the same roof as me.

Recently, Boone was very ill. Very, very ill. I noticed he was drinking nearly forty ounces of water a day, nearly three times as much as he ever had before. He began losing his bladder all over the house, too, which was something he hadn’t done in over a year. I called the vets to have them check on him and after a series of rather invasive tests, the doctor let me know that it seemed Boone had a liver disease. With antibiotics and a change of diet he’d either be just fine, or he’d die very quickly.

I called my mom and cried. “I know this sounds silly,” I said through tears, “But I really need you to pray for my bunny. He’s, like, my best friend, Mom. He greets me when I wake up in the morning; he freaks out with excitement whenever I get home; and, he sits between my feet when I make dinner every single night. It’s absolute and unconditional love. He needs me. And I need him. I need to be needed like this. I need to have something to take care of. I love him.”

And that’s when I realized I was one of those crazy pet parents.

And that I was totally okay with it.

I adored this three pound, silver creature just as much as he adored me. And while our needs from one another were vastly different (he just wanted food, water, and a little affection now and again; and, I needed the comfort of another living creature in my presence), they were driven by the same basic animal desire: to love and be loved.

Which I’m beginning to think . . . beginning to realize . . . truly is one of, if not, the most important things about living life.

To love and be loved. In every form we can get our hands on. Family love, friend love, God love, earth love, ice cream love, pet love, it doesn’t matter. We need to be able to have that outpouring of our heart and soul towards someone or something else; and, to feel it and be strengthened by it as it comes back to us.

Boone, thanks to many prayers and happy thoughts, was fine. After a week of antibiotics he was back to his scrappy self. But I wasn’t the same. Because, he really wasn’t just a pet anymore. He had transcended into a friend first, and a pet second. Despite the fact that he couldn’t speak and didn’t have opposable thumbs, he was very much as good a friend as people one’s have been to be in the past. And, if a friend is the basic definition of “someone that we feel strongly or affectionately for” than I think that holds up for three pound critters, too.