Yesterday was incredibly hard for me. I had to take my guinea girls to a pet store for re-homing. It tore my heart out. And made me change how I view having a pet.
Growing up, I only had three pets. The first was a stray dog that had bitten me. Sounds strange? It was a Pekingese who was lost. Then this strange little girl that it does not know tries to pet it. Of course, it was frightened and bit me. After the whole quarantine thing, we decided to keep it. Then I was playing with it in the front yard and a car stops. It was their dog. Ironically, it belonged to a girl in my class. I let it go. But I cried.
Then one Easter someone got my brother and I a couple of dyed chicks. Yes, you heard me right. Baby chickens that had been dipped in dye and sold at Easter. The problem, of course, is they grew up. Ironically, our family had done the same thing with my mother. Hers was named Pete. Now being a practical woman who had kept chickens and whose family survived the Great Depression in part thanks to eggs, my Nanny raised Pete, wrung his neck, plucked, and cooked him. My mother, not having experience with that kind of farm attitude, sat and cried. So, our Pete and Repete were ‘retired’ to a nice chicken farm.
Fawn was a chihuahua that I got for Christmas when I was a tween or early teen. She was the center of our family for a very long time. I was married to the preacher (who was not yet a preacher) and had children when my parents finally had to make the tough choice to euthanize her. She was thirteen or fourteen years old. Most of her teeth were gone, she had accidents all over the house, arthritis, and was having seizures.
When my older offspring were young, we lived in Houston. It was not until we moved to the country that they had any pets. We lived in the small town that I have fictionalized as Sebida, Texas. Our house was in the middle of town, at the corner of two major roads. People dropped unwanted animals there all the time. And many of them ended up with us.
But there are two that were special. Shy One was this old red hound dog. She had been badly abused and was frightened of people. All people except my oldest daughter. She had another litter of puppies every time she came into season. But there was no chance for us to catch her, put her in a car, and have her spayed. My older kids would sit out front with signs when they were older and find homes for them.
It was Georgie that was most special. He was this German shepherd and Doberman mix. Huge. We were new in town and he kept hanging out around the house. Having four young children, I was terrified. I mean you hear such nasty things about Dobermans. Then one Sunday morning we were getting ready for our home church. I am busy and can’t find my oldest. I look out the window to see this five-year-old riding Georgie like a horse. I relaxed then.
Now Georgie had one flaw. He liked to chase cars. He had barely been adopted by us when he was hit by one. He lost his front leg. We spent months paying off that vet bill but he was worth it. He might have been Georgie to us, but the rest of Sebida called him Tripod, the three-legged dog. You’d think that he would have learned? He didn’t. One of the hardest days was coming home from university to hold him in my arms as he breathed his last. He had once more had an argument with a car, and this time the car won. I am not sure who cried harder, me or the children.
California, and especially Los Angeles, is no place for pets. London was not much better. PanKwake’s father was adamant about the no-pets rule. Except for fish. She had two goldfish named Nah and Goo. Don’t let a two-year-old then non-verbal autistic child name an animal. They lived a couple of years in their bowl. Eventually, my ex bought a fancy tank. PanKwake says he still keeps fish.
When we separated one of the first things I did, a rebellion against his control perhaps, was to get her a hamster. Nibbles Biter, remember what I said about letting them name the animals. We loved her. She too lived a couple of years. And once more, I cried harder than PanKwake when she died. We buried her in a little box at the bottom of the planter outside our window.
Now, in addition to Nibbles, our London flat had a few uninvited pets. Mice. And rats. I could not bring myself to kill them with traps or poison, and those humane ones don’t work that well. So, despite not being allowed to have pets, we got a cat. A kitten. Little Miss Fluffy Paws (want to guess who named her?), or simply Cat, and if she has pissed me of B*&ch, is spoiled rotten.
The thing is when Alan and I got together he did not tell me right away that he had allergies. One night he was sneezing and I did my whole ‘poor baby, you have a cold’ thing. After living with us for weeks, he finally admitted he was allergic. But it was one of those things where he adjusted over time to her. She is his cat now. Until he retired she would sit in his lap or next to the computer while he worked.
Oh, and we had just moved up here when we went to a funfair. They had stands where you could win a goldfish. PanKwake had a meltdown…and we came home with one. We told her that if it lived a week we would buy filters and pumps for its tank. Goldie (yes, I never learn) is now the size of her hand and her tank takes up the whole sideboard in the family room. If she gets any bigger, the only option is our frog pond.
You’d think that would be enough, a cat and a goldfish. Not to an autistic tween/teen. A couple of years ago, PanKwake fixated on guinea pigs. So, after much discussion with Alan regarding those allergies and working out what we thought was a workable plan, we bought Dasher and Mauna. From the beginning, they set off his allergies and unlike with Cat he did not acclimate to them. But our plan was to keep them isolated in my study. He would not go in there. It sort of worked.
Then our friend in London foisted two more on us. She had left her three female guinea pigs with a friend while she took her daughter, PanKwake’s best friend, on holiday. Her friend had males. Somehow or the other the males got out of their cages and impregnated all three of her guinea pigs. She had six babies to find homes for. Alan and I told her no. His allergies were barely tolerating Dasher and Mauna. But she brought the babies to our hotel for PanKwake to pick hers. Even though we said no, she went behind our backs, knowing that it would tie our hands.
That was a year ago. Now, I admit that Yin and Yang were lovely. But they were the tipping point. Alan’s allergies kept getting worse and worse. I tried everything. We kept that door tightly closed, not just for his allergies but to keep Cat out, too. I would feed and clean their cage every day. Then I would immediately shower and change my clothes.
But nothing worked. We have for the past six months or more known that this day was coming. But we both kept trying. Then about three months ago, Alan started having joint pain. His hips bothered him so much that he has to use a cane for longer distances. When he went to the doctor, she thought that combined with his increasing breathing troubles it was not arthritis as we suspected but Sarcoidosis. Given that Alan has asthma this was it. Our girls had to go.
We texted our ‘friend’ in London to see if she knew someone. We looked around here. We put them on the waiting list at the local guinea pig rescue. And we waited. The lady said it would be weeks. Over two months later and things were critical. Four cute innocent guinea pigs or my soul mate’s life? Not as hard a would-you-rather as some that PanKwake comes up with.
But it was hard nonetheless. While I am not radical about animal rights, I do believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to them, whether that is to care for this planet so they have a habitat, such as our frog pond and bees, or domesticated animals. While I am not vegan or even vegetarian, I source local, ethical suppliers for all my animal products (or try very hard to). We are members of our local conservation center as well.
It was on one of our visits there that I was speaking with one of their staff members about our situation. She had worked at a pet store and said that occasionally the owner would take in animals. I looked them up. They were family-owned, had been in business for seventy years, and high ratings on both Facebook and Google. I called and spoke with them. Yes, they would buy the girls.
But still, this was a pet store. Not a rescue, not someone we knew. We struggled. That ‘friend’ who ‘gave’ us Yin & Yang, well, we might have lost them. She had a moral problem with a pet store (though she bought hers from one). We gave her time to look for solutions. But each one was more hairbrained than the next. A petting zoo? Touched by dozens or hundreds of strangers every day. A special needs school? That would need weeks to get approval from the council to have them, if they got it at all. Another rescue, this one ten hours away.
We finally said enough. We had spoken to the woman at the store three times. We had investigated their reviews. And asked friends who were involved with animals about them. No red-flags anywhere. We even emailed the local rescue whose waiting list we were on. She never got back to me with anything.
But don’t think it was easy. These girls were not used to a lot of handling. They had not been forced into a carrier and taken in a car since they came home with us. They were terrified. They squeaked all the way there, a half-an-hour in my friend’s car. My ‘friend’ might object to selling them to a pet store, but that ten-hour drive to a rescue where they would stay with dozens or hundreds of other guinea pigs for weeks or months would have truly been cruel to them.
So, why, other than to clear my conscience, would I write this blog? What is my point?
Animals are sentient beings, too. We, humans, have an obligation to think about their needs and wants. The whole idea of pets needs to be examined closely. To believe that we have more rights than these animals is not fair or just.
So, before you go buying a pet for yourself or your child, I plead with you to consider your motives and means very carefully. Ask yourself some truly tough questions:
- How much time do I truly have to invest in these beings?
- How will I need to leave them alone? Not just work but what about holidays?
- What provisions can I make for them?
- How likely am I going to need to move? What then? How hard is moving on this type of animal?
- How long does this type of animal live for? Am I able to commit to it for that long?
- Do I have the financial stability to provide for it?
- How might it affect my relationships?
The bottom line may be found in the words themselves – pet ‘owners.’ Is it moral or ethical to ‘own’ another sentient being? This experience has changed how I view that question. I may be entrusted with the care for or steward of, but I am not, cannot, and will not OWN anything. That is easy with cats. Everyone knows that cats own you, not the other way around. But with other animals, especially more social and dependent ones like dogs and guinea pigs, this is a fuzzier line. But it is about how you view your role and responsibility to animals. And that is an even more important question to ask yourself than any of those others.
Yes, we did think of those things. We even had plans for the what-ifs. And still, I found myself in the untenable position of walking out of a pet store with tears in my eyes, feeling like I was the worst human-being imaginable. But my choice was to lose our girls or the man that I had waited a lifetime to love and be loved by. I hope no one else ever faces Sophie’s choices like that. Which is why I am putting myself out there, risking being ridiculed and bullied for a hard decision. So that others won’t have to.
Will we have more pets? I would honestly like to say no more. But already PanKwake is talking about Bearded Dragons and snakes. We are doing all we can to dissuade her. But knowing how fixated she can become, the best we can hope for is to delay this decision as long as we can. Occasionally, as with the swing set she wanted in our back garden, she will outgrow an idea. Or prefer a frog pond instead.
Already, we have put it off until this summer…after a holiday. And I am pushing hard for an older rescue animal rather than a young one. Committing to make the last couple or few years of a mature animal’s life as good as possible does not feed the pet breeding industry. And it shortens the span of our commitment.
Sometimes no matter what you do, you find yourself in situations where there are no good choices. Where you have to do the best you can. Choose the lesser evil. We all have those moments. But when they involve other sentient beings, there are no winners.
I sincerely hope that my honest reflection will help someone.
Goddess bless you,
Side note: the store was incredibly clean, the woman even nicer in person, she kept going on about what lovely girls they were, she said as beautiful as they were they would not be there for long. A couple of days and they would have a new home. I pray to the goddess a better one than I could give them.