Our middle child has always been an animal lover. At age 3, she named her baby doll “Horse,” and in the eight years since, she has gone through phases of being obsessed with horses, cats, eagles, and most recently, owls.
Our oldest daughter, though not as animal-oriented, spent most of her childhood begging for a family pet. Every time we’d go to a friend’s house with cats or dogs, both girls would spend the entire ride home trying to convince my husband and I that we needed one. Needed, like, they might perish if they didn’t find a furry friend to join our family.
For years, we lived in rentals that didn’t allow pets. And when we did live places that allowed them, we always had some reason to say no. Our lives were too transient, the pet deposit was too much, we had major travel plans coming up, etc. We told the kids that if or when we ever settled down in a place with no pet restrictions, we’d consider getting one. But until then, their whining, begging, and pleading would do them no good.
Then one day, we saw a video about sugar gliders. If you’ve never seen a sugar glider, you should. They’re amazing and awesome and adorable. Our kids tried to convince us to get one, but we found out after some extensive research that they aren’t actually the greatest pets.
But through that research, we found out that rats — yes, rats — actually are great pets. They’re intelligent, personable, and if you can get past the worm-like tail, really quite endearing. And since they were caged pets, our landlord didn’t mind.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Al the Rat Guy’s basement, just to scope out the baby rat situation. Have you ever seen a baby rat? Painfully cute. Our kids swore up and down that they would take good care of them. They promised left and right that they would diligently clean out the cage each week and make sure they always had food and water without being reminded. So we caved. Two rats, Cinnamon and Midnight, came home with us that day.
And did the kids diligently clean out the cage each week and feed and water the rats without being reminded? Yes, for about two weeks, because kids’ promises about pet care are all lies.
Of course, the logical consequence for not doing the pet care without being hounded would be to lose the pets. But we wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves. Plus, Al the Rat Guy lived up to his nickname by making us sign an agreement that we would treat the rats like the members of our family they were about to become. We couldn’t very well just pawn them off. Plus, they were so stinking sweet. So they stayed.
Then we finally settled down in our own home, and the kids reminded us about our promise. So we reminded them of their promise, and how they’d slacked with the rat care (touché!). Then they upped their game and miraculously became responsible rat owners. Drat. We held them off for a few months, but those little buggers are persistent — and they had earned at least some consideration.
So, without making any promises, we went to the Humane Society just to check out the kitten situation. We should have known better. I mean, really.
Obviously, the kitten situation at the Humane Society is that kittens are hypnotically cute, and it’s almost impossible to walk out without taking one with you. Even my husband, who was fiercely opposed to getting an animal that could leave pet hair on our furniture, fell into the trap. This older black kitten somehow purred and snuggled his way into my husband’s affections. I was willing to wait a bit, but our animal-lover had glommed onto this cat — my husband was totally brainwashed — and so we brought a kitten home.
A kitten that our kids swore up and down they’d take full responsibility for. That they convinced us they’d never complain about cleaning up after. That they promised left and right that they’d sweep and vacuum and scoop the litter box for without ever having to be pestered.
Lies, I tell you. All lies.
And again, it’s not like you can just ditch a kitten once you’ve got one. They’re sweet and funny and purry and soft, and when you look them in the eyes and they mew, you’re a goner.
So you create charts and set up consequences. You remind, remind again, and then give somewhat yelly lectures about duties and responsibilities. You curse the cat when he inexplicably pees on your hiking backpack. (Why? Because it smells like the outdoors?) You moan about claw marks in your nice leather chairs and not being able to sit on your couch without lint-rolling your clothes after. You pray you’ll never have to see the vet again after the first $150 vet bill. You grumble every time you leave town and have to figure out who’s going to pet sit.
And then what do you do? You get another kitten, because the Humane Society is the devil and you can’t stop looking into its eyes.
I really do love our two cats, and I even love our rats (we’re on our fifth and sixth rats, by the way — they don’t live long). They’re very sweet and soft and snuggly. But I wish I had realized how quickly our kids would grow weary of the work animals require. If your kid wants a pet, know that until your kids can drive to the vet or adequately clean urine out of a carpet, some of the work will fall on your shoulders.
I’m a cat person, so it’s only a moderate annoyance for me. But if you really aren’t a fan of taking care of animals at all, stand firm, man. Your kids’ pets are your pets, no matter how much they lie — ahem, promise — that they’ll do all the work. If you don’t want a family pet, don’t let them con you into it. Don’t go anywhere near the Humane Society. And definitely do not look any kitten or puppy in the eyes.
The cuteness is a black hole. And there’s no coming back.