PREST: Learning to love pets in a dog-eat-dog world

Pet lovers, I finally get where you're coming from.

You choose your favourite type of domesticated animal, buy a whole pack of them and then let them loose in the house. You feed them, make sure the conditions are ripe for growth and then watch them develop, learn, explore, and slowly eat each other until one champion emerges.

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And then you love that one forever. Right? At least that’s how it went for me. Maybe I should back up a bit.

I’d never owned any type of animal until last month. My parents weren’t pet people so we never had one in the house while I was growing up. I was happy with this arrangement – owning a pet never seemed like a good idea.

I had lots of friends who had dogs and when I’d visit their houses it always struck me – and I mean no offence here – that their dogs were about as smart as your average potted fern. But much louder.

Typical visits went like this: I’d ring the doorbell and the dog would immediately start barking like mad as if it couldn’t in its wildest dreams imagine that this bell that rang many times a day was RINGING AGAIN RIGHT NOW!

Barkbarkbarkbarkbark!

This insane barking was immediately accompanied by the sound of paws blasting across linoleum and a loud thump as the dog slammed into the door and attempted to solve the age-old riddle of how to open it. I know – claw it! Scratchscratchscratch!

Eventually the door would open – the scratching worked! – and the dog would start applying the same jumping/clawing/barking treatment to my leg. Bigger dogs could reach nearly up to my waist, which was slightly terrifying given that, as a male youth, my brain was located very close by.

My host would finally clue in that I was not enjoying all the attention after I washed my hands for the 37th time, and then the dog would be locked in a basement so that we could focus our attention on the important boyhood work of sharing burps and suppressing feelings.

Cats weren’t any better. Aside from the fact that one sent me to hospital with a severe asthma attack, I couldn’t understand the appeal of owning a pet that clearly lived life by the credo “If I was big enough to eat you, I would.”

And don’t even get me started on rabbits, animals that also can kill me with their dander (from the French word dandere, meaning “skin soup”) but also a species that is so seemingly daft and sex-craved they could pass as senators.

As an adult my stance has softened a little bit as I’ve gotten to know pets owned by friends. My neighbours own a cat that is very friendly to my family and spends most of its time jumping from treetops to rooftops like a character from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

If a burglar ever tried to break into our house in the middle of the night I suspect I would find the crook in the morning lying in our garden moaning incoherently about a fur-ninja.

I’ve even cuddled up to a dog or two. You pretty much have to learn how to do that if you’re going to have any kind of social life in the Vancouver area where they hand out free dogs at the airport to anyone who can prove ownership of a pair of yoga pants.

This all led up to my first-ever pets. As is often the case, it  was a Christmas gift for my kids, but I ended up assuming the role of primary caregiver. The animals? A pack of tadpole shrimps (Latin name triop, meaning “hell no, you’re not going to grow those in my kitchen”).

The gift appeared to be nothing more than a bag of dirt, but after a few days in a small tank of water the little swimmers miraculously appeared. The instructions warned that the triops needed heat and light, and that on occasion one of the group would grow faster than the rest and then eat all of its buddies.

That’s what happened in our tank, and I fell in love with our little triop champ, a.k.a. Shrimp Bizkit. One day while I was at work his heat lamp got turned off by mistake. I came home to find him lying motionless on the bottom of the tank.

Through tears I disposed of him the only way I knew how – tossed in a light garlic butter sauce.

Just kidding. I flushed him. No one in the family seemed to mind the loss much except for me. Maybe, after all these years, I’m a pet man after all.

Some of those super dogs can do amazing things like help kids learn to read or sniff out bombs. It’d be neat to have one of those. Or maybe I could start smaller, stick with the sea creatures. On my last trip to the grocery store I noticed some live lobsters swimming around. Some of the best pets, I’ve heard, are sold by the pound.

Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. He can be reached via email at aprest@nsnews.com.

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