Growing up, we had three dogs. One was a cocker spaniel, the other two were lhasa apso mixes:
They were fun and friendly and we loved them a lot. But we didn’t walk them enough. Probably because my family’s default setting was “sedentary.” Instead, we’d open the back door for them twice a day so they could do their business in the yard.
But sometimes, business was slow.
Consequently, there were many indoor accidents. If we were home we could identify the culprit by the deep shame in her eyes. But when we were away, our house turned into a giant carpeted animal toilet. We’d arrive home and bee-line to the paper towels for the inevitable shit-piles and piss-puddles waiting for us.
Every. Flipping. Day.
I know my house reeked because my best friend’s mom stopped letting her come over. I had become inured to it; or rather, the smell from my parents’ ever-lit cigarettes was more egregious to me. Possibly because dog excrement doesn’t threaten human lives the way smoking does.
Still, we treated them as though they were tiny humans. They slept in our beds, ate off our plates, swam in our pool, slobbered on our guests. We coped with their bathroom quirks even if it meant never taking off our shoes inside our own home. Because they were family.
I don’t quite know how to make sense of what my mother did to our dogs when my father died, so I will just report it.
His death was sudden, a heart attack, and came on the heels of a pretty horrendous financial disclosure. We had to move very quickly to a place my mother could afford; a two bedroom apartment that didn’t allow pets.
I found out she euthanized our dogs after it happened. She brought them to the pound and had them put to sleep. She said she had no choice, she couldn’t find homes for them. But I know in part she couldn’t bear the thought of them living with another family. Eating off their plates. Pissing on their carpets.
And as shameful as it is to admit, I never got over it. I never even talked about it until now. I cry every time I think about it. I’m sure some of the pain is related to my father (we were unable to mourn him properly for reasons I may hopefully be able to talk about someday)… but also, for years I had to downplay their loss so I’d be capable of grieving with my mother instead of vilifying her.
I told myself I’d never own animals again. My adulthood would be filled with sweet-smelling rooms, spotless carpets, bare feet indoors, and zero pet heartache.
It was. For a bit. And then we had a baby. Who became a toddler. Who became a nine-year-old. Who wanted a cat.
Like many kids with two artist parents, he’s smart and sensitive. We often indulge his (and our own) desires to discuss topics that are slightly bigger than him. As a result, his conversational drive often has a kind of phrenic patina to it. Adults love talking to him.
One time when he was seven he shouted this to an entire table of boys at lunch: “If any of you guys are feminists, raise your hands.” None did.
He sat alone at recess and read Garfield books. He rarely had playdates. I knew his desire for a cat came from his longing for soul who was as helpless as he felt. But I couldn’t do it. “No pets,” I said.
And while the citizen part of me was proud of him for his professed political leanings, the mother part felt like a failure. I was raising my child to be a responsible adult ten years too early.
We decided to send him to sleep-away camp, hoping the day-to-night kid rhythms would replace his premature adult ones. It would be his first time ever without a parent or grandparent.
He was going to be surrounded by kids he didn’t know how to talk to.
For an entire week.
While I was on deadline.
He came home from camp a week later to find two bewildered kittens and this contraption in the living room:
YOU WANNA MAKE THAT, DON'T YOU... NEEDED: a piece of Plexiglass, a Dremel saw, a CPU fan, a laundry hose, vinyl & acrylic tape, anxiety, insomnia, and a light case of osmophobia. TIPS: Make sure your CPU fan faces the right direction so it’s pulling the stink out. And be careful when you use the Dremel to cut the Plexiglass; you’re basically melting plastic so do it outdoors and score it well first with a sharp utility knife.
NEEDED: a piece of Plexiglass, a Dremel saw, a CPU fan, a laundry hose, vinyl & acrylic tape, anxiety, insomnia, and a light case of osmophobia.
TIPS: Make sure your CPU fan faces the right direction so it’s pulling the stink out. And be careful when you use the Dremel to cut the Plexiglass; you’re basically melting plastic so do it outdoors and score it well first with a sharp utility knife.