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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 03.29.04
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

No pet lover, I

As we grow up, certain assumptions are made about our beliefs. It's assumed we believe in God or some godlike entity (Angelina Jolie, for instance).

It's assumed we cherish democracy (or in Canada's case, a democracy in which, mathematically, only the Liberals can win).

It's assumed I'm going to stop at that red light and not mow you down just because I don't like the look on your stupid smug face.

And it's assumed we love animals.

To my surprise, I've discovered I'm a pet agnostic. I don't much like the critters.

I've had a feline falling out, a pet peeve, a canine crisis of faith.

To some, this is blasphemy. I expect pet lovers and their animals will be picketing on my lawn, where the pets will deposit reminders of their little visit. I rest my case.

My conversion started around the time we came home a few years ago to find our dog Mel (rhymes with "smell") chowing down on dirty diapers. It was downhill from there.

Mel's gone, as are Alex (dog; got old and sick; put down), Sunshine (cat; thought ice on swimming pool was solid; wrong), Otis (first cat; old; found stiff on the sofa one Saturday), and Whiskers (cat; chronic sprayer; I'd rather not talk about it).

That leaves only Skittles, our year-old hamster that shows no sign of doing what hamsters do best, that is croaking within a month of purchase. Despite Skittle's puny stature, I am not even particularly fond of him/her/it. To the chagrin of the kids, I refer to it as "the rat" or "the varmint."

The kids also give me a hard time because I don't like to hold the creature.

"Dad's scared of Skittles," they accuse.

"No I'm not," I reply, shunning the beady-eyed owl-bait. "I just have no urge to hold anything whose brain is smaller than a walnut. You don't see me holding Steven Harper, do you?"

Still, there is value in Skittles.

When the kids cry, "Dad, can we get a pet? We want a puppy, a cat, an iguanodon," I can reply, "We already have a pet!" and point to the cage, where Skittles has buried himself inside a Pop-Tarts box behaving like the ideal pet - virtually invisible, silent, and backed into a corner. We should have named him "The NDP Party."

So when Skittles's cage door was left open last week and he escaped, I knew I had to find him; that hamster is the only thing keeping real pets from once more infiltrating our house.

Upon news of his disappearance, I considered the options.

A) Rat dead: last of the fallback pets; opens floodgate for more pets; prospect of children coming across emaciated "Skittles pancake" at bottom of closet. B) Varmint alive but unfound: prospect of opening sock drawer and having famished hamster leap out and start gnawing on my earlobe. No thanks on all counts. We needed to find Skittles.

We wondered if he may have fallen down a furnace air-intake duct. I pried apart the duct in the basement and lay out some seeds. A while later, the seeds were gone. Skittles was either at the bottom of the furnace or we have real non-domesticated varmints.

I put out more food and, awhile later, I saw Skittles' creepy nose wrinkling into the beam of the flashlight. I reached in and grabbed his wriggling body (ugh-h-h-h...!), squeezed him through the duct opening, and tore upstairs to plop him back in his cage.

I'm glad he was okay. Hey, I'm not totally heartless. Besides, my kids now think I'm a hamster hero. But I'm still not holding him.

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