Fishy tales: Don’t believe a word your folks tell you
Forget about love and responsibility, in our family pets have only been a curse
Buy your kid a pet, they said. It teaches them love and responsibility, they said.
Bloody bullshit, I thought, as I stared down at the corpse of Speedy who had, during the night, hurled himself out of the fishbowl and now lay lifeless on the floor. He was easy to miss: an orange blob partially obscured by the couch, his tail resting over his face as if he was embarrassed by the indignity of his last moments. As if to say “Aaargh! What have I done?”
Speedy the First had met a similar fate. Speedy the Third is now growing accustomed to his new home after a hurried trip to the petshop for a replacement goldfish of similar dimensions. All done before the kids got back from school.
My seven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son are none the wiser. Before you judge me, the subterfuge was necessary – in their short lives they have experienced more trauma and heartbreak from pets than any other living creature.
First there was Furball, a wild kitten born in our roof. Ridiculously cute, we tearfully handed him over to my sister's family when we relocated to Cape Town. He ran away the first night and was never seen again.Then came Titian. We “adopted” him from a man trying to flog him on the side of the road. A true pavement special, he looked a bit like Donkey from Shrek. We had him only a few months when we noticed he couldn’t lift his head properly. It was all downhill from there, culminating in my sobbing husband holding him in his arms as the vet administered a lethal injection. There was nothing that could be done, he said. He had injured his neck – probably in a misjudged jump off a bed.
My husband could not bring himself to break the news to the kids. Instead he lied through his teeth.Titian was at the vet, getting better, he told them for two weeks. It was cowardly deception at its worst. He had to come clean eventually, and the kids have not believed a word he has said ever since.
We vowed our dog days were over, but a year later we were shamelessly accosted by an animal shelter at a shopping centre. We didn’t stand a chance. It’s a cheap shot to unleash a cage of bouncing puppies on unsuspecting Sunday morning shoppers.
And so we came to adopt Layla, a spirited blonde who chewed up every shoe in the house, turned the garden into a mining site and chased every car down the road.
She went missing after 18 months – ran away and never came back. Our number was on her collar but no one ever called. We searched high and low, put up posters, alerted every street WhatsApp group in a 10km radius and every animal shelter in town. To this day, my son refuses to watch any movies about dogs and cries quietly into his sleeve whenever he sees a boy with a pooch.Last year, a school friend’s mom offered us guinea pigs. They even came with their own, spacious hutch. How hard could it be to look after them, I thought to myself? It was another disaster.
They were named, cuddled and bonded with. Then one began falling over. In days she was dead. Then another. And another. It took two weeks for all six to die. Like a horror movie in slow motion. I would come home to find their stiff corpses in the corner of the hutch, my children inconsolable.
So when I read articles about how pets can help heal children with post traumatic stress disorder, lower stress levels and teach them responsibility and empathy, I can’t help but scoff. Clearly those researchers were not referring to my family. In fact, if pets have taught us anything, it’s that everything you love will leave you, and you can’t trust your parents to tell you the truth.