“Five Years Later (Confession of a Bad Pet Owner)”

By Shawna Peete

I’m finally living out Audrey’s dream of living in a house somewhere that’s green. I’m going to turn the dining room into a library, build an abstract walkway to my front door, plant sunflowers near the edge of my front lawn, get a picket fence, and buy one of those sleek fridges that dispense ice-cubes. However, to make this house perfect, I need to find the best pet that can complement its comeliness. Problem is, I’m not sure if I should. I have a history of adopting a wide assortment of tiny animals. Unfortunately, none have ever lived up to their typical lifespan. I haven’t had a pet since my adolescent years, but I sorted out a plan once to adopt my own cat the day I got my first house. When I think about this plan, and the “other” reason I want to adopt, I reflect back on all my past failures with animals.  

My first pet was a beta; the most classic choice for first-time pet owners. I had only one responsibility then, to feed him three pellets a day. In my seven-year-old mind, a fish’s face says more than it what it verbally can’t. His face told me, “Please ma’am, give me some more.”, and he was holding out his tiny fins. I said, “forget everything the adults told me”, if a person can’t skip past lunch, dinner, and dessert, why should the fish? When nobody was watching, I’d throw in more pellets. The fish became bloated, and somehow stopped swimming. I couldn’t believe that in less than a month I failed to uphold my first and only responsibility. Mom tells me he was just a fish, but I think of him as a stark sign that there would be more failures in the future.

    For my thirteenth birthday, I got a dwarf hamster. They are the little, furry, demon kind that Petco erroneously recommends to children twelve and over. She was all the worst things about a pet: stubborn, high maintenance, violent, callous, and was only noisy at night. My sister recommended me to replace her for two rats, and truthfully they are the sweeter rodent. The sociable one quickly became the favorite since the anti-social one liked to pick on him. Their friendship turned to rivalry, and I separated them so the bigger one would stop chewing up the smaller one. The costs and maintenance of having to clean two different cages was making me reconsider the hamster, who neither wanted attention or left several messes to clean. Giving the little rat time to heal in his cage only irritated his infection. Once he started attracting flea-like insects, my father wasted no time exterminating them both out in the snow.

    Then, when I was fifteen I asked for a gerbil. I left his cage open one day, and found him dead in my air conditioning three weeks later. Then I bought two more fish at the age of sixteen, and they froze in our powerless house during the 2011 snowstorm. Then I turned seventeen, gained a strange fixation for birds, and bought a parakeet. My bird obsession took flight the following year, and afterwards so did she. Her squawking became louder than my earpieces, and my carpet was entangled with seeds and feathers. I was so annoyed with her, but I also felt guilty for allowing myself to be neglectful months after she was adopted. So I decided to set her free one day when no one else was home. A week after, I looked online to see if what I did was right, and finally confessed to my mother when I learned it wasn’t.

Although I lost all my pets due to circumstance, in truth, I think animals are safer if they’re just in my vicinity for show. After the parakeet, I swore not to keep anymore pets. I can’t ignore this trend of buying animals from a shop and later contemplating whether to set it free. When I actually left my bird to fend for itself after a year of captivity, I came to a realization that I hadn’t changed as a mediocre pet owner. So what is it about all these teenage mistakes that should matter to me today, especially since I’m a grown adult with her own house? Of all the pets I’ve owned, in the back of my head subsists a selfish desire to own a kitten once I got a house of my own. Well, I’m that independent-living adult now. I’ve changed significantly, and I find that those changes include constant reconsideration of some difficult choices.

It’s practically taboo to confess that you’re a bad pet owner. However, I’m coming out clear because I want to be discouraged from owning anymore pets. Much like having children and starting a family, I think of my old failures as evidence that some of these dreams just shouldn’t be fulfilled. I want to get a cat, I want to convince myself that I won’t return to those same bad habits as before, but I feel it’s safer to be a skeptic. However, I also want to believe that there’s a chance for me to one day be an attentive mother.

I will keep this place in almost-perfect house condition. I want the bed sheets, carpets, and couches to remain hairless, and I don’t want my mornings to be filled with fur balls left on the floor. Instead of thinking about old dreams, I should be planning. Why am I sitting here brooding when there’s a living room that still needs to be furnished with bookshelves? Get these other jobs out of the way first and maybe, just maybe, that cat question will be refocused. This place should be finished in fewer than five years, so until then I’ll let time be the one to make these choices for me. If the house is still standing, I might have found a good sign.