Though it’s Thanksgiving week, my children, like many adults, have already made the leap to their Christmas wish list.
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas
Only a hippopotamus will do
No crocodiles or rhinoceroseses
I only like hippopotamuseses
And hippopotamuses like me too!
Only a few words in this novelty Christmas song have to be substituted to turn into my eight-year-old daughter Liv’s heartfelt plea for a pet. Here’s her version:
I want a kitty cat for Christmas
Only a kitty cat will do
No fruit bats or rats
I only like kitty cats
And kitty cats like me too!
Crazy as it sounds, these modified lyrics are based in reality. Last week while composing his Christmas list, Liv’s six-year-old brother added an illustration of a bunch of grapes next to the bat he’d drawn lest Santa become confused and bring him a vampire bat instead of the fruit bat he really wants.
But little brothers aren’t the only ones who are fond of creatures Liv will definitely leave off of her list. While I was dating their dad, Liv’s three big brothers had a series of rat pets, all named DKR, which was short for Dumb Killer Rat. Thank goodness the last one went to rat heaven (we suspect with a little help from Levi when he unwittingly fed him a rubber band) before our families blended.
Whether Levi had anything to do with the premature death of DKR III or not, the fact that he was suspect raises the question our family has been grappling with for over a year: Are my children ready for a pet? You see, though I’m no fan of rats, I can’t bear to see any animal, no matter how icky, suffer or be smothered. And my children smother animals (with excessive physical attention).
Two years ago, I adopted a sweet-natured male kitten. My kids were crazy about him. And because they were, they drove him crazy. Poor Rory was a gentle soul, but even he could take only so much. Occasionally, after he’d tried unsuccessfully to escape from their loving clutches, he’d resort to violence. To prevent them from being ripped to shreds, I had him declawed. Now he was completely at their mercy. When they didn’t show him much, his teeth became weapons. My warnings to the children about Rory going to a home where he wouldn’t be mistreated fell on deaf ears. But even if they’d listened, Rory eventually blew it with me. I understood why he was miserable, but that didn’t matter when he started spraying everything in sight. I’d had it with all three of them. Liv might like kitty cats, but that feeling wasn’t mutual with her first pet.
Besides “smothering” animals, there’s concern about the amount of responsibility involved in caring for a pet. Like the little girl in the hippopotamus song, Liv claims she will take excellent care of her coveted cat. And she probably would. Until the novelty wears off. Our reluctance stems from the way she keeps her room and the number of times we have to ask her to do things before getting compliance. The same goes for all of her brothers. Which brings me back to the heart of the matter: Are my children ready for a pet?
But how will they ever learn how to treat animals properly and learn to be responsible if they’re not given the opportunity? Sadly, I don’t have the answer. But my husband and I better figure it out because all my daughter reads, writes, draws and talks about is cats. As a matter of fact, the book she wants me to read to her class when I make my Mystery Reader appearance right before the break is The Christmas Kitten.