I apologize to all those animal lovers out there, but I must state my firm opinion: Animals are dirty, gross, yucky. Choose whatever word you want, but don’t bring them into my house. I just don’t like animals. I do not think that they are cute and cuddly. I think they are, well, I already expressed my view, so we’ll leave it at that.But…Hashem has a great sense of humor. He gives animal-hating women sons! I have a rule in my house that the boys must empty their own pockets before putting their clothes in the laundry (or throwing them on the floor under their beds!). If they don’t empty their pockets and their treasures get ruined in the wash, well, let that be a lesson for next time. I absolutely will not stick my hands into little boys’ pants pockets. What if there’s a snail collection in there?
Well, as much as I dislike animals, my little boys seem drawn to them. They collect all sorts of creatures on their way home from school. They already know to go around to the back of the house and put their menagerie on the porch before coming into the house. But they don’t stop with collecting the native fauna. They have been begging for a pet for years.
Act one began with my son asking for a donkey. No matter how much I tried to say no, to reason with him, he insisted that he needed a donkey. I said donkeys are the lowliest of animals. He countered with Mashiach will come on a donkey – maybe even ours! Finally I told him that if all the neighbors in the apartment building agreed, he could get a donkey. Fortunately, the first door he knocked on put an end to the donkey business. The great-grandmother across the hall quickly understood where the question was stemming from and promptly told him “absolutely not!”
The next step on our pet journey was a rabbit. It came from a neighbor’s rabbit gemach. She realized that many children want pets and get tired of them pretty quickly, so she made a rabbit gemach. Each family gets to take the cage and rabbit for as long as the children are interested in it, or as long as the parents can tolerate it. Brilliant idea! You can’t go wrong there, right? Well, Couscous (yes, that was his name) was a great playmate for the children! He was out on the porch and so were the kids. As long as everyone washed up when done playing, I was game to the dirty rabbit out there – until we had a thunderstorm. Now what? My husband brought the cage inside. Within 24 hours, I had a terrible allergic reaction and developed a sinus infection, and out went the rabbit.
Next, we tried a turtle. The boys found it on the way home from school. I’m not sure exactly how one plays with a turtle, but they became fast friends. The problem was that we have a very large porch already filled with the boys’ clubhouse in progress: bricks, boards, sticks, etc. The turtle loved to climb through all the junk and hide from us. Come morning, nobody was allowed to eat till we fed the turtle, as per the halacha, but we couldn’t always find him! After a few weeks I was too repulsed to handle the turtle anymore. It was all over the porch, doing its thing, and, objectively speaking, it really was disgusting. Out went the turtle.
Our quest for a pet continued. Goldfish came next. You can’t go wrong with goldfish, right? So, in came three little goldfish, swimming around in an empty plastic container. To give credit where credit is due, the boys really were very good about feeding the fish and cleaning out the bowl. But the involvement ended there. What can you do with a fish already? You can’t exactly pet it or hold it in your hand. They don’t do anything, other than die. And that is what our fish proceeded to do. My poor little boy was so sad. He had a good cry and then declared that he wanted to give away the other fish. He said it’s just too hard to see it die: he’d rather not have them at all. Fine with me.
But alas, our little boy was still craving a pet! We’d been through many options already, and nothing had worked out! The boys tried to request a hamster or gerbil, but I put those in the same category as rats and mice; they’re rodents! I am adamantly against any animal that, should I find it in my house in the middle of the night, I would have called an exterminator. You call that a pet?!?
We finally settled on a bird. We got a beautiful little blue parakeet. I must say, I really enjoy the bird. It sits in its cage and sings so nicely. There’s something very cheerful about having a little birdie singing to you when you work in the kitchen. The one odd thing about Tookie, as he’s called, is that whenever the baby cries, he starts to chirp really loudly and urgently. “Yes, Tookie, I hear the baby crying, I’m on my way, thanks!” You’d think that all was settled with Tookie in place, but the children wanted more. They wanted a female bird as well so that they can watch it lay eggs and have little birdies hatch. So, along came Kiki, the wife. They had a bit of a rocky start, fighting over territory, I suppose, but they soon became great friends. They sang together, pecked at each other, but they never laid any eggs. Kiki was still an adolescent.
And then the tragic day arrived. Kiki died. Or, to be more accurate, Kiki was accidentally killed when her neck snapped while being transferred after their cage was cleaned. Well, my eight-year-old was just devastated! He sat down and just cried his little heart out. I sat with him for quite some time, discussing his pain and how much he loved his little bird. Suddenly, he looked up and asked, “If we leave it there, will it smell?” I told him that it would. I decided that if the Torah tells us to bury our dead, that must be the most therapeutic way of dealing with it, so, I said, let’s do the same. He was very happy with the idea. The boys went out behind our house and dug a little hole. We took pictures. Then they carried the dead bird (with disposable gloves this time) out to the hole. We took pictures again. Kiki was then lovingly placed inside her grave. We took more pictures. Finally, the grave was covered up and marked, and, you guessed it, we took pictures. I couldn’t believe I was actually photographing a dead bird, but I knew that my son would want to see pictures afterwards whenever he got sad remembering his beloved bird. As we came back inside, tracking mud all over the kitchen, my eight-year-old turned to me and said, “Now I know what is worth investing in – Torah! Everything else gets destroyed.”
Well, I’d love to say that he then picked up his mishnayos and began learning the eternal words, but he is only a child, and within a couple of days we were back to begging for another female bird in hope of having babies.
Two days later, the boys came home from school with pockets filled with snails. We now have a little snail house on our back porch, one lonely parakeet in the cage inside, and an important lesson about what in life is truly eternal.