Early Monday morning, I woke up and staggered to the kitchen for a much-needed cup of coffee. On the way through the dark house, I stepped in something soft and squishy: cat vomit. Not an unusual event in our household; the cat, Andy, was just four months old when I adopted him from a rescue group at , but he is 15 now and frequently leaves us surprises. We just had the carpet pulled out of the living room, so I wasn’t that frustrated with the “surprise” and its cleanup this time.
Trying to avoid more of the same, I turned on the kitchen lights. Illuminated in the glow was an iridescent orange blob on the floor. A closer look revealed it was one of my daughter’s goldfish. Somehow, it had jumped out of the bowl—which, by the way, was unreachable by the cat, so the events weren’t related -- and met an untimely death on the floor.
Goldfish tricks gone bad or a successful suicide attempt? Hard to say, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a great start to the week when I told Maggie about the latest pet death. I was able to keep her from noticing the missing fish before school but I knew I would have to break the news to her later.
After school, I gently told her what had happened. Maggie immediately asked, “Which fish was it?” as if the goldfish were somehow radically different looking or behaving. Apparently they are to her because after a quick check, my daughter determined Flipper was the dead fish, while Daisy remained alive and well in the bowl. I couldn’t help but reflect on how aptly named Flipper was, considering his last moments but decided not to share this with Maggie. After many tears and hugs, Maggie laid some flowers on his grave and, somewhat recovered, went off to play with her friends.
Flipper joined many others who had gone before him in the rapidly growing pet cemetery in our backyard: Abak 1 and Abak 2, also goldfish; Boomie, our black cat; 10 tadpoles, unnamed; Hermey, the hermit crab; and Fuzzy, the teddy bear hamster. With each pet, Maggie experienced unconditional love (well, not so much from the tadpoles) and I learned more than I ever wanted to about their care and keeping. Not that I haven’t enjoyed all of our pets, but with each pet that came into our home, there was extra work and sometimes more than a little expense. And, with each pet that joined our family, I knew its end would be painful for someone, but most definitely for my little one.
In spite of all this, I wouldn’t trade the experience of having pets. Each animal has given us many laughs, entertainment, joy, an understanding of how to care for another living creature, empathy and responsibility. It doesn’t matter how many times we cry over the death of one of the pets, we eventually move on and adopt someone new. Maggie won’t be ready for another buddy for a while, and I can guarantee you that I will inwardly cringe when she asks for a snake, or hamster, or what have you, in a few months. But, I know it won’t take me more than a few days after her request before we find ourselves at the , or , checking out the possibilities for a new addition to our family.