April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I am not a big fan of animals. I don’t really have the time to dedicate to grooming, cleaning, buying supplies, or feeding them, and I definitely don’t like that they’re a breeding ground for germs. But my daughter desperately wants a pet, much to my dismay. She has been petitioning for one for several months now, and I made the mistake of offering to get her any five birthday presents if she opted out of having a party this year. She chose the five. And one of those five was a rabbit.

For a while, I thought it might work. It would teach her responsibility, an important lesson for an 8-year-old who often leaves her clothing scattered all over the floor, and wouldn’t know to brush her hair if I didn’t wave a comb threateningly in front of her face every day. She would have to feed it and clean its cage, and if it died, a part of me would celebrate that we no longer have to have a pet, but mostly I’d shriek because frankly, I don’t like dead animals.

I researched (or googled) rabbits one day, and even called a friend who has one. I learned that although they are cute, they can chew through wires, do not like to be handled or carried, need grooming, and smell bad. I then contemplated buying a hutch and keeping the rabbit outside, but realized that we didn’t need a hutch. Wild rabbits roam free in Teaneck on a daily basis. “If you can catch it, you can keep it,” I told my daughter, when a small gray bunny pawed at our flowers one afternoon. The rabbit disappeared before she could get near it.

A few years ago, we had two aquatic frogs. Those “weren’t good” because she couldn’t take them out to play with them. When their aquarium developed mildew and the frogs killed every snail and catfish I added to clean the residual growth, we knew it was time for them to go. We set them free in a local swampy river, so they could bask in the glorious pond-scum, on a larger scale.

We discussed other pet options, particularly after a visit to a small farm which had thirty different horses, a few deer and goats, and a rabbit hutch with the Santa Claus of bunnies in it. Excited to finally play with rabbits, my daughter was disappointed because Santa couldn’t be pried from his quarters. Perhaps he was too heavy to lift, but he angrily turned his face away and retreated into a corner of hay, unwilling to have any human contact.

“Maybe a small crab?” I offered her one day, hearing that hermit crabs were low maintenance, did not chew wires, and had a mild, if indistinguishable, smell.

“Or a turtle? Or a lizard?” she countered, her blue eyes imploring me. At least we were getting smaller, but I wasn’t so thrilled about the salmonella they carried. Or about the bulky habitat I would be forced to purchase, likely with a filter, a thermostat, a lamp, and some dead crickets as food. Shudder.

For a while, she was happy adopting one of my plants, and keeping it in her room. She called it “Dotty” because its leaves were spotted, and one afternoon, when she was particularly upset over something, I overheard her complaining to it about how I was such a bad mother. Luckily, Dotty didn’t hold a grudge, and still agreed to live with us.

This past weekend, we were by a lake, and after a rainy Sunday morning, we ventured outside on a mission to capture a salamander. As we trekked to the edge of the homes, where the forest borders the road, we passed groups of children selling their own kidnapped salamanders for a dollar a piece. A large rectangular Tupperware was home to around ten swimming newts, slithering through filthy brown water, their orange skin slick and shiny. We continued on, in hopes of catching one in our butterfly nets.

Now is a good time to mention that I don’t like being in forests that much, either. And so, I got lucky, because approximately one foot into the woods, my nephew screamed, “I found one!” and then moved out of the way so that someone else could scoop it up. I was happy to use the net, as that meant I didn’t have to get that close, and once it was safely inside, and was transferred into a container, I passed it to my daughter to hold.

“Yay! My birthday present!” she said, hugging the container to her chest. For a moment, I paused. This is it? I thought. I had somehow lucked out with a freebie salamander in a Tupperware container, and she was thrilled. I had downsized from a fancy rabbit in a luxurious two-story hutch to this. This swamp-kidnapping. I hoped it would have a short life-span.

“Mommy, my salamander is looking very skinny today,” she tells me, because I have yet to buy it food. We have been collecting dead bugs from spider webs outside, but they remain uneaten in the homemade habitat. I sigh, knowing that I will have to go out to buy some freeze dried worms, lest I cause an untimely death.

At Petco, I pass the aisle with chirping crickets, grateful that these bugs will be too big for the salamander, and that I wouldn’t need to purchase anything as bad. “You’ll need these live red wigglers,” a worker tells me, waving to a refrigerator that contained cans of writhing worms. This was not going to work.

“Isn’t there a flake I can feed it?” I ask, inching away from the specimens, imagining the open can of worms invading my fridge at home. She shakes her head. I eye the Beta fish, rows of tiny bowls, each with a single, lonely fish, draped at the bottom of the water. How awesome they must be. Boring, quiet, and with an endless jar of non-live fish-flakes.

“So, where are your rabbits?” I ask. At least they are vegetarians. I can handle that.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be found at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com

By Sarah L. Abenaim

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