I’m not an animal person.
But being a parent is challenging me in that area. As being a parent does in so many areas.
We had some pets when I was growing up. I have a vague memory of a set of guinea pigs. Then as a family we went through some cat years. The cat years ended when our last one simply wandered off one day and never returned. The theory was that he settled into a moving truck that had been down our street, and went on to live a good life in Thunder Bay. So I sort of get cats. They’re mostly all cool, just lying around. Except the time our cat Pogo got caught in the upper part of our neighbour’s garage door when I was about 12. There was a lot of hysterical cat screaming (and human screaming) that day during the highly technical operation to free her.
But I never got comfortable around dogs. There was always too much jumping up, drooling, and crotch sniffing for my liking. And freestyle poo-ing. Even today, I always feel kind of bad for dog owners walking along with their little bags of poo.
So I’m out of my comfort zone with my 8-year old daughter’s intense love of animals. All animals.
I totally respect this love of animals, and I know a lot of people feel the same way. But I’m sort of on the edges of it all with her, trying to find ways to be with her in this love without actually feeling the love myself.
We have zoo memberships. And we go to the pet store a lot. Isabelle could spend hours in the pet store picking up the hamsters and mice. I’ve never touched one yet. But I’m always quick to “get the guy” who will help us.
Isabelle went to a day camp at the Humane Society this summer, after which she declared her allegiance to vegetarianism. So I’ve been sitting in that space with her as her ideas around vegetarianism morph and change. Unfortunately, she doesn’t care for my home-cooked walnut balls.
There was also the two straight days I spent with her in a one-room Bug Zoo during a Bug-Zoo-specific-destination-mom-and-daughter weekend in Victoria last summer. During which – let the record show – I held a tarantula.
Then was horse camp.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” an acqaintance asked me this summer when I mentioned that Isabelle was starting horse camp the next day. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “My daughter went to horse camp once. I now live in the country and own three horses.”
The horse thing is intense right now. It’s almost two months since horse camp ended. Isabelle is still writing daily about her memories from camp (she is on day 3).
So we have been doing ‘animal things’ together and facilitating her participation in animal things. But there are also the conversations about if we can get a cat. Or a dog. Or a hamster. Or move to a farm. Or become a family of horse trainers.
The answer is always “we’ll see”.
The closest we’ve got so far is this.
A couple of weeks ago, counting up her saved allowance, Isabelle realized she has enough money for an electronic toy dog she’d been eyeing in the toy store. She bought the dog. It actually walks, sits, barks….all that jazz. Isabelle quickly became very connected to GoGo the electronic dog.
The other day, Isabelle invited me to take the electronic dog for a walk after dinner. We meandered down our local pathway, with the electronic dog on his leash beside us. Isabelle was thrilled, stopping every few minutes to get GoGo to sit or lie down. But as other “real dog” walkers approached, I felt a little weird.
The real dog would slow down to look and sniff at us and the electronic dog. As the pleasantries were exchanged with the owner, I imagined the subtext.
Yep, that’s my kid playing with her fake dog.
Lady, get the kid a real dog.
It was the first time – though it was a quick instant – my discomfort with the idea of having a pet was outshone by my love for my child. I could actually feel the reasons why it might be good.
Oh man. But I’m just not there yet. I’m just not there.