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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

entry arrow12:54 AM | Fur Balls We Love

When Mark suggested we were getting a pet for the summer, I said no. I was 30, and I very quickly surmised that at that age, having a pet became an unnecessary throwback to childhood. In a sense, it felt very much like regression. I even remembered Scripture to back my hesitation: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things" (from I Corinthians 13:11). Pets, without doubt, were the province of children.

In the depths of all these, there was a nagging doubt that it was a kind of responsibility I had no wish to undertake. Pets were never playthings for me; owning one was tantamount to accountability with a life. Could I possibly care for one? I've had plants dying on me before: the act of watering proved too much, so how much more something one had to shelter, feed, groom, and play with? What time I had, I told Mark, could not possibly be eaten up more by the care of little animals. It was a definite "no."

The next day, I found myself the owner of a frisky little rodent, a guinea pig we named Verushka. She had the most beautiful black eyes, the kind that melted reservation. Guinea pigs, we soon quickly learned, were high-maintenance pets. They necessitated constant cleaning and care, and while we had a surfeit of love, we soon found out that what was also necessary for the well-being of any pet was research. Guinea pigs needed wood to chew on. They needed a flat surface in their cages to prevent incidents of broken bones. There was a vast amount of information to absorb -- but all these we found out only after Verushka died.

She was with us only three months when Mark noticed that she was not eating that much anymore. She loved vegetables, consuming vast amounts of kangkong we bought for her from the local grocery. Suddenly, she had no appetite, and her gait was increasingly becoming uneven. She seemed to drag her hind legs around, and sported the emaciated look of something that was sick. Nothing seemed right. The bad things snowballed, and in the next few days, we found ourselves frightened by what was happening before our eyes. We drove around the city trying to get in touch with the proper veterinarian, only to be met with incompetence in the City Veterinarian Office and the impatient run-around by private ones. On our way to the last clinic we knew existed, Verushka gave a tiny cry, stood up, stiffened, and fell dead.

We were in the middle of the highway in the middle of the afternoon, but there we were, two grown men, crying like there was no tomorrow.

Sometimes, I feel that my initial hesitation to owning a pet sprang from that fear of watching something you so earnestly love die. A pet is an investment of emotions. It can become a repository of all our gentle humanity, so when it is gone, a part of us die as well.

I have always known this to be true. I had many pets growing up, and the various houses we rented through the years became veritable zoos. There were several dogs from childhood until late adolescence, some of the shaggy kind, and others plain street mutts whose lack of thick fur was considerably made up by their deep capacity for loving. There were several Wiggles and two Sugars (we had a tendency to repeat names over the years), and there was a particularly loving mutt I did not hesitate on calling Gizmo, after the lovable critter in the movie Gremlins. There were a hundred cats as well, so to speak -- the matriarch Minggay, several daughters all named Mingky (one of which was the subject of an abandoned comic strip project I had when I was a kid), a Blackie, and a Louis. Louis was a white tabby, Minggay's grandson courtesy of the most regal Mingky we had. Once I found Louis and Minggay copulating in our old house in Tubod, and such was my childish moral wrath that I screamed upon that discovery. My poor mother had to assure me that this was the way of other creatures: between them, sex preceded kinship. It was a way of the natural world that must have altered, in some fundamental way, my perspective on everything.

There was one Christmas when I was in college when my best friend Kristyn gave me a black rabbit. Because I was in a playful mood, I quickly named the creature Rabbit Stew -- and presented it to my mother, who quickly said, "Not another pet. They break my heart."

It was not out of cruelty that mother said that. She was, after all, the foremost caretaker of all the creatures we have sheltered and loved. It was, I have since realized, her way of summing up the grand narrative of human attachment to domesticated animals. In the end, she knew that pets die. She could not bear another heartbreak over the merest mortality. In some places I know, this seems to be one of the ultimate reasons why parents permit children to care for animals -- to teach them, in telescopic intimacy, the gravitas of death.

(Mother and Rabbit Stew, which she quickly nicknamed Bibit, soon grew so close the rabbit would actually wake her up in the morning by jumping on her chest to beg for food. When Bibit eventually died, my mother's heart was broken anew. We never had another pet again.)

Soon after Verushka's passing, Mark and I had to learn to cope with the frank sadness of an empty cage. Which led to our "adopting" two grayish Siberian dwarf hamsters we named Sushmita and Aishwarya, which ultimately became shortened to Sush and Ash the moment we noticed the hamsters we had were, in fact, boys. Then there was a Syrian teddy bear hamster we named Shandi. Then there were the white mice we named Alicia, Shiloh, Chiyo, Pumpkin, Ken, Watanabe -- and four new babies, one of which is such a docile female we have recently christened it Cynthia.

This is Shandi.

This is Ash.

This is Cynthia.

There are two cockatiels a friend gave us, and which we named Silly and Billy. Then there are the fish we have since collected: a black gold fish named Kimorah Lee, a betta named Jay, three mollies named Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and Elvis Presley, a golden pleco named Cinderella, a rainbow shark named Katharine Hepburn, assorted swordtails named the Brady Bunch, carps named Oxana Federova and Cher, and several others we have since ceased naming. Of course, there is also a dog named Lara Dutta. Verushka has spawned in us a want to spread that suddenly discovered capacity to love.

A pet, I have since found out, is an extension of our capacity to be human: we were all born God's stewards, and in many ways owning a pet becomes a microcosm of that responsibility. In return for the little loving we give, these pets somehow manage to absorb the stress of our days, melting all our sadness and tiredness away with just that tiny look from their little black eyes and the squiggle of their little noses. It's a great way to live.

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