Our Children, Their Pets

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have stated in the most definitive tone, “I do not like animals.” Of course there have always been exceptions. When I met my husband, he had two poodles, a standard and a miniature. They were the sweetest things going. Of course, it was kind of love Howard, love his dogs. But Zeno and Tyronne were love-worthy. Definitely. A year into the relationship, I had become their primary caretaker — because that’s what happens. Which is why when my kids were little and asked for pets, the answer was always no. I knew I’d be the one walking the thing on freezing mornings or cleaning its cage, whatever. When my son was about eight, he asked for a pet rat. Being under the delusion that kids change quickly (which they do, but not in this case), I said, “sure when you’re 12.” That may have been the worst lie I ever told them because when my son was 12, I told him no way. And they both kind of resented the no pets policy ever since. (My son did have pet goldfish twice. The first one died in its bowl over a weekend; the second went upstairs to a neighbor’s tank, where it probably died immediately, but those generous-hearted men bought another so my kids could go visit.)

Pretty soon after my son graduated from college and acquired an apartment in Brooklyn, he also acquired two ferrets: Julius Caesar (known as Caesar) and Dizzy Rascal (known as Dizzy). I kind of hated these two animals at first. I mean, what does a ferret do besides

Dizzy and Caesar in their hammock

“ferret around”? Not much except smell a lot. Still, my son loved these two guys, and I developed a certain affection for them, enough to ask about their well-being and sort of take a peek into their cage when we would visit. Maybe I should also mention that we were willing to help foot the medical bills when Caesar swallowed something and needed surgery. It wasn’t just my son we felt for; we cared about the animal. Dizzy died a few months back at the ripe age of 6 1/2 — the lifespan for a domesticated ferret is 5-8 years. So now I kind of worry about Caesar alone in his cage. I may not love this animal, but I care about it.

A year ago, my daughter and her boyfriend adopted a dog they found listed for free on Craig’s List. I was beyond dubious. Craig’s List? They had to be kidding. But they went to look and fell in love with a cute many-breed mutt, definitely part dachshund: short legs, but a larger body and a tail that’s always upright and wagging. I wasn’t so happy when

Landry under the table, hoping someone drops food

after their visit to the vet, they informed me she had said Landry (named after the New York Knick) had one of the worst cases of fleas she had ever seen. Even when I met him, he was just, basically, a dog. And when it became clear that Landry would be living with us for a while, I was resigned. But a lot has happened to Landry in the year since my daughter and her boyfriend brought him home. To begin with, he has learned some commands and words and responds when we speak.  (I am pretty sure that the owners who either lost or abandoned him didn’t speak English.) He does tricks like “shake hands” and jumping on his rear legs to reach for a goodie. He is a top “people greeter.” When someone he knows comes in the door, he wiggles the rear part of his body and wags his tail like mad. Say the word “treat” or “dinner” and he’s all ears. Landry almost never barks. He was not meant to be a watchdog. But he’s a great companion. He likes having his people around — though not too close to his face.

So while I’m happy my daughter and her boyfriend are starting a new chapter in their lives, I will miss Landry a lot. Not that I want another dog.

How do you feel about your grown kids’ pets? Are they kind of like — dare I say it — grandchildren?

Meanwhile a few tips about grown kids’ pets.

  • They belong to your kids. What they eat, when they eat — it’s all up to your kids, not to you, even if you have had plenty of experience.
  • Give advice only when your kids ask. Again the pets belong to your kids.
  • Let your kids know how great their pets are. My daughter actually loves it that her dog was happy to be with us. My son appreciates that his dad plays with the ferret.

Sound a bit like I’m talking about grandchildren? Let me know in your comments.

  • Lauren Keenan-Aradi

    Landry looks just like our first dog, Suzy, rescued from the Elmsford, NY shelter. I have to root around to find a picture.
    I can’t say I miss the upkeep, but animals are great for everyone. I ended up with the extremes: no pets allowed as a child, married: at one point over 80 (breeding geckos), ferrets, snakes, 4-5 dogs, turtles, rabbits, hedgehog, hissing cockroach- it’s a blog in itself.
    But back to Suzy, she only barked at frogs & logs (woodpiles), and remained astonished every time she was stung when triumphant in catching a bee in her mouth. If not smart, she was literate.
    I used her name to sign up for “I Can Read” Books, moving her reading level up every 3-4 months in an effort to start a home library before I was even pregnant.
    One evening a telemarketer called to ask if Suzy would like to join the summer reading club, and when I told her the story, the woman said it was the best excuse for not signing up she’d ever heard.
    As to the rule as to following your kids’ wishes when “pet-sitting”
    I have to confess that when my older daughter brought her beloved “Bailey” to us when traveling, we were instructed that she would need to share our bed or not sleep, and that her puppy (4 months) skin was too sensitive to be frequently shampooed.
    Compromise: I slept on the air mattress with the dog, who got a (still secret til this publishes) bath with ultra gentle puppy shampoo cause she was a bit smelly, and I have standards for the folks I sleep with.

    • Linda Bernstein

      Thanks Lauren. That is so funny about the I Can Read books. Landry didn’t realize he could make it all the way up onto our bed until the day before he left. I’m wondering if he’ll remember that when he comes to visit again.