I keep telling everyone that I want a cat, and in essence, I do. I love the idea of having a cat in the same way that I really like the idea of having over-sized glasses or actually being compelled to read past page 24 of Anna Karenina. I like cats in the same way that I like black coffee or doing yoga or having a legitimate interest in craft beer. All of these things come to mind when I think of ways to describe myself, but actually, those things are all lies. Maybe that’s an issue, that I describe myself with interests that sound appealing as opposed to the things that I actually do. But at the end of the day, I think I want a cat because I once had a pretty cool relationship with a cat, and I’m kind of blocking out all the other pet experiences I’ve had in my life. My cat Skeeter was a boss. He laid around a lot, mostly on his back under the ceiling fan. I didn’t really have to take care of him, so it was more like having a really quiet brother that I would talk to sometimes. Most of the time, he didn’t want anyone around and considering that he was obese, I didn’t really want him on me either. Skeeter and I got along because most of the time, neither of us really wanted the other one around. It kind of worked the same as most of the relationships I had in middle school.
But when it comes down to it, I’m really not a pet person. Most of what I have owned I ended up killing. For instance, when my mamaw died, I had really bad emotional backlash, so my parents bought me a red beta fish. Essentially, you can’t kill a beta, even if you don’t feed it for like three days. I know because I was really bad at feeding it. I named him George (after George Strait, naturally), and he was good people. After a while, I got the hang of taking care of him, and like most of my pets, he quickly became my best friend. Then, like a thief in the night, my dad bought himself a small catfish. Dad decided that it would be a good idea for them to share an aquarium, so when I came home from first grade and found half of George floating at the top of the water with the other half inexplicably missing, I panicked. Had not feeding George resulted in him eating the top half of his body? When I approached my dad with tears in my eyes, his only explanation was… and I quote, “Catfish domination.” From that point on, pretty much everything I owned was destined for some terrible fate.
My dog Sable died of parvo. The dove I found outside our house died from some bird disease. The next dog I had, Roxie, died of parvo. My pet rabbit, Grace, was attacked by one of my dad’s hunting dogs. When I buried her, I cried so hard that I covered my face with my hands. It then took a subsequent two years to convince me that I wouldn’t die myself via facial exposure to dead rabbit germs. The pet turkey (a seemingly indestructible creature) we had was eaten by coyotes. All the quail we owned started disappearing… years later, I found out that I ate them. However, the most devastating fate was probably the first cat that I ever had, Tiger.
After a moving sermon at New Hopewell Baptist Church, I had acquired what I call “the baptism bug.” As soon as I got home, I started looking for things to baptize: action figures, my pillow, my brother Casey… you name it, and I redeemed its soul in the name of Jesus Christ. Tiger, however, was a tricky target. He had been scratching things for some time, and the most logical eight-year-old solution was to wash those demons out of him. So eventually, after hours of work… I caught him. I filled up the bath tub beforehand, understanding in previous attempts, the sound of the bathtub filling up only induced the demons within him. His demons were no challenge for me though. The day that I baptized Tiger was one of my proudest; nevertheless, Tiger clawed his way up my arm, over my shoulder, and ran out the door. I never saw Tiger again after that day.
With a pet resume like that, I was honestly surprised that anyone would ever allow me to babysit their kids, but throughout high school, I babysat two kids who have grown up to be seemingly halfway decent people now. I like to think I had a pretty heavy hand in that. I would make them food sometimes or turn off the television and make them do homework. Essentially, I was the closest thing to Maria Von Trapp that someone could be without making a new wardrobe out of the drapes. So when my former boss presented me with the opportunity to “dog-sit” for her, I embarked on the opportunity with open paws (several puns intended). I had, at some point, blocked out all of the horrible things I had done to animals over the years and assumed that if I could watch kids a couple days a week that I would surely be able to watch dogs.
But it didn’t take long to realize that maybe this wasn’t the kind of a job for someone like me. When I walked into their house, the couch and chairs were covered in hair, and I mean, if that’s what you’re into then cool. These people had a baby though… a little tiny human that I had watched eat her own boogers on several different occasions. I rarely ever saw the kid, but I always saw the dogs and it only took me a couple minutes to realize that these dogs are the stars and the baby is kind of like a recurring character. I know that wherever this couple went, they didn’t take their baby, but I was also unsure where the baby actually was. After some contemplation, I assumed she was in the mailbox… I didn’t check to confirm or deny that theory. My job was the dogs, and that’s what I was going to attempt to do. I was instructed to stay in the house with them and that I should sleep there.
After one night of sleeping in the house though, I knew that I would never dog sit again. I don’t cuddle with humans, let alone dogs. I have boundary issues, and maybe that means I wasn’t hugged enough as a child, but we can’t really do much to remedy that now. As I laid there trying to fall asleep, these two full sized labrador retrievers boxed me in, similar to the way that football players would sandwich me in the hallway as a high school freshman. I felt intimidated and uncomfortable, especially when one of them would start pawing against my butt… the dogs, not the football players. After night one, I decided that the best option would be to lock them in the basement at night. It was only like… eight hours. They’d be fine because normal living creatures should work the same way as humans, right?
Wrong. One of two things happen to dogs at night: (1) They poop on themselves mid-sleep or (2) Dogs are oddly nocturnal. I never thought to check the basement the next morning because I was using human mentality. I don’t poop on myself when I sleep, so surely they’ll be good to go once I get up in the morning. After my four day stay, I picked up my compensation and went on my way. Later that day, I would get a call from their owner that went something like this: Justin, do you enjoy abusing my dogs? I mean, did you even take them outside to use the bathroom or did you just lock them in the basement for the entire week for you to go off and do God knows what? Seriously, what the f*%& did you do this week? You will never get near my dogs again. How would you feel if you were locked in a basement for an entire week? Well, I probably wouldn’t mind it because I could get some serious reading done, but that was neither here nor there. At this point in the conversation, I laid the phone down because this was obviously a battle I was going to lose. I began to wonder what exactly was in the basement… did they really poop feet upon feet of feces or was this like… one poop pile left unattended? Maybe my theory about the baby was wrong, and they made the same misconception that I did and the baby pooped everywhere. Yes. That was the theory that I would follow.
Needless to say, I’ve pretty much stayed away from the idea of having pets since that debacle. I’m pretty sure my name is on a list somewhere that prohibits me from getting in a seven feet radius of a dog and the owner of that list is our very own, Sarah McLachlan. I’m like 98% confident those dogs were alive when I left that house, and if they weren’t it was because something terrible had happened between the time I locked up the house the last time and the time that their owners got home. I actually wouldn’t have been surprised if they held all their poop that week, unlocked the basement with their secret human capabilities, and went down there and pooped for like two hours straight. Those dogs were evil, and they gave me evil labrador retriever eyes all the time. And as much as I showered, they always wanted to smell my man business, so honestly, I should have remembered to mention how much that bothered me during our conversation about my inability to take care of animals. But I didn’t… the past is the past, and all we can do is learn from it. That’s why I have the opinion I do about getting a pet. I know that if I got a cat, it would probably meet a similar fate as the others, and even if it didn’t, I’d probably try to baptize it in a religious daze and never see it again anyway.