All my son wanted for his birthday was a pet. We went through the list. I must confess, I’m not a great one for animals. I look at the whole “child having a pet” thing as an addition to my workload. I always end up being the primary carer. Plus, they’re too young sometimes to understand how to look after pets. I learned this the hard way.
When Bobby was two, we got two beautiful little kittens. We thought he’d love them, look after them. It didn’t turn out like that. He frightened the living daylights out of them, chased them every time he saw them. I think it was the drum kit he got for Christmas that year that really traumatised them.
So it was me who was left looking after them. One was short hair and one long hair. Why nobody ever explained to me about the consequences of having a long haired cat, I will never know. You need someone to explain. Every time he went to the toilet, (number two of course) he left half of it behind on his long fur! Absolutely Disgusting.
What was worse, I had to clean him, every time! Seriously? It was bad. It was to no surprise that after months of cleaning a cat’s arse, I decided it was time to find them a new home. It’s a happy ending though. They went from rags to riches. They got a celebrity adoption.
So my life went back to normalish after the cats went. I felt free again. I didn’t have to think about the toilet habits of a long haired ginger cat. No more pets. That’s what I vowed.
But three years down the line, I succumbed. Bobby badgered me so much, I gave in. He got me on a very bad hangover day. He knew what he was doing.
So, we went to the pet shop. It was supposed to be to “have a look.” He knew how to play the game. Keep on at her, she’s fragile, she’ll cave. It worked.
He decided he wanted a gerbil. I was advised not to buy one gerbil, as they would get depressed? I was told I had to buy more than one. Conveniently, it was 2 for £17. So we bought two.
“You’re gonna need a cage, some straw, some bedding, food, water holder, food holder, toys?” the guy explained. I looked at him puzzled. Toys and bedding? I thought. What has the world come to? They are rodents, I felt like saying, I have hundreds of them behind my back fence. They don’t go to the shop looking for toys and bedding!
Anyway, I was too ill to argue. I went to the till, with all the paraphernalia I had acquired on my gerbil supermarket sweep.
£73.95 later, I looked at Bobby. Those, don’t you dare ask for anything else EVER eyes. We went home to settle our new rodents into their new home, toys and bedding and all.
It gets better. Exactly two weeks to the day I hear a yelp from downstairs. It was early morning.
“What is it?” I shouted.
“The gerbil’s tail has fallen off!”
I couldn’t determine whether I was hearing right. No such thing, I thought. Gerbils tails don’t fall off. Then again, this is us, this is Bobby.
I walked downstairs, trying to get to the bottom of it. Bobby was crying as he held the little black gerbil in his hand. The end of his tail had literally fallen off!
“What the hell has happened here?” I asked. I looked on in disbelief. My daughter held the end of the tail in her hand. In her palm was a fluffy piece of tail that looked like a furry little finger of hair. The end of the gerbil’s tail was exposed, a plastic looking piece of something left? Not sure what? It couldn’t be plastic could it?
It was too early in the morning for this. We had football practice at 10.00am. How could I leave this poor animal like this?
“Put them in the box Bobby,” I instructed. “We need to take them to the vets.”
We got there just as the doors opened.
“Our gerbil’s tail has fallen off!” they were both shouting. I smiled embarrassingly to the other early morning customers. I bet their gerbil’s tail hadn’t fallen off! I walked over to the vet counter. In my best English, I tried to explain what had happened. They looked at me as if I had literally sliced the gerbil’s tail off with my meat cleaver – on purpose! Their eyes burned into my skin.
“I don’t know what happened?” I said, “I wasn’t there.”
Nobody knew what it could be. It was a mystery. All these people looking at me, at the gerbils, at my children, then back at me. They’d never seen it before in their lives. None of them. It would cost me £80 to consult the oracle behind the curtain. The vet could see them in 5 minutes.
What could I do? They could die. Would I be responsible? Is it a crime? I didn’t know. We waited anxiously to see the vet. Finally, she called us in.
I was worried; worried I would be accused of animal cruelty. I didn’t even know what had happened. It was an accident. I was getting flustered.
She opened the box and looked.
“Ah,” she said, “yes, I see. What did you say happened again?” she asked.
“I think it got stuck behind the sofa,” I explained.
“Mmmm, this type of injury is a defense mechanism. They shed the bottom bit of their tail when they are caught by a predator. It helps them escape. It isn’t designed to hurt them. The end of the tail will dry up and rot off in a couple of days. I can’t do anything, just wash it and stop the bleeding,” she said as she advised us to go and sit outside.
We sat outside. I looked at Bobby. £80 for that. I couldn’t believe it. I could have bought 9 more gerbils for that price. He’d never have known, would he?
“What really happened Bobby?” I asked. He smiled back at me.
“You better not have pulled his tail,” I said.
“I didn’t, I didn’t know gerbil’s tails fell off!” he answered.
I shook my head.
Only when they get caught by a predator, I thought. Only when they get caught by a six year old predator…..
Blackie has fully recovered and is enjoying living with his brother Brownie (I didn’t name them). He’s learnt to adapt and embrace his somewhat unconventional surroundings.