Our Pandemic Pets Are Guinea Pigs
My younger son, who is now 8, has wanted a pet since he got to hold a chicken during a kindergarten field trip. The chicken’s name was Sunny Sunshine. That was also the look on my son’s face as the bird nestled into his lap.
The pet he wanted most was a kitten. However, we already have a cat who is borderline crazy. I’m pretty sure a kitten would drive him over the edge.
Luckily my son expressed no interest in getting a dog. As a general rule, I am not a big fan of dogs. At the risk of oversharing, I will disclose that I sometimes yell at dog owners for assuming that I want their off-leash dogs to sniff me. After I read that Jonathan Franzen lives nearby and walks his dog in the area, I have always fantasized that I might someday run into him, while simultaneously fearing that I might inadvertently yell at him for poor dog management. But I digress.
Since the chicken field trip, we have become a divorced family, and the kids split their time between their dad’s house and mine. So, adding another pet to the mix has seemed impractical at best. Yet despite the logistical hurdles, I knew my son was still yearning for a pet of his very own. Eventually, worn down by over a year of COVID lockdowns and no in-person school, I began to feel guilty enough that I thought we should try to make it work.
After clearing the idea with my co-parent, I told my son that we were going to let him have a small pet, but that we needed to do some research together to figure out what type would be best. I set some conditions up front: The pet had to be portable enough that it could move between houses, and it couldn’t be a hamster. I had a whole series of hamsters as a child and loved them, to the point that I filled whole notebooks with stories about the various ways they escaped from their cage. They were smelly, noisy at night, not particularly affectionate, and sometimes met with gruesome ends. Reflecting back on the experience, I am not sure why I was allowed to get any more after the first one died. My son said he wanted an animal that he could cuddle with, and that he could train to do tricks. That seemed pretty reasonable, plus it naturally ruled out fish, reptiles, and amphibians.