How One Plus Two Became a Family Zoo

When we were dating, my future husband never expressed concern about the great number of pets in my family's household. But once we were engaged, he nervously eyed the menagerie of cats, dogs, guinea pigs, goldfish, and more, and said, "We won't have this many pets, will we?"

"Of course not," I assured him.

"Because I just want a dog," he said.

"And a cat?" I pleaded. "Just one?"

He hedged. "My family's never had a cat before."

I decided to drop the subject and let him grow accustomed to the idea. To let sleeping dogs (or rather cats) lie for a while. We began married life with just a dog.

One day while we were visiting my parents, Duane watched my mother's cat, Tabby, jump up to the sink and nudge the faucet handle with her paw.

"She's getting a drink," I explained. "She likes her water fresh."

"Neat!" he said. "Now, if we could find a cat like that...."

Little did he know, but Tabby was soon to have kittens. Surely her offspring would be like that, I reasoned. Duane agreed, and months later we were playing with tiny kittens in my parents' backyard, trying to choose one. Actually, there was no indecision on my part. As a child, my first and only cat had been a black cat, and since there was a black kitten in this litter, I chose it.

"But this one is prettier," my husband argued, cuddling a fluffy calico with a charming ink-splotch marking on her nose.

"We could take them both," I offered.

No way. He quickly dropped the calico on the grass. I scooped up the black kitten and headed for the car. Duane began to follow, glanced backward, hesitated, and the next thing I knew we were driving home with two kittens.

Two cats and a dog held us for a few years, but then we had children, and there's something about kids and pets that go together. When she was 10, our oldest daughter asked for a gerbil.

"No rodents!" Duane and I agreed.

Hardly deterred, Katie researched the matter at the library, artfully arranged gerbil books around the house, saved her allowance, and pleaded her case like a lawyer.

Gerbils were desert animals, therefore the excrement would be minimal, and the cage would be easy to clean. Not smelly. And she had saved enough allowance to pay for one herself.

"Who can argue with that?" Duane said.

How a skittish gerbil at the pet store turned into a cuddly hamster at the last minute, I'm not sure. But we came home with a teddy bear hamster. (P.S. Hamsters are smelly, we discovered.)

How that hamster made way for a mouse to come live in the house, I'm not sure, either. I think it was something our middle daughter, Jennie, said about mice being so "cute and tiny." The dilemma that developed at the pet store was that one mouse might be "too lonely" by itself, and so we came home with two. Jennie named the mice "Tom Thumb" and "Hunca-Munca." Charming names, after the Beatrix Potter characters, one for the boy mouse and one for the ... girl. (P.S. Mice are quick breeders.)

SUFFICE it to say, we've had a great number of rodents through the years, but never a gerbil. We've adopted rats, newts, frogs, fish of all colors and sizes, bunnies....

Our last holdout was that we would never have a bird. I remember vividly that we used words like "no how, no way, no sirree." Birds were messy, and besides we have two cats.

But actually, the cats have been no problem because the parakeet rules the roost from his cage on top of the refrigerator. Skittles squawks at us, chirps, sings along with my jazz recordings, and tells us daily that he's a "pretty bird." And he is.

I can't imagine how we ever lived without him.

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