Do you remember your first pet? Silly question. Of course you do.. But are you ready to take an honest look at how you did as a pint-sized pet owner?
My first solo pet was one of those little “hand-painted” turtles – the kind that used to be available at carnivals and Chinatown. Sadly, my lil tuddah, like so many others, lived in a tiny plastic aquarium with a fake palm tree.
I must have been about four-years-old. I suppose my parents thought they’d walk me up the responsiblity ladder with an “easy care pet.” I remember feeding Tommy Turtle a pinch of some tiny kibble-like substance – and Crayons. I remember my older siblings being assigned the task of helping me clean his turtlearium in our shared bathroom sink – when the smell of turtle funk would overtake my room. Meanwhile, one can only imagine how much salmonella we spread around the family.
Mostly I remember zooming around my bedroom, holding Tommy in my hand - so he could “fly.” In a four-year-old’s mind, this is a generous gesture. But now, wondering what this hapless creature must have been thinking, the memory makes me cringe.
One day Tommy went missing. I’d probably set him down, distracted by something shiny, or faster moving, and he wandered off. We think. All that is really known is that Tommy popped up in the bottom of my toy chest weeks later. Long after we’d stopped looking for him. I think my mom assumed the cat had absconded with Tommy.
I remember being elated at finding Tommy. Alive. But I also remember he didn’t live long after he was rediscovered. The burial services were performed out by my mudhole.
I suppose I landed in the middle of the pack when it comes to being a responsible pet owner – especially for a pre-kindergartener. But that’s a very cruddy Bell curve. When you really think about it.
If properly cared for, turtles like Tommy can grow to be a foot long, and are capable of living for decades. Needless to say, my poor turtle did not. Thankfully, the practice of selling these turtles was outlawed in 1975. Because for Tommy – and the millions of baby chicks, ducks, hampsters and parakeets like him – being a little kid’s first pet ultimately cost him his life.
The holidays are coming. And so are the kiddoes’ pleas for a pet. My hope in writing this is that parents will think long and hard before bringing any critter into their household. Little pets hurt just as much as big ones when not properly cared for. So let’s skip the ”trainer” animals - in Tommy’s memory.