Our dog’s name is Batman. This makes me smile. And as we are a culture enamored with our pets, I’m asked my dog’s name often. We’re popular on the walking trails. In my experience, introducing a big, black shaggy mutt as the Caped Crusader will often bring a smile to another, too. And if that other has a small person in their life in any significant way, I can pretty much count on a chuckle. Batman gets an affectionate schcruzz on the head, and we all leave feeling a little warmer than we did. Lighter. Because a beast named Batman clearly hails from a home with a sense of humor. A home where people don’t take themselves too seriously. A home with children.
We got Batman about two years ago after a trial with a long promised puppy proved a terrific non-success. Let’s just say when a 200lb man fears a 10lb creature of any species, something has got to give. Despite the majority rule of the family at the time, I felt an old school “for better or worse” obligation to keep my husband and lose the mutt. I wasn’t a fan of the idea in the first place. Still, I assured the kids that once daddy’s lacerations healed and the home flooring replaced, we had a decent shot at convincing him to buy a ticket for the canine carousel one more time. This was, at best, incredibly optimistic and at worst, a bald-faced lie. I kept my fingers crossed that, kids being kids, they would lose interest. Get sidetracked. After all, these are trying times for the youth of America. They face the agonizing “Team Edward” versus “Team Jacob” dilemma, whether they should beg for an Xbox or a Wii, and whose idea was it to air “Caillou”* and “The Wonder Pets” at the same time anyway? I liked my odds.
Remind me never to gamble.
It should be noted that one would not exactly call our family “pet-friendly”. From Mia the hamster (may she rest in peace) who was forgotten and left outside in her plastic exercise ball …in January, to Frank the fouler than Limburger cheese ferret who met his maker at the tender young age of who-can-remember-if-we-even-knew-in-the-first-place, when he slipped, all weaselly and ferret-like, out the front door where my husband accidentally (he claimed) backed over him with our Ford Explorer.
Oh, and Ernie. The ball python. A birthday gift for my husband who had always wanted a snake. Fine. What did I care? I didn’t mind him much. But as Ernie grew, so did his, er,..nourishment needs. This was something I had not anticipated. I could stomach him being fed those tiny, frozen baby mice but soon Ernie required more. Ernie required rats. Uh-uh. As it happened, my daughter and I found Ernie’s meals considerably more appealing than Ernie himself ( not a tremendous compliment), and we launched a two woman crusade to save each one that came through our doors. It wasn’t long before Ernie was wasting away and we were in imminent danger of becoming rodent hoarders. In the end, Ernie was bartered to our teenage babysitter and, though our relationship with his parents was slightly strained for a while, it remains to this day, the best deal we’ve ever made. As for the rats (bred exclusively for the purpose of being swallowed whole by legless reptiles) we self-righteously set them free only to watch them violently snatched up by our local hawk population. Bones picked clean and scattered across our yard. Our good intentions mocked. The circle of life is not a pretty one, friends.
My least favorite animal experience though, has to be the bird. Moses. A yellow something-or-other. Canary, maybe? It was little. It had wings. Whatever. He was a gift from a deaf friend who told me that he just couldn’t keep him anymore. He said his hearing wife (noteworthy detail) told him the bird needed to go. In retrospect, we should have questioned that, but we were assured old Mo was a terrific pet. Extremely friendly. How you judge that of something that sits on a stick all day is still a mystery to me but the kids loved the idea and so, because we never learn, the bird was christened and taken home. Here was the deal with the freaking bird. It never shut up. NEVER. SHUT. UP. “Are you putting a sheet over his cage? You need to put a sheet over his cage.” We heard it a million times. Thanks, ornithologists. That much we knew. The only one in the whole equation who didn’t seem to know this effective silencing technique was Moses himself who squawked and shrieked and chirruped ALL day and ALL night. I told my friend (a term I now use loosely) this.”Hey, thanks ever so much for terrorist Tweety. Our nearest neighbor is a mile away and he’s been complaining of Hitchcockian nightmares.” I saw understanding dawn on him and he laughed. A little too hard. Shrugged. Pointed to his ears in jest. “How was I supposed to know?” Terrific. Everyone’s a comedian.
I know. Reading this you can’t help but think that my family living fur-free is a big “duh”. You’re wondering now how we’d ever think about thinking about taking on an animal again. You know memories though. How they become fuzzy around the edges and kind of crinkly and dull? Over time our beastly misadventures became treasured family narratives that got more side-splitting (and wildly exaggerated) year after year until one day..
We knew. Our family was incomplete. Most of us were on board. As for my husband..you know the saying “Better to ask forgiveness than permission?” He’s very forgiving. And we needed a dog.
It’s crazy, isn’t it? The designer dog fad? You can mix and match your favorite breeds. Clone a favorite pooch who has passed. Dye poor Fido’s fur to match your new drapes. But us? Given our track record,we didn’t know what to look for. But here’s what we found. A dog who, upon a gleeful toddler attempt to saddle and ride him up the stairs, scoots along, head on paws, sighs deeply, and waits patiently for adult intervention.We found a dog who will allow himself to be painted and braided and dressed and dragged and tickled and chased and hugged and kissed and, on one occasion bit, and continues to grin a doggy grin and wag his doggy tail. Who spins himself in stupid barking circles of delight when someone walks in the door even if that someone has been gone merely minutes. One who knows enough to look remorseful when caught munching Matchbox cars or rain boots. We found a dog who pads from room to room while the children of the house sleep, sharing his snuggles, so that by morning each can rightfully boast “Batman slept with ME last night!”
Or maybe he found us. Either way, he’s here to stay.
My mom always called me heartless when it came to anything related to the wild kingdom. Said something is wrong inside of me. Maybe. I admit , I’m not one who coos at the babies in the pet store. I didn’t have puppies and kitties splashed across my notebooks as a kid. I’ve never felt led to give to the ASPCA or rescue the innocents jailed at the pound. I loathe the zoo. No one would ever call me an animal lover. Not then. Not now. It’s completely unrealistic to expect one common pet to change a lifetime of indifference.
It’s just..I know this one superhero..