Posts tagged pets

Room for one more

I used to have a theory that women who couldn’t convince their husbands to have any more children would get a family pet instead. You know how it is: a couple has two or three kids, and when the youngest becomes a preschooler, all of a sudden a pet arrives on the scene. The cause and effect relationship seems obvious: someone wanted another kid, and someone else had tapped out with the last one.

I’m here to tell you that cause and effect relationships don’t always speak for themselves. The more likely scenario is that by the time the youngest child becomes a preschooler, the oldest is old enough to beg for a pet. For an entire year. And while stuffed animals may delay the inevitable for a while, the day is coming when your children will wear you down and you will find yourself the proud owner of a pet – preferably a furry one.

  As anyone who has followed my blog for any period of time knows, our children have a fascination with animals and animal behaviour. For Teddy, the sweetest memory of the summer of 2011 will probably always be his three mini toads that he smuggled back to the city from the cottage. Letting them back into the wild will probably always be one of his most bitter childhood memories.

Teddy’s first pets: mini-toads in a water bottle cap

Although the toads are long gone, they had the lasting effect of awakening in him a desire for a real pet.

 Here’s the thing: I’ve never been a “pet person,” certainly not a “cat person”, and probably could have lived out my days happily without a pet of any description. But when a charming young lady begs you to take an adorable kitten that you know full well would put your sweet young boys in raptures, your heart is bound to soften, no matter how hard it previously was. And so it was, that after having Lucy at our house for a late-night test drive after the children were in bed, we agreed to take the plunge.

 

Two nights later, our friend brought Lucy and her few earthly possessions to her new formerly pet-free home, and with some parting instructions and many tears left this playful, alien creature with us. Lucy spent the night in her carrier, and we looked forward to the next day when our children would get the surprise of their young lives.

 

The next morning Sammy went downstairs to get his stuffed horse, and walked right past the carrier. On his way back upstairs, this new accessory caught his eye and he curiously peered inside.

“TEDDY!” he called loudly. “You gotta come see this! There’s something really cute downstairs!”

Teddy came bounding down the stairs, saw the kitten, and asked incredulously, “is this really our pet? Is she staying with us? Forever?” That last question is a tricky one. It really addresses one of the main concerns I’ve always had with getting a pet for children: that animal represents a heartache waiting to happen when “forever” ends in tragedy.

The seasoned pet owner’s obvious response to that line of reasoning is, of course, that you’re failing to take into account all the joy that preceeds the sorrow, and that the value of this joy exceeds the duration of the sorrow. Even I must concede that they are right. Lucy is quite a character, and our children are very much taken with her. Let’s put it this way: if they treated each other with the love and affection they reserve for their feline sister, our family would be the 3-D version of a Tricia Romance painting. Lucy is hugged, kissed, squeezed, carried, given good-night hugs, told she is loved, fed, and followed around the house. That cat has somehow managed to secure her little band of groupies by doing absolutely nothing. And if the individual members of her following didn’t fight over who got the chance to pet her next, it would be heaven.

For me, the real joy of owning a cat comes when she noiselessly slinks onto the couch where I am reading a book after the children are in bed, and promptly falls asleep on my lap, making no demands of my time. She’s like a low-maintenance kid: she’s fun-loving and curious, does funny things like chase her tail or jump into the paper recycling can, but is already potty-trained, cleans herself, sleeps through the night (not technically speaking, but I don’t notice her in the laundry room), can be left home alone, and eats from a bowl that does not even need to be washed every day. Whoever thinks this type of pet is a lot of work has never had a baby. We’ll see whether my enthusiasm lasts beyond the first visit to the vet.

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The Prodigal Returns

He found him while mowing the lawn. When Oliver told me that he had found toad #3 in the grass, I immediately feared the worst. When you’re a ground-dwelling animal so small that you can have a picnic on a postage stamp, and you’re found by a person mowing the lawn, this usually means that you’re either squished or shredded, depending on the path of the mower. Evidently though, my husband has the eyes of a hawk, because he carefully returned our prodigal little amphibian runaway back to his terrarium-dwelling brethren, much to the delight of the family.

What is not so delightful – disturbing, in fact – is that our wandering friend is now almost twice the size of the other boys on the team. While we have been diligent about feeding the little buggers, it is apparent that we cannot keep up with the demand of these bug-eating machines. I am now a woman on a mission: let the poor frogs go so they can fatten up before they have to hibernate for the winter. The problem is convincing their “owner” of that.

For the first day Teddy was in denial: no, the vagrant frog had always been the fattest, he insisted, and the others weren’t that much smaller anyway. By pure chance, the toads all assembled for a little frog huddle as I broached the subject of their release from captivity this morning. Seeing them next to eachother it became clear even to Teddy that yes, the Prodigal is definitely fatter and bigger, and the others need to be released as well.

As we were talking about an exit strategy for the frogs yesterday, Daddy suggested making one of our clay “stepping stones” (an upside-down flower pot-saucer) available as a toad house. It’s crawling with living things on the underside, has a convenient toad-sized hole on top, keeps the tenants safe and warm, and will hopefully keep our much-loved toads “at home” and eating insects in our vegetable patch.

At the outset of this experiment in pet care I was sure we would all learn something. And so it is that our family has learned the following things about toads:

  1. Pets need food. Toads need more than we thought.
  2. Toads eat only live food, and it’s really cool to watch. I must say, though, that I have trouble with the spiders. Seeing wiggly spider legs protruding from hungry toad lips is disturbing. Seeing a toad spit out an unpalatable spider is even worse.
  3. Toads hibernate
  4. Toads need to be fat to hibernate.
  5. Wild animals should be free to be just that: wild.

 Hopefully our toads will like their new toad house and make themselves at home in our vegetable garden. I hope they have a restful winter sleep burrowed snugly under the soil of our lettuce patch. And I do hope they stay off the grass. Oliver’s eyes may not always be so keen.

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And Then There Were Two…

Look closer... it's right there!

Wrapped in bathing towels, Teddy, Caleb and I came home two days ago from the neighbour’s pool to witness what nobody ever wants to come home to: the toad’s terrarium stood open, empty of everything but the plantation soil and the rock puddle. The only clue to the tiny amphibians’ whereabouts was the guilty look on Sammy’s face, who had – until that point – been busy playing in the sandbox (Sammy was at home with Dad). Upon closer inspection we realized that two of the three toads were squished between Sam’s little fingers – his sandbox toys, evidently.

Guilt-stricken and fearing the wrath of his older brother, Sam ran back to the terrarium where he deposited the poor toads upside down in their little puddle. The sight of them just lying there belly-up not moving will probably always be etched on our collective psyches. Were they dead? Alive, but severely shaken by their ordeal?

Teddy quickly righted them back onto their legs, at which point it became clear that the breath of life was indeed still in them. It also became clear, however, that one of their brethren had been released into the wild blue yonder. A search was immediately initiated, but the chances of finding a frog small enough to bathe in a thimble in a dense patch of clover are about as slim as finding a parking space at the mall on Boxing Day.

Eventually Teddy called off the search, consoling himself that now he had “one less mouth to feed.” That, and the missing toad was the fattest one – too fat to fit into the mouth of any predator. Absolutely right on both counts, I assured him.

Still, the animal fever continues to rage at our house. They’ve taken over the house: chameleons, koalas, toads, frogs, lizards, and whatever else the boys have seen on TV. To be clear, we don’t keep all of these animals – the boys pretend to be them. Believe it or not the boys’ creature personas were not the result of any children’s programming, although certainly Zooboomafoo with Chris and Martin Kratt laid the groundwork for their current passion. Their current animal zeal is fueled by occasional family movie nights featuring BBC Earth’s Life documentary. The exceptional footage of this series (as with all of BBC Earth’s documentaries) leaves the children with scenarios that they just have to re-enact. Could previous generations of children have known what a chameleon’s long, slimy grey tongue looks like in slow-motion as it greedily snatches a preying mantis? The way that suction-cup tip envelopes the unsuspecting insect and rudely plucks it off of its perch in the blink of an eye is impressive and worthy of an attempted emulation, at least if you’re four and six years old.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Source: africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Anyone who can still argue that children are not heavily influenced by what they watch on television need only watch our children’s play immediately following what we have just allowed the BBC to put into their little heads. If it’s not a komodo dragon lying in wait for its little brother err… prey, it’s a chameleon stuffing his cheeks with cherry tomatoes and storing them for the winter (it seems they’ve created a brand new sub-species by crossing a chameleon and a squirrel).

Beyond just being entertaining to watch, our children’s role-playing has reiterated for us the importance of our role as sentinel at the media portal of our children’s minds. Whether we like it or not, we have a very strong influence over our children’s behaviour simply by determining what we allow them to watch. Let’s give them wholesome material to emulate.

  • Toads! (creationcarekids.wordpress.com)

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Toads!

Homeward bound after a week’s stay at the cottage, our 6-year-old son surprised us with some unexpected news: “Hey Mommy, guess what? I’m bringing 3 frogs home!” While the news was unexpected, it didn’t come as a surprise.

One of Teddy’s favourite occupations while at the cottage was collecting tiny postage stamp-sized toads for observation. He’s now telling everyone that he collected 21: eleven little toads and one much larger frog that counts for 10. Now three of his little friends were embarking on an epic odyssey (at least for a toad) and their new owner couldn’t contain his joy. “Finally I have a pet!” he remarked continually.

The biggest surprise in this story is that Mommy also likes the toads. I am known to like – nay, love – plants, but animals are too uncontrollable and messy. (Which is precisely why I should probably have a pet, but that’s a different discussion altogether.) I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but those little brown speckled frogs with their scrawny legs and freckle-sized feet have grown on me.

Initially I was prepared to insist on having him release the little guys after a day or two, explaining that they would be happier in the wild where they could catch their own food. With a heavy heart and tears running down his face he headed outside to do as he was told. Now, I am a big believer in sticking to my guns in most parenting struggles, but this I couldn’t bear to watch. It wasn’t that long since I was a kid (was it?), and suddenly I could feel his pain at having to release his precious “new pets” into the wide open backyard. I ran outside to let him know that we’d try to make the arrangement work. Besides, this could be a great learning opportunity (for all of us!).

Now that we had some permanent amphibian residents in the house, we decided to make some arrangements to increase their comfort. For one thing, they needed food. What do tiny frogs eat? Ants, apparently. So until we could get to a pet store to buy some crickets, Oliver and the boys captured ants and watched the little toads hunt them down. This activity is much more interesting to watch than a cocoon languishing away day after day. We put a few rocks into the little bug catcher so they would have something to climb onto, and made sure to fill the water bottle lid with water so they could cool off whenever they felt like it. Still, every 10 minutes Teddy would ask if we could buy a terrarium for the frogs. When I could no longer stand it and forbade him asking me again (it was, after all, still only Sunday – the day after we’d gotten home) he began to say things like, “those frogs sure are squished in there…they need a terrarium” or “I’m sure those frogs would be happier in a terrarium.”

I knew installing that windowsill was a good idea.

By Monday Teddy had the responsibility of feeding the frogs, which was an eye-opening experience for him indeed. For the first time he realized that if these guys were going to live, it would be because he caught the food for them. While running errands on Tuesday we happened to pass a pet store, and I – in a very uncharacteristic move – went in with the children in tow. A pet store for kids is like a jewelry store for women. They have live animals, people! Not being pet owners ourselves (at least, until recently) we never darken the door of pet stores, so for our children this experience was as new as the dawn. We did manage to walk out with only the essentials and no extra pets: a plastic bucket specifically designed for kids who collect small critters, a plastic “rock” with a small depression to hold water, and some coconut husk plantation soil. I dug up a weed from the lawn and planted it in a small jar and placed it in our new “terrarium” along with a few rocks from the garden. Most importantly we purchased 10 mini-crickets, almost as big as the toads themselves. For the little toads, the crickets were certainly more demanding prey than the ants, but by the end of the day only 3 were left. Success!

In just over a week I have gone from having no contact with animals to babysitting a terd on my kitchen windowsill to observing a small eco-system interact in a blue-tinged bucket.  Here’s my latest observation about life, based on toads and children:  just as the clay of our life is beginning to harden as we reach adulthood, God gives us children to force change and new experiences. Any kid will tell you that soft clay is way more fun to work with than the hard stuff.

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Love at First Sight II

As the weather warms up, so does Sammy’s love affair with the worms. Saturday was the first real spring day here in Southern Ontario, and while we spent the day outside gardening, Sammy spent the day tending to his worms. As I dug up a new patch of dirt to plant my onions, Sammy discovered earthworms in abundance, and collected a handful which he proceeded to carry around with him for the morning.

First he found a small one, which was a baby worm, he said. Then he found a fat juicy one, which was obviously the Daddy. He happily reunited the two who had, it seemed, somehow become separated in different patches of earth. Whether they liked it or not, the two worms spent the whole morning getting reacquainted in Sammy’s little hand.

There came the time when he had to go to the bathroom, so he carefully placed the worms back on the soil and covered them with a leaf. He was in and out of the house in a flash, fearing presumably that his little friends would crawl away. Thankfully the worms were right where he had left them and the game continued. (Let’s remember that earthworms aren’t exactly known for speedy getaways. That’s their big downfall; probably the reason why their species has remained where it is on the food chain.)

At one point the neighbour began washing his car with a high-pressure hose attachment. This generated some noise as the water connected with the car’s metal exterior, which simultaneously generated some concern for our little Patron of Worms.

“Mommy, the wormth are getting thcared,” he worried out loud in his endearing lisp. I notified the neighbour (who was amused) and assured our little boy that the neighbour would be done soon.

One comment he made during the course of the morning revealed why he’s so enamoured with worms. As he spoke to his squirming handful in reassuring tones, I overheard him calling them his “gentle friends.” All of a sudden it all made sense. Sammy doesn’t love flighty grasshoppers. He doesn’t love “in-your-face” and energetic dogs. He loves fish. He loves worms. He loves gentle creatures – just like himself.

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Love at First Sight

When was the last time you noticed a displaced earthworm (perhaps on the concrete sidewalk) and felt the need to gently re-locate it? Now that the warmer weather is upon us it happens daily at our house. Yes, the worms have an advocate in the Trefz household, and his name is Sammy.

Sammy has been a friend of worms ever since he made their acquaintance. What’s odd is that, while most of his interests at this stage of his life reflect those of his older brother, his love of worms is all his own. Though Teddy would love to take credit for introducing Sammy to the worms and vice-versa, everybody knows that Teddy will not touch the things and has no interest in them whatsoever. Sammy’s wormoré is a great illustration of that irrepressible nurturing spirit that lives in him.

It all began just after he turned 3 last year. It was the beginning of summer, and time for Daddy to harvest some compost from the bin in the backyard. It’s a painstaking process that involves shoveling the rotted compost into a large sieve that strains out the finished compost from the larger parts that need to break down further. Sammy quickly discovered that earthworms and compost go together like bread and butter, and he couldn’t have been happier. It was like he had discovered a gold mine. Worms were everywhere: in the wheelbarrow, in the sieve, on the compost heap, in the grass…and one by one Sammy took his little friends (actually they were really fat and well-fed) and transported them to the vegetable garden. He remembered that we had told him that the worms are beneficial for the soil, and so the Great Worm Re-location began.

Being a bit of a neat-freak, I must admit to being slightly horrified initially. Seeing your toddler knee-deep in compost playing with fat, juicy, 6-inch-long earthworms is probably a stretch for even the most easy-going of mothers (which I am certainly not), but there was no way I was going to spoil his fun either. This day of playing with earthworms cemented their relationship, and though I had forgotten all about earthworms throughout the winter, Sammy most certainly had not.

Sammy has an earthworm radar. It’s a default setting on his motherboard, and it results in him seeing every worm on the ground, no matter its size, and feeling the need to pick it up and care for it. We had a warm spell during the winter, and didn’t he spot a live worm on a patch of bare ground somewhere. After carrying it around he made sure to deposit it in that same patch of soil, because that was its home. He told anyone who would listen about his most unusual find in the middle of winter.

Now that spring has officially arrived and the snow is gone for good (we hope), Sammy is finding earthworms everywhere. There’s a veritable worm-rush at our house: they’re on bare soil, underneath buckets or stumps, even under the carport after a good rain. He knows the worms don’t belong on concrete, so he will take the time before we head out to school (already in a rush, I might add) to gingerly pick up the worm that’s lying too close to the van’s tires and move it onto soil, where it belongs.

I recently moved a large stump to make room for the boys to swing, and lo and behold, there lay a good-sized earthen friend. Sammy forgot all about swinging as he played with his new pet. That poor worm was placed on the back of Sam’s little tricycle and given a ride, he was placed on a swing and given a push (this worm had already lived more than any of his tunneling brethren, I would think), and was played with until I’m sure he was on the brink of drying out or suffocating from lack of exposure to soil. Finally Sammy knew the worm had to go home, and placed him gently next to a little hole in the ground, willing him to go in. I’m happy to report that the worm survived – at least until the next hungry Robin finds him.

Thankfully Sam has not witnessed the carnage of a Robin-feed. I’m sure the day will come when we have to field that question and attempt to absorb the rush of emotion that is sure to ensue. Oh, the evils from which we have to shield our children.

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