As this is a fully Catholic blog about my Catholic family, I feel no shame in taking this opportunity to loudly and publicly thank God for the blessings he has bestowed upon our household. More specifically, it can only be because of his good grace that we have avoided all-out catastrophe.
But let me catch you up to speed. Since he was 18 months old, our son, Grant, has been fascinated by animals — obsessed might be a more accurate word. And now, his knowledge of animals is encyclopedic. (True story: While I was writing this blog, I asked him for his three favorite animals; they are: 1. Cheetah, because it’s the fastest land animal; 2. Peregrine falcon, because it can dive at 200 mph, making it the fastest animal on the planet; 3. The basilisk lizard, which is so light and so fast that it can run across water, which, Grant says, is why they call it the “Jesus lizard.” I love this kid.
Anyway, years ago, he begged my beautiful, devout wife and me to get him a pet lizard. It wouldn’t have been the first time he talked us into buying him a pet (more on that later), but we stood our ground. But because he is a kid who likes to negotiate, and because we’re the type of parents who like to avoid massive meltdowns in pet stores, we dismissively agreed to his suggestion that if he couldn’t have a pet lizard now, could he have one when he turned 10? Did we realize this could come back and bite us? Yes. Was it worth the remote chance that he would even remember our promise to buy him a lizard in three years? Yes it was.
Talk about your all-time backfires. Since our poor decision, he has reminded us almost monthly about the lizard we are to get him for his 10th birthday.
He turns 10 in less than a week, and we were certain that the lizards would be coming home to roost. And this is where the storm clouds parted and God showed us that he is, indeed, merciful. Miraculously, and suddenly, Grant changed his mind. “Maybe when I’m 11,” he said. This year, his focus is on LEGOs. I would rather step barefoot in the night on hundreds of tiny plastic daggers than have a lizard running around our house.
Honestly, the benefactor of his decision wasn’t my wife and me, it was the lizard, which would have wound up as the latest casualty in our backyard pet cemetery (metaphorically speaking, of course). Let me quickly run down our pet history, some of which predates Grant’s ability to beg. We couldn’t say no to his sister, either. For as much as we dislike animals, we love our children and occasionally have a difficult time telling them “no.” To the best of my recollection, here are our pets, in chronological order, and the fate they ultimately suffered.
- When she was 3, Olivia desperately wanted a cat, to which I’m horribly allergic. She and her mother thought a perfect solution would be to take a family member’s barn kitten and make it an “outside cat” at our house. In town. In a neighborhood. Pirate (that was the cat’s name) shockingly disappeared after about three days.
- Olivia also wanted a bunny. They’re cute, she said. This was a horrible choice from the get-go, because while Button might have been adorable, he was mean as sin and would attack any feet or ankles that came his way. Living in fear is no way to live. He traded in having free rein of our house to living with cousins. In the country. In a cage.
- Because we’re idiots, apparently, we got another rabbit. This one, whose name I can’t remember, would escape out of our back door. As we have terrible luck, our rotten neighbor kids would think they were doing us a favor and track him down and return him. “We found your bunny hopping around our house — again,” they would say. He joined his fluffy friend on the farm.
- We had fish that didn’t make it long, and they were replaced by two small swimming frogs that were seemingly indestructible. We rarely cleaned their cages and might have forgotten to feed them a time or two, which is possibly why one resorted to frog cannibalism. Now lonely, the remaining frog croaked soon after.
- Because Grant was much cuter when he was little, and was too young to remember the pink-eyed devil rabbits, we caved when he asked for a Guinea pig. Bugsy was easily the smelliest and messiest pet we’ve had. After we had him for a few months, we found him unresponsive in his cage one day. Grant, who was only 3 or 4 at the time, insisted that he was sleeping. Reality broke his heart.
That brings us to our current pet. Grant desperately wanted a dog, and Erin, who dislikes animals in the house (despite all the evidence to the contrary), wanted a big dog who would protect the family while I worked nights. She found a family a few hours away who was looking for a home for its 2-year-old goldendoodle. We agreed to go meet the dog, and if he seemed well-behaved and good with the kids, we would bring him home. We knew his name was Bear, but we thought it was going to be simply a cute moniker and not an accurate description of his size. But we had driven our excited children two hours to meet their new dog. We couldn’t say, “No thanks, keep your moose.” We might be foolish and naïve, but we are not monsters.
So now, five years later, we still have Bear, who reciprocates Grant’s love and takes any abuse my sons can dish out; if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have put up with this 107-pound nuisance. A few of our issues with him: He barks at any living thing that walks past our house, except humans who have the potential to break into it. Being that he’s the size of a small car, coupled with the fact that we have six people living in a small house, he is constantly in our way. Want to play fetch? So does he, only he won’t actually give you the ball back — you have to risk puncture wounds and pry it out of his vicelike jaws.
But the worst is this: He’s a runner in the mold of Jim Brown. He’s quick enough that if he sees daylight through an open door, you have no chance to catch him. Worse still, he’s strong enough that if one of the children in the house — who all weigh less than him — is trying to keep him from running, he can simply overpower them.
Once, when he tasted freedom without having his tags on, he wandered into the open door of a house a half-mile away. Thinking he had lost his best friend, Grant was inconsolable. We found him the next morning on a Lost Dogs page on Facebook. We drove to the other side of our neighborhood to pick him up, and the man of the house greeted us warmly, saying how great of a dog he was and that his little girl was not only hoping to keep him, but she had already renamed him. While that little girl was sad to see Fluffy Sparkle Unicorn leave, Grant was so happy to have his friend back.
So while he won’t be getting a lizard for his 10th birthday next week, Grant still has Bear — the one pet we’ve managed to not kill, lose or allow to be eaten. And as much as our dog annoys my wife and me, we could never get rid of Grant’s best friend. We love him too much. (The boy, not the dog.)
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.