All Creatures Great and Small.
Wouldn’t you think that would be a simple question to answer? As long as I didn’t go for the cheap “You mean besides the two who walk upright and get mail at my house, har, har, har?” joke, it should be a quick numerical response. Instead, I get the cagy expression of someone being deposed and say something like “What do you mean by have?”
Well, how many do you own?
You’re going to have to be more specific than that. Do you mean how many animals are currently living in my house, or do you mean how many animals do I feed, or do you mean how many animals would I have to evacuate in the highly unlikely event of an inland hurricane on the West Coast? Each one of those definitions would have a different answer.
If you are asking how many animals currently dwell under my actual roof, then the answer is two --or three, depending on whether you count my non-attached garage as also being “Under my roof”. My tiny foster kittens have grown, have gone to adoptions fairs, and gone off to live with loving and wonderful families, many of whom soon will be considering reupholstering their couches. Charlotte, the mother, is a horse of a considerably more challenging color.
Where her offspring were all big eyes and wee little paws slipping through the cat cage bars, begging winningly for attention, Charlotte views an adoption fair as some torturous variation of speed-dating. She wants no part of it. She’s a healthy and pretty tabby cat, more than happy to socialize amiably with people who walk by our front yard when she’s outside having a sunbath. But take her to an adoption fair on Saturday morning and she sticks her head under a blanket and refuses to acknowledge anyone until I come to pick her up again on Sunday night. The entire time, instead of charming potential domestic partners, she exudes a palpable black cloud of resentment around her cage. Unless someone is in the market for a cat who reminds them of a fourteen year-old girl being forced to go to a family reunion, she’s not finding a new home anytime soon.
The remaining five days a week she does not live inside our house because she has terrorized our cat and dog -- or as I like to think of them, the “preexisting conditions”. Our dog is old. Like many older folk, she needs a bathroom arrangement based upon ease and convenience. By the time she manages to stand on all fours, hobble to the back door and bark, we all know she needs to get out there now. However, if I open the door and Charlotte happens to be anywhere in the back yard, the dog turns around and hobbles back to her bed:
DOG (Sadly): Oh, never mind. I’ll urinate another time.
QUINN: What are you doing, you have to go out!
(I grab the dog by the collar and try to drag her outdoors. The dog splays her legs and goes limp.)
DOG: Oh, I’m fine. Maybe you could put in a catheter or something?
QUINN: CHARLOTTE, GET OUT OF THE YARD!
CHARLOTTE: What? I’m just sitting here. Sharpening my nails.
(I tug the dog outdoors and grab for the cat. The cat nimbly avoids my oafish lunge and makes for the dog)
DOG: AUGH! MY EYES!
As far as our family cat goes, Charlotte appears to have taken stock of Lulabelle and decided she likes Lulabelle’s life very much, so much so, in fact, that she would like to live that life, if only Lulabelle weren’t selfishly insisting on living it herself. Unless closely monitored, Charlotte runs Lu off the property every day and then tries to slip inside the house and sleep in Lu’s favorite spots: it’s “Single White Furball”.
Every evening, I go outside and collect Charlotte with a seductive little shake of the dry cat-food container and a lilting refrain of “Kitty stars, who wants kitty stars?”
Once tucked under my arm, I take her into the garage, give her fresh water, and bid her a fond goodnight, closing the door behind me. I then spend the next hour or so cajoling Lu down from the roof, where she sits like a baleful and furry gargoyle, berating me for defiling her back yard with vile tabby terror.
OK. You have two animals and are fostering another one. You have three animals. Kind of.
Kind of, but not really—do you recall the rabbits in my neighborhood? Animal Control was called in to remedy the situation at the breeding house. They showed up several times and had removed the backyard rabbits, but by that point at least a few had permanently made a bunny break for freedom. Within a few weeks of the original infestation, I became aware of a black rabbit which appeared to be living in my front yard under an overgrown hedge. It was very skinny and it wouldn’t let me get anywhere near it. Being as the weather was over a hundred degrees every day that week, I started leaving a fresh bowl of water out for it each morning. My friend Amanda, hearing of my interloper, kindly offered me some rabbit food left over from a pet of hers who was MIA.
But, see, this isn’t pet ownership because I hadn’t actually bought the food, right?
And rabbit fur sends me into anaphylactic shock, so it’s not coming inside anytime soon. So it’s not my pet, right?
After a week or so, I was heartened to see the rabbit gaining some weight. Also, sometimes, it would hop towards me in an inquisitive way, which pleased me. I wasn’t going to touch the histamine-laden beast, you understand, but a friendlier animal struck me as a happier animal. It was kind of confusing, though. Sometimes, the rabbit would look plump. Sometimes it looked peaked. Sometimes it was quite happy to eat near me. Other times, it would regard me as if I were brandishing a recipe for Lapin a la Cocotte. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with this rabbit.
You’re smart. You’ve already deduced there was more than one rabbit. I didn’t get it until I came out one night to leave lettuce tops and saw four of them out there, all black.
I also saw a skunk waddling up to partake of the rabbit food (which I was by now buying in bulk), but under no circumstance am I counting it as one of my animals in any way, shape or form.
After long deliberation, I came to several conclusions:
1) The shelters are full to bursting with rabbits, many of which came from my very neighborhood. No one wants these guys, so
2) I will keep feeding them and giving them fresh water. I will make their lives as pleasant as possible without actually touching them, and
3) Since the odds of them all being the same gender were very small, and since I didn’t want a rippling black furry yard of dependants, I was going to have to get them spayed or neutered. Being as I live in a large city, it will be easy and painless to find a low-cost spaying and neutering program for rabbits. I suspected the greatest challenge of the whole “Getting them neutered” situation was going to be getting them in cages without actually touching them.
(Sounds of the gods who monitor my particular life hooting in raucous laughter right now)
As it turns out, there is no low-cost spaying and neutering program for rabbits in Los Angeles County.
As it turns out, it costs more to spay and neuter a five-pound rabbit than it does an eighty-pound dog because, as someone knowledgeable in the rescue community told me, “All their parts are small and weird”. Wouldn’t you think something as good at breeding as a rabbit would possess parts which were huge and easily comprehensible?
As it turns out, I spent the better part of my free time for a week making calls and writing emails in order to get this information. Does this make these four (at least) nameless creatures my animals, my responsibility or my inglorious new hobby?
Last night, I went into the front yard to give the rabbits their dinner. The friendly one was stretched out on the paving stones, its back legs kicked out behind it in a winning way, enjoying the last bit of absorbed warmth. Not three feet away was Charlotte, her body forming a striped “C” as she assiduously ignored the rabbit and pursued a nap. I freshened the rabbit water and noted how the nearest bush had several pairs of black feet huddled underneath, clearly waiting for Quinn the Unspeakable Predator to leave them their dinner. I served them their pellets, scooped up Charlotte, put her in the garage, coaxed in Lu and forced the dog to go outside and pee.
So, how many pets DO you have?
Oh, shut up.