Canine Quandary

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Finding the right pet for Elsa

Recently, I’ve been pondering whether or not to get Elsa a pet. My siblings and I grew up in the company of dogs, doves, ducks, hamsters and a rather vicious African Grey parrot. The latter admittedly was the bane of our teenage years, lunging at our fingers at the slightest provocation, but still, on the whole I think Elsa is missing out.

It’s not just about having a great playmate. Through exposure to our assorted pets, my siblings and I learned a lot about life. Our ducks Dapper and Crapper taught us that male ducks can be identified by their curly tail feathers. Hammy the hamster’s sad demise was a gentle introduction to the concept of mortality: Returning home from school one day, our mother informed us of his passing and took us to his grave at the bottom of the garden. (It was 20 years later before we confessed that to verify his death we had each individually exhumed and reburied poor Hammy).

For a while I’ve avoided making a decision by introducing Elsa to the concept of the virtual pet. Every morning we log on and follow the antics of black Labrador Chudleigh in a series of delightful interactive e-cards (www.jacquielawson.com). Elsa’s firm favorite is the one where he tries to eat a fly. To her great delight, we have rather a lot of flies in the flat, and now, whenever one wings by, she’ll go into Chudleigh mode, get down on all fours and chase them with tongue out in an effort to secure a quick snack. Fortunately, like Chudleigh, she has not been successful – yet.

Ideally, I’d trade Chudleigh for a flesh and blood equivalent. But a large dog is out – even if it were not for the government’s 35cm height restriction. I would feel badly about keeping one cooped up, especially as we live in the city. At the same time, owing to my parents’ 37-year record of long-legged golden retriever ownership, I snootily dismiss smaller dogs as unworthy of canine status.

So I’ve started to consider getting a cat. Now, I come from a family of dog people. We like an animal to fawn upon us adoringly, slobberingly, and unreservedly. Cats, on the other hand, judge. For some bizarre reason, however, Elsa shows a remarkable tolerance – dare I say affection – for these frosty felines. Thus I have been reminded – not for the first time since Elsa’s birth – that motherhood can mean contemplating the previously unthinkable, if it will make your child happy.

A more acceptable contender is a rabbit. My sister longed for one as a child but was always fobbed off with the hamsters. Perhaps a bunny for Elsa could go some way to redressing old wrongs. She’s obsessed with Peter Rabbit, calling out “Peeeeeeeeter! Where are you, Peeeeeeter?” near well-known rabbit-harboring areas like the dusty flowerbeds on the way to April Gourmet. With every Skype video call home, my mother religiously brandishes a stuffed toy bunny at the computer screen. It would be fun to trump her one day by producing the real thing.

Still, I find myself hesitating. Cats – and rabbits too – can live to their teens. While I can’t bear the thought of Elsa leaving her pet here or inflicting a lengthy quarantine, I also don’t fancy having to stay in China until whatever it is dies. Maybe my parents had a point with those hamsters after all – they can usually be relied upon to make a hasty exit.

Despairing over reaching a solution, I bumped fortuitously into my neighbor, who has a very sweet dog called Charlie – definitely a small dog and a bit short on the slobber, but still beautifully behaved and unreservedly adoring. I’m prepared to make an exception to my canine ruling in her case, and so, for the time being, we’ve settled on being Charlie’s adopted family during my neighbor’s work hours. Whether or not she helps or hinders Elsa’s fly-eating habits, I’ll have to wait and see.

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