Monday, October 1, 2012

"And What Do You Do with a Mouse?"

Asked by someone with a dog in their lap.

I love dogs. My early years were spent with a big, shaggy Old English sheepdog who claimed an important role as my parents’ first baby. I remember watching him and wanting to jump on his back and ride him around the house like a horse. I told my kindergarten teacher that he was my big brother. But he died when I was in first grade, and my parents noticed after a while that I was no longer such a sick kid. My breathing improved. Allergy tests confirmed that I was allergic to dogs and cats (and too many other things to count,) and our prospects for family pets changed drastically.

I cannot tell you how I longed for a dog. Something warm and furry to bury my face in, and hold and cuddle and pet. A companion, a friend, a resting place for my affection.

I came home with stories of hypo-allergenic dogs. I spent time walking friends’ dogs, and tested out different breeds, and if wishful thinking could have made it possible, I would have cured myself of the allergy. But the reality was that I could walk into a house where there was a dog and my lungs knew within a few breaths. I have never met a dog that didn’t affect me, and if it had been a matter of itchy eyes and sneezing it would have been no big deal. But dogs make my lungs close up. I have learned not to touch them at all.

My family improvised. Myrtle came into our life. But turtles don’t receive affection quite the same way warm furry creatures do, and a variety of other animals joined our family as well: gerbils (5, plus many babies), mice (3, plus many more babies), hamsters (2), a guinea pig and a rat. Later on, birds.

And now my children, who also are desperate for a dog or cat but are also allergic, are learning about odd pets that may or may not make other people squirm. On Saturday we brought home a mouse.

So what do you do with a mouse?

Watch her burrow through the bedding in her cage. Marvel at the quickness and lightness of movement.

Hold her in your hand, warm and light. Feel her heartbeat on your palm.

Get her used to your hands. Teach her to trust you.

Carry her all over the house. Learn her personality.

Tell her all your secrets. Wonder about her secret life.

Tell her about distant relatives: Ralph, Stuart, Reepicheep, Desperaux, Bernard and Bianca, Celeste.

Watch. Wonder. Learn. Grow. Love.

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  1. And although I love dogs also I always thought it would be fun to have a pet you could cart around in your pocket.

    1. I've always liked that idea, too. From what I remember about trying to put a rodent in my pocket: they don't necessarily think it's as great an idea as I do, they don't stay in one place very long when they're awake, and their digestive systems are...quick. Oh, and they like to chew holes. I found it to be a much better idea in the books I read than in real life. But I still love the idea!


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