Tag Archives: pets

Sometimes a Tortoise Is More Than a Tortoise

a tortoise walks through tall grass

Hanya Yanagihara’s parents bought a pet tortoise, Fred — cold-blooded, beady-eyed, and surprisingly particular. (“He liked only red hibiscus, not pink.”) Fred is 15 years old, and will likely live another hundred years. He’s part pet, part rejection of death, and part claim on filial devotion, all under one neat shell.

In a post-industrialized country and era, there are fewer and fewer practical reasons for a family to stay together once its children are grown. We do so out of tradition, but tradition isn’t an imperative. Fred, however, was his own imperative, a difficulty that demanded a response, a legacy that, unlike a car or a house, needed a caretaker, an animal who was both a repository of a surplus of parental love and an announcement of parental need: Come home. See what we’ve taken on. When you see him, will you remember us? Fred was a way of requesting devotion without having to literally ask.

I wish I could say that we had decided what to do with Fred by the time I left Hawaii, but we hadn’t. Instead, we watched Fred circle the yard, speaking of him with the same affectionate bewilderment we would a precocious child. I had already told my parents that I wouldn’t take Fred when they died; my brother said he wouldn’t, either. Our refusal seemed to provide them with a curious, even paradoxical contentment — my brother and I might not need them to stay alive (we would like them to, but like is not the same as need), but Fred did, or so they could believe. And so, for him, they would. If one of pets’ great gifts is their ability to make us feel loved, their greater gift is how they make us feel necessary.

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The Doctor Dolittle of the Upper West Side

At the New York Times, Andy Newman covers a day in the life of Dr. Anthony Pilny, veterinarian at the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in Manhattan. Dr. Pilny’s practice routinely involves bowel-obstructed bunnies, lame ducks, and feisty, festering iguanas, just to name a few of his pint-sized patients.

The center, on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is the city’s only exclusively exotic animal hospital. “Exotic” in the veterinary trade simply means all pets except cats and dogs. The center treats anything else that comes in the door and weighs under 50 pounds. Most of the patients are rabbits, rodents, lizards or birds, but they can get pretty exotic: kinkajous, alligators, flower horn fish and prairie dogs. So can their problems.

The duck was out cold on the table in a basement operating room, a breathing tube stuck down her bill. Dr. Pilny sliced open her abdominal cavity and rooted around.

Dino has other health issues. Her egg problems led to calcium deficiency, weak bones and a fractured leg. She could no longer walk.

“She can crawl around on towels, but otherwise we have to carry her everywhere,” said her owner, E. J. Orbe, a ballroom dance instructor from Paterson, N.J.

Some people might hesitate to invest $1,200 in gynecological surgery on a lame duck. But Dino has a job: She’s a seeing-eye duck for another of Mr. Orbe’s ducks, Penguin, who is blind. “She finds food and water and makes noises, and Penguin would come over and start eating,” Mr. Orbe said.

Inside Dino, Dr. Pilny was hacking his way through a sea of yolky blobs. “It’s just a very extensive, severe amount of schmutz in here,” he said to the veterinary technician, Kristine Castillo. A clamp on Dino’s webbed foot fed her vital signs to a monitor. Her heartbeat pounded through the cheap speaker like a tom-tom drum: thwap-thwap, thwap-thwap.

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Money: It Can’t Buy Love, But Can It Rent You a Best Friend?

a disgruntled looking french bulldog

Finding new money-making credit products: the American dream. In Bloomberg, Patrick Clark introduces us to Dusty Wunderlich (real name!), the man who’s trying to monetize man’s best friend by leasing out purebred dogs.

Wunderlich rents his apartment. He leases his car. He owns his horse. He’s drawn to the rugged individualism expressed in the novels of Ayn Rand and the blog Cowboy Ethics, but he hastens to argue that while he profits off high-cost lending, he’s also improving the lives of subprime borrowers. He is, he writes in a mission statement on his personal website, “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.”

Wunderlich dreamed up Wags Lending in 2013, then used the pet-leasing business to launch an improbable collection of financing vehicles—writing leases against furniture, wedding dresses, hearing aids, and custom auto rims. In a little more than three years, his company has originated 66,000 leases for just over $100 million. He once worked out a plan to lease cattle to dairy farmers, though plummeting commodity prices soured the economics. (He got far enough to decide that if a cow gave birth during the terms of the lease, the lessee got to keep the calf.) In another idea that never reached the market, he explored lease financing for funerals.

“We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers,” Wunderlich said.

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Some Pig

Cover of 45 rpm record of Three Little Pigs

This story is very short, but it’s ridiculous and wonderful.

Derek was a magician and I thought I’d convince him by saying a mini pig would be perfect for his act. The two of us had met at a smoke and rib house where I worked as a waiter. But when Derek came home he was furious that I hadn’t spoken to him first. The pig (whom we later named Esther) looked like hell. She had a ratty pink collar, sunburned ears, her nails had chipped varnish and she looked so sad.

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Why I Hate My Dog

Richard Gilbert | Longreads | July 2016 | 18 minutes (4,584 words)

Belle Krendl, “our” dog but really mine, is a furtive, ragtag creature. She suffers in comparison to our prior dogs—and to most we’ve known. In fact, she suffers in comparison to any pet we’ve ever owned, including jumpy, escape-prone gerbils; a pert exotic lizard that refused to eat; cannibalistic chickens that stared with malice in their soulless green eyes; and a sweet, dumb, tailless black cat named Tao who spent his life staring into space with huge yellow eyes—but once, in a blur, grabbed and gulped down a gerbil our daughter dangled before him by way of introduction.

A Jack Russell terrier, or maybe a Jack cross, Belle Krendl is covered in whorls of stiff white hair. Bristly brows and white lashes accent her black eyes, as do her lower eyelids, a disconcerting garish pink. In the house, her movements are wary; outside, she streaks like a Greyhound after any creature unwise enough to enter our yard. Her long skinny legs with knobby joints—King crab legs, I call them—make her too gangly, at 16 inches tall, for a proper go-to-ground Jack. At 22 pounds, she’s too heavy for a lapdog. She’s ambivalent about cuddling anyway. We’re seldom inclined to offer much physical affection, given her peculiar odor, an intermittent acidic stink, especially pungent when she’s hot from running. A mouthful of missing, broken, and bad teeth partly explains her vile breath.

Richard's rescue dog, Belle Krendl.

Richard’s rescue dog, Belle Krendl.

“She’s a rescue—6 years old when we got her!” we crow, cashing in where we can, harvesting meager props for having saved her from euthanasia. In reality, she’d been lodged at a no-kill shelter. It had placed her twice in good homes before we showed up.

Baiting my family, I say, “I’d return her, but now she’s 12. Belle may have to take a dirt nap.”

“You can’t have her killed!” everyone cries.

“I’m thinking about it.”

“But you can take her back! They have to take her back! And they can’t kill her!”

I’m certain it would be more humane to have her euthanized than to take her almost anywhere. Read more…

The Joy and Pain of Life with Pets

Anyone who has pets knows the alternate joys and pains of the walks, the smells, the snuggling and whining and inconvenient late-night demands, as well as the inevitable misery of their absence once they die. If crapping on the floor was a business, some of us pet-owners would be millionaires. In The Morning News, Gregory Martin writes about his relationship with his ancient cat Tess, relating his cat’s aging to human aging, and exploring what it means to have quality of life.

How many nights in a row would Tess have to pee in the bed before enough was enough? Five? Ten?

When I think about putting Tess down because she’s driving me crazy, ravaging my sleep, I can’t help but wonder: How will things go for me someday when I’m in diapers and think that Christine is my mom?

The more I think about it, the more I think that “How much are you willing to put up with?” is not the right question. Because no matter how tired I am, the answer is always: I could put up with more. Yes, I need four cups of coffee just to get going on the day. But I am not at my limit. To say so would be ridiculous. To even suggest it is to fail to recognize how many people are, actually, at their limit, or beyond it, and not because of their old cat.

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David Sedaris on the Dangerous Business of Naming a Cat

About seven years ago I wrote a story about a cat in a bad mood. And then the next fall another one. So I tried to write a few every year, but for every one that worked, there were two that didn’t. And then, obviously, I stepped it up over the past year and a half, once I got the actual deadline. I set up a few rules for myself. I didn’t want any animal to have a name. If you say that a rabbit’s name was, oh I don’t know, sometimes someone will have a cat, and you ask, “What’s your cat’s name?” And they say, “Critter!” And you think, Oh, I hate your cat. And they say, “Diane.” And you think, I like your cat. So even giving anything a name would invite judgment that I didn’t want. And that made it hard to write sometimes. It’s like the chipmunk and the chipmunk sister. I could see a reader saying, “Which goddamn chipmunk is talking!” But I worked my best, my hardest. You get into that kind of writing that is math. You don’t want to repeat the word too often, but you don’t want to substitute. Instead of saying chipmunk, you don’t want to say spotted rodent. You just can’t do that.

David Sedaris, in a 2010 Vulture interview with Aileen Gallagher.

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Photo: ncbrian, Flickr