Back to Family Memories Index
Return to Home Page

Childhood Pets

Ever wonder why people love pets? Dogs and cats seem to be a staple of everyone's childhood experience. Parrots and parakeets, lizards and snakes, turtles and goldfish, rabbits and hamsters, even iguanas might be included.

Woolworth's Dime Store ran a special on hand-painted box turtles one summer in the late 1940's. A bin about two feet square contained quite a selection, their little backs painted in bright squares of blue, green, yellow and red. I stood there a while and watched, my allowance in hand. The little creatures scrabbled over each other seeking a dry spot on a flat rock or a bit of food. Finally I made my selection - a lively fellow sporting a dainty scene across his shell in shades of blue and green.

The saleslady carefully placed my choice in a cardboard container, instructed me not to feed him too much of the accompanying flaked turtle food, and wished us well. I tried not to swing the little metal handle too much as I made my way down the street toward home. I didn't want to disorient my new pet or drown him in the little squirt of water in the bottom of his box.

I don't really remember whatever happened to him. I'm sure I took care of him the best I could, but at age 6 or 7 I'm not sure how good that was. Some years ago the government declared that little painted turtles weren't healthy for children and banned their sale. That was probably just as well; it turned out the paint stunted the growth of their shells, dooming the little turtles to early deaths.

A year or so later I acquired another cold-blooded pet. A flat-sided goldfish bowl occupied the top of my chest of drawers and I clearly remember a single golden-red fish swishing back and forth in his limited space. I should have applied the advice not to overfeed the turtle also to the goldfish, because I think that's what I did. One morning I discovered him floating oh, so still in his bowl. After a short sad funeral in the bathroom, down the commode he went.

More conventional pets followed in the 1950's. One particularly talented fellow was a Tom and Jerry-looking cat, black with white face and paws. Although he made his home outside most of the time, his food dish was conveniently located on our screened-in back porch. Also on the porch was an old storage chest. About waist high, the top of it was nearly level with the kitchen door handle. It was no problem for the kitty to leap to the top of the chest - cats love high perches. And he soon learned that if he batted and rattled the door knob long enough, the kitchen door swung ajar. A squeeze through the door gave him access to any foodstuffs us humans left out on the kitchen counter. Why we didn't invest in a tighter-fitting doorknob I don't know, but we did learn not to leave anything out that might tempt his appetite.

Since I grew up favorably inclined to house pets, when I had children of my own I had no problem accepting a variety of animals around the house. One summer my kids found quite a large turtle crossing the road in front of our house and naturally they "rescued" him. They scrounged up some kitchen scraps to feed him, an old metal dishpan for water, and set about building him a nice habitat in the side yard. They collected several small tree limbs, short pieces of left-over lumber, large rocks, and a few broken chunks of bricks. They didn't have enough material to make it more than a few inches tall, but turtles have short legs - how high could he climb? When they were satisfied with their handiwork, they plopped the turtle down in the middle of his new digs alongside his food dish and water pan. He just sat there with his head pulled back into his shell, not doing anything very interesting. But they were proud of having delivered him from the perils of traffic so they went on about their business of playing and other kid stuff.

The next time they checked on their new pet he was nowhere to be found. Yes, the turtle had short legs, but they were ten or twelve inches apart. In no time flat he had climbed that low fence of sticks and stones and headed for his original destination, wherever that was.

A big white Easter bunny lived indoors with the family for a while. Completely tame and housebroken, he was a perfect pet until he developed a taste for paper, nibbling the edges of any school books and comics he found lying around. It proved impossible to protect everything made of paper inside the house so a roomy cage was fashioned for him outdoors. Even though the cage was lined with plenty of paper to nibble on, it became obvious that the bunny was unhappy in such confinement. One day he nibbled his way out of the cage. Ignoring all our calls he hopped farther and farther away, finally into the woods and out of sight. Of course, he was not a wild rabbit. We had fears of his ability to adapt to the great outdoors, sincerely hoping he survived and perhaps even found companionship with a lady bunny rabbit.

I can't imagine what my life would have been like without my own assortment of pets through the years. Today my elderly kitties keep me company. Since the Bible mentions the lamb lying down with the lion in God's new kingdom one day, I like to think there will be dogs, cats, turtles, maybe even goldfish and bunny rabbits there too.

Back to Family Memories Index
Return to Home Page