Friday, January 11, 2008

Pet-Sitting Woes

My daughter and her friend Z, bounded into the kitchen last night, asking if we would pet-sit Z’s fish while he’s on vacation. Technically, this is one of those English language situations where I could legitimately use “could” rather than “would”—self explanatory later…

Without thinking, I blurted, “Z are you sure you trust us?”

This seems extreme doesn’t it? Let me enhance that perception…we’ve had fish before who lived long, healthy lives. They had names, we gave them personalities, they were loved… We also have 3 mastiffs, 4 cats and a leopard gecko, all of whom are still breathing.

Yet, there I stood, rooted to the floor in panic, by the request of two elementary-aged children.

Flashback to a few months ago… Z’s family moved in a few doors down. He and my daughter became instant buddies and spent all hours of the day together.

One particular day began innocently enough. The sun rose…my children laughed and argued…Z brought his praying mantis over…the kids spent the afternoon carrying her everywhere. By nightfall, we were in charge of the mantis while Z’s family went on vacation.

If I had to pick a really cool bug, it would be a mantis. This one looked like a pale, pink flower—very, very cool. We oohed and aahed over her—entranced by her unique appearance—and wondered what kind she was. She refused the fly my daughter caught for her, but we attributed that to change of environment—who were we to doubt the emotional depth of an insect?

The following day, she again refused food and attached herself to the underside of her container lid. By the third day, she didn’t look the same and still hadn’t eaten. I frantically searched the Internet for information, and determined that she was an Orchid Mantis trying to molt.

Sadly, by this time it was too late to provide the proper humidity and other conditions needed for successful molting. We did everything research recommended, but she didn't survive.

My daughter and I were devastated--I felt responsible. I also realized that I had to tell Z… That led to another frantic Internet search and phone calls to every pet store within 100 miles. It turns out that you can’t buy Orchid Mantids unless you have a special permit—they’re from Malaysia. Don’t ask me how Z got his—I probably don’t want to know.

My only comfort? The fact that Orchid Mantids are delicate and hard to raise—in other words, they often don’t live long in captivity. I consoled myself with the knowledge that she would have died at Z’s house too.

A few days later, I relayed the sad news to Z's dad, knowing he'd understand the complexities of an exotic insect. “I don’t understand that at all," he said, "We’ve had her for almost two years, and she’s molted many times.”

Flashback to the present...Z and my daughter are still friends, he doesn’t hold a grudge, and I've come to terms with my guilt.

So I said "yes" to my daughter's request, and Z dropped off the fish last night. I told it fiercely not to die, just as Z casually said, "It's on its last legs." Taking a closer look, I saw the fish lying, unmoving, on the tank floor, covered with what appeared to be a fungus. I also heard the "Twilight Zone" theme in the background.

I’ve decided that our house is where Z’s pets come to die. Not to worry this time though--this is a species I’ve seen at Walmart a thousand times—Z will never know the difference.

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