My boys always liked critters—the uglier the better and we have housed them all—snakes, lizards, and rodents of various kinds. When Beau was a little guy he had a visual fascination with all animals. We started drawing spiders with him when he could barely hold a pencil. When we moved to Farmington he started chasing and catching lizards and snakes in the hills behind our house. At one time he had a Blow Snake in a cardboard box with a board and a rock on top of it. He would periodically take out the snake and carry it around his neck. This was not a little snake. It was about 4-5 ft. long and more than 2 inches in diameter. It was very unnerving. He also had a terrarium with 7 captured lizards.
I was not happy with the snake in his room. A good friend in the neighborhood, (the Johnstons) had a snake get loose in the house and it crawled in the heater vents. Besides, it wasn’t a very good life for a snake even if he was loved. Beau was not ready to give it up. He went to Boy Scout camp at the end of the summer. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to free the snake so the day he left I took the box the board and the rock up the hill and let the snake go. Before Beau returned home a week later the cat had eaten all of the lizards. This was one mighty unhappy boy. I am glad I don’t remember how long it was before he was willing to speak to me. I hoped for forgiveness knowing I wouldn’t get permission. The cat just licked his chops.
Then we had hamsters and gerbils—not at the same time, thank heavens. These were very irritating critters. The entire night of these nocturnal little creatures was spent trying to get out of their cage and they often succeeded. We did learn how to catch most of them. You get a tall plastic bucket and make stairs up to the top of it with books. Then you put a carrot in the bottom. It worked almost every time. The rodent would jump in after the carrot and couldn’t get out. Once we didn’t catch one and sometime later I found its carcass in a jar in the storage room. It found the jar before the carrot bucket.
The boys had a good friend down the street, Bret Miller, who also had a gerbil. He brought it for a visit one day. They put it in the cage with our gerbil. The visit consisted of 30 seconds of what appeared to be a violent fight with rolling, squealing and flying fur. Well, about a month later the kids told me to come and look at the little worms in the cage. They were not worms but tiny pink baby gerbils. We let them get old enough to wean and gave them to the pet store. There would be no more visits from Bret’s gerbil!
Beau brought home a cute little spotted mouse once but Ian adopted it and took care of it. It escaped in his room and we never found it. We figured it crawled into a hole in the closet where the air-conditioning pipes come in. I guess the carrot bucket only works on hamsters and gerbils.
I am not sure who brought home the black and white rat but he would be the best critter yet. Rats are not so visually appealing because of their naked tail but Poser was a sweetheart and totally bonded to Ian. I often sing the praises of rats because they seem to relate to their captor and they are not obsessed with escaping. Poser lived in an aquarium in Ian’s room. Ian would let him out when he was doing his homework and this lovable creature would climb around the room and around Ian. If it got out of its cage at night it would get in bed with Ian. Poser’s main problem was running on its wheel at night and making racket that disturbed Ian’s sleep.
One day when Ian came home from school the cage was full of his socks. Poser had gotten out and Ian had left his sock drawer open that morning so Poser decided to feather his nest with all of Ian’s socks. It was quite comical to see the rat lying in the aquarium full to the top with the socks.
Poser had been with us for over a year when he got sick. He was lying in the bottom of his cage with blood coming out of his nose. Ian was devastated and I was sure that the rat would not live long. It was the weekend and Ian would not leave his side. When Sunday came he would not go to church. I couldn’t imagine Poser would live through the night but Monday morning the rat was still breathing. I convinced Ian that he should go to school and that I was sure he would be dead by the time he returned home. Poser hadn’t moved for 4 days now. I promised a funeral and a burial in a nice box. I told him we would go to the pet store and get another rat that afternoon.
All day I checked on the rat. He didn’t die. Ian would be arriving home about 3:30 p.m. and it was about 2:00. I decided that it might be best to hurry things along so I got a plastic bag and tied it tightly around its head. At 2:45 the rat was still alive. This is a gruesome confession but I went in the room in a cold sweat with a determination to squeeze on the head until it died. I couldn’t imagine it had that much life left in it but it did.
When Ian arrived home I had a nice little fabric lined box prepared and we dug a hole and had a nice funeral for poor old Poser. We got in the car and went to the pet store for Poser II. Ian was getting to be a teen about this time and his interests were elsewhere and Poser II was getting neglected. He decided to let him go. One Saturday morning he took the rat and a little bag of wheat and went up in the trees behind our house to say goodbye to his little friend. He was gone for hours and crying when he returned. Then every few weeks after that he would tell me that he was going to get another rat. "Not in my house—My critter days are over!"