Posted by: Ofer Aronskind | May 5, 2009

Stop the nonsense and get the dog already

The purpose of this column is…well…I suppose there really is no purpose other than to let any other single parents out there in the suburbs know they’re not alone.


My kids have been begging me for a dog since they could speak. Raising three boys on my own was work enough so in my infinite wisdom I thought that a smaller, more manageable pet might distract them from the dog they so desperately wanted.

The first roadblock I threw at them was fish. Since a salt water aquarium with its super expensive fish would have involved taking out a second mortgage on my home, I decided on a small ten gallon aquarium with relatively inexpensive fresh water fish. The pet store owner (an older gentleman with a head of white hair who vaguely resembled Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” fame) put together a “starter package” for us, swiped my credit card, smiled and handed us our purchase. Trust me, it was NOT inexpensive.

We raced home all excited and spent the next several hours setting up the contraption. When we were done we pulled up some chairs to watch the underwater excitement. It was a perfect Norman Rockwell moment but by morning one of my kids noticed that a couple of the fish had developed white spots on their tails.

“Dad, I think something may be wrong…look,” my future doctor said.

I put my face up close to the glass and agreed with my incredibly perceptive child’s diagnosis. Now where to get a hold of a fish dermatologist—especially on a Sunday? By Monday all the fish were dead. I went back to the pet store and the shopkeeper suggested that I test the aquarium water for ph, alkalinity, etc. I told him I specifically got fish because I was looking for minimal maintenance not a take home chemistry set. While the store owner and I argued about a credit for the dead fish my kids had begun playing with a furry hamster. By now they could care less about the fish and were asking (pleading) to bring home the hamster. Reluctantly I agreed and used the store credit toward the purchase of the hamster along with the “hamster package” which included not only its food, bedding, water bottle, food container and, of course, the obligatory tracks upon tracks of Habitrail (those tubes hamsters are supposed to enjoy climbing through). The pet store owner once again swiped my credit card after allowing for a small discount for the fish debacle. We spent the car ride arguing over the hamster’s name and ultimately agreed upon “Fuzzy”—a name that apparently none of us liked.

When we were done setting up the contraption my kids’ room looked like one of those McDonald’s Play Places. Multicolored tubes extended in all directions and anyone entering the room had to contort his body in order to squeeze in. It was like a scene from any of those bank heist movies where the thief must avoid detection by maneuvering around the laser sensors. But our hamster never ventured into those tubes (he apparently never got the memo that his fellow hamsters enjoyed that sort of thing). In fact, Fuzzy never moved at all. He did nothing but roll himself into a ball and sit in the corner. Fuzzy was eventually fired and we were back to the pet store.

The next trip there brought us home with two parakeets who the pet store owner promised could eventually talk if we spent enough time talking to them. For the next three weeks my kids talked incessantly to the parakeets, Sunny and Sapphire, while totally ignoring me. When the parakeets showed no signs of speech and my kids were sick of vacuuming every fifteen minutes under their cage it was time for another trip to the pet store. Bob, the owner (naturally we were on a first name basis by now), recommended chameleons.

“The kids will love watching them change colors” he said. “They camouflage with their background.”

The kids liked the idea and the small lizards seemed harmless enough to me. We bought the heated rock and the special light and the crickets and the rest of the paraphernalia and headed home. Within an hour the chameleons had escaped and try as we might we could not find them. Bob was right – their ability to blend into their surroundings was uncanny. Maybe they had taken on the pattern of the wallpaper in our powder room or blended into the granite countertop in the kitchen. They remain lost to this day and occasionally I feel like I’m being watched by them. We headed back to the pet store yet again and this time came home with two cute little mice; one brown and one white. The kids pleaded for a male and a female so we could breed them and see what the offspring would look like. I smiled and agreed that it would make for a very educational experiment but only after having a sidebar with Bob who swore to me that he had sold me two females. A few weeks later I realized that this time Bob was wrong. The brown mouse that the kids had been pointing to and calling Fatso was now thin again and beside her were a dozen or so baby mice (or as my kids called them, pinkies).

The “experiment” worked. We had brown mice, white mice and mice with cow hide type spotting. In fact we had so many mice that inside of a few months the cage looked like the set of the movie “Willard”. We were changing the litter twice a day and the place still smelled like the restroom at our local Shell station. I raced back to the pet store with a cage full of mice praying that I had not left any behind. Bob greeted us at the door with a smile and the credit card machine in one hand. Why wouldn’t he? I had single-handedly supported him for the past year; heck, he should’ve named an entire wing of his pet store after us.

We came home with a rabbit only to have him escape as well (security was apparently not our strong suit). Then there was the guinea pig that cried and squealed every night to the point that I had to dig up and consult my old copy of the Ferber sleep method book that I had used for my kids. We went on to turtles and snakes, frogs and salamanders before I finally realized that I was delaying and deferring the inevitable – it was time for a dog. By now the kids were a little older (this process had aged us all). I felt they just might be able to handle and, more importantly, help me with a dog.

We decided that adoption was the way to go. We got into the car and drove over to the Mount Pleasant Animal Shelter. For five Saturday mornings straight we walked the aisles staring into the cages searching for the perfect match. I had hoped that my kids would soon lose interest but on that sixth trip we fell in love. She came in the form of a mixed breed; part German Shepard, part Husky with the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. Her name was Sundae and we were ushered into a private room with her where we proceeded to fall in love. As much as I had resisted at first all I needed to do was take one look at my boys playing and hugging her and I was a goner. I simply shrugged my shoulders and asked for the adoption papers.

Two days later Sundae (renamed Sammy) was in our house happily pooping and peeing all over the place. She chewed our furniture, destroyed anything she could get her paws on but at the same time brought a tremendous amount of love into our home. It has been a year now and Sammy has mellowed. But for the occasional wire chewing (including the kids’ Rock Band set which I was not entirely upset about), she has proven to be a perfect fit and a much loved member of our family. The problem is that I have recently begun to hear rumblings again. I can sense the kids whispering behind my back. There are secrets being passed around and clandestine meetings when I’m not home. When I was finally able to bribe my youngest into a full scale confession my worst fear was realized – my boys had apparently been plotting to talk me into a second dog.

“Sammy needs a friend,” they said.

“She’s all alone during the day…she needs a playdate.”

I looked up in despair and secretly longed for the simple days of smelly hamsters and insomniac guinea pigs.



  1. I had read this one already and laughed my head off. We already had a dog or dogs as the kids grew, but as the older would die, they always said the remaining dog “needed a friend.”

    So, we have babysat for hedgehogs, gerbils, guinea pigs and others’ dogs (I rather LIKE that with the dogs!), and now have a dog, a budgie, two cockatiels, and a newt. Yes, a new we have had for nearly a decade. And if you look at my FB site you will see that I am grateful they do not bring home their LIVE specimens from hikes…and these are 19-year-old young women…natural scientists and unflinching in the outdoors.

  2. OMG… so funny.. and so true! Why is it that dogs do bring so much love into the house and ask so little from us. You realize if you got a dog a long time ago, you would have saved yourself a lot if headaches, money, and probably the fish’s lives! Stay strong though.. soon they will bring the pets home without even asking. My son dropped off his two cats that he adopted in college and claimed his room-mate was allergic. So the next day he went out and adopted a dog!

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