This is a hard, hard topic.
My household has never been a fit environment for pets. In childhood, my brother had tadpoles that lasted days in a tank before they died. My dad bought them for him knowing they wouldn’t last but he did it anyway just to satisfy my brother’s whims. I remember being on a family vacation in Taiwan and my brother sulking in tears because our parents wouldn’t let him get a baby animal. Last September in China with my parents over breakfast one morning, we got to talking about it and could not agree on which animal it was. I recalled it was a baby rabbit, but my dad insisted it was a mini pig while my mom thought it had been a little chicken.
My favorite type of dog was a cocker spaniel. I adored the doll-like look of their ears and button-like noses. I fancied the animal for being cute but honestly had no knowledge of the responsibilities and expenses of caring for such an animal. That is the fantasy a lot of kids have, but worse when parents indulge their children because they don’t want to or don’t know how to say no to them. No, I did not eventually get the spaniel dog I so desired. But other pets came and went.
The other biggest problem in my household had always been the disagreements about the standards of care for the pets we had. My dad, for example, refused to spend money to have our first family dog, a chihuahua puppy my brother chose from a litter, checked by a vet to get a clean bill of health. Unless the dog was seriously ill, he saw it as a waste of money. If I try now to rationalize his attitude, it’s not surprising he thought that way. He grew up poor in the rural countryside where stray dogs deemed as pets were never housed indoors, let alone taken in for vet checks because where would anyone get that kind of luxury to spend money like water? He had similar thoughts about the care other types of animals needed; sometimes based on his own experiences and other times because he simply did not think the animal needed so much. Once I was big enough to know his biased opinions were wrong, it was frustrating to fight against him.
Copious amounts of guilt fill me every time I recall the pets. A chihuahua; roughly 7 years old. Another chihuahua; about 6 years old. So many different kinds of birds; a pet hen raised from when she was just a chick, a couple of quail hens, a pair of black-masked lovebirds who looved breeding, zebra and society finches, a pair of java sparrows, two parrots (which later became one due to an unfortunate accident), and a couple of goldfish. Those are the ones I think of immediately, while there were others who were more my brother’s pets I didn’t pay much attention to, like his geckos. Not all of these animals existed during the same time periods throughout the years. Sometimes there was overlapping.
Death, whether natural, by illness, or by merciful euthanasia, wasn’t always the outcome in which they left the household. There’s too much pain from the history I can’t change. Being older and wiser, I never want to be as susceptible as I was when I was younger, agreeing to a new animal being brought in the house without knowing the full extent of the responsibilities. Or not being more firm in my disagreements about how a new pet wouldn’t be good. Or the times I reluctantly took on the burden of looking after the animal to the best of my abilities because no one else cared the way I did.
After my very last goldfish passed away a year-ish ago, I told myself, Never again. Not another animal will ever be here. Besides the finances and researching that needs to go into learning how to properly care for an animal, the home environment and living space for a pet is just as important.
Of the many pets that passed in and out this household, the worst was the stress of sharing space with other people who did not understand that just because animal’s basic needs were met doesn’t mean that’s all they need. I often tried to compensate my time for the animal, but that in itself was problematic. I didn’t like leaving the pet behind with them if I went out; knowing they probably wouldn’t provide for him/her in the ways I had. It killed me to know however much I did for the animal, it was more burden than one person alone could bear.
Recently, my brother and his girlfriend have been chattering about getting a french bulldog. Twice the topic came up. That would be fine if they spoke of it between themselves but the girlfriend spammed the family Whatsapp group with bulldog puppy pictures from Instagram and asked, “Can we get one?” I couldn’t help thinking her approach was a bit childish. The implication I got from her question was she wanted my parents approvingly and also mine, as if we could all collectively care for the dog.
I scoffed at the idea. History would repeat itself again, with the primary dog carer falling to mainly one or two people while everyone else would do little to nothing but occasionally play with the dog. I cringed remembering my mom’s wrath from long ago years every time one of our dogs peed under the fridge or pooped on the floor. She was and is still prefers a very clean house. Hell, she complained to death when my brother moved back in last year and took up the basement she intended for storing her plants over the winter. It would be a neverending grievance if there really was a dog.
This isn’t the first time my brother has suggested another dog. After the second family dog died in 2014, he asked me. I said no but he brought up the issue again and again in front of my parents. The whole situation was aggravating because of how many times it repeated like a script.
Brother (with a cheerful tone): So how about a dog? (turns to Dad) Would you like a dog?
Dad (with nervous laughter): Maybe your sister can.
Me : …..
It honestly pissed me off; my brother’s delusion that a dog would be good, and how my dad often avoided answering the question by throwing everything on me. An animal is not a shiny new toy. He/She is basically a life long commitment whose happiness is dependent on the owner for the rest of his/her natural life.