The Unexpected Pets We Get (and Sometimes Inherit) for Love
For graduation, my college boyfriend gave me a Siamese kitten to symbolize the longevity of our burgeoning relationship. (The breed tends to live to a ripe old age.)
As it turned out, our coupledom lasted only a few months past commencement, but the cat, Mina, remains my constant companion to this day.
Despite her slightly eccentric attachment to me, gravelly meow and a habit of vomiting from great heights (like atop bookshelves and TVs), we got along without much trouble — until my future husband, Andrew, came along.
From the get-go, their relationship was fraught. She found him irritating, and the feeling was mutual.
By the time he and I moved in together a couple of years later, I assumed all would go smoothly. And it did until our third evening as a “blended family” in the new apartment: That night, when Andrew came into the bedroom after brushing his teeth, I was already dozing in the pitch dark. I barely heard him pull back the covers and slip between our nice new sheets. But I definitely heard him scream.
Mina had vomited on Andrew’s side of the bed and then covered it up under the covers, so he unknowingly slid into a pile of wet puke. To this day, he insists that “Crazy Eyes” Mina did it on purpose to demonstrate her displeasure at his presence. I’m not sure that even the most vindictive cat has that much control over her gag reflexes. Luckily, Andrew and Mina have since made their peace with each other. Mostly.
My husband is not the first person to inherit a “curious pet,” thanks to a new relationship. When we fall in love with someone, we accept that person’s good and bad baggage — however subjectively that gets defined.
A Tale of Two Tortoises
For Stacy Martin, falling in love meant making room for two other individuals in her life: a duo of turtles named Blanche and Lamont. Her future husband, Brian Martin, already owned the pair of African Leopard Tortoises when she met him.
Back in the day, when she was his assistant, it was Stacy's job to feed them at his house whenever he was out of town — a chore she did not relish. “My husband is a big animal lover, but he’s especially partial to reptiles,” she says. “They drive me crazy because they don’t do anything. Plus, they can live to be about 80 years old, and they're currently only 17.”
The turtles, Blanche and Lamont now live in a heated, outdoor brick house, which was custom built to match the family's main home. Stacy interacts with them as infrequently as possible, partly because of a scary incident that occurred when Brian was out of town.
“One of the turtles got caught in some yard netting, and when I tried to free him, he got scared and pulled the snag inside his shell,” she recalls. “I was terrified that it was going to cut off his circulation. Ultimately, he came out of the shell, and I very gently cut the netting. But I was freaked out by the entire experience.”
Stacy does admit that she enjoys watching her daughter and husband hang out with the tortoises: "My daughter loves the turtles, and she plays with them every morning because her swing set is close to their heated house. I have to admit that there's something cute about a toddler playing with a turtle."
Rachel Leonard was also creeped out when her reptile-loving husband, Kevin Leonard, suggested that they get a pet snake. As a 9-year-old kid, he'd persuaded his parents with compelling, well-researched arguments to buy him a python, whom he named Monty.
He came to his wife with the same arguments: Snakes are beautiful, get a bad rap and are not a lot of work.
Rachel tentatively agreed (how could she resist his earnest enthusiasm?), but with some ground rules: The snake had to be pretty and not poisonous, the tank had to have a lock, the food had to be frozen (no live mice!) and kept in a covered freezer (to avoid accidentally grabbing rodents instead of ice cream) and, if the snake ever got out, they were giving it away.
Rachel would also get to keep her snakeskin-embossed leather shoes even if they offended her husband or the new family member. (They aren’t actually snake!)
Within a month, their sunglow motley corn snake, named Lil, had moved in. “For the first time, I thought, ‘This is kind of cool,’ ” Rachel says. “It was so small, fitting into the palm of my hand.” Of course, animals don’t stay babies forever. “That was eight years ago,” she deadpans. “Now, I kid you not, we have a 5.6-foot snake!”
The rules didn’t stick either. The frozen mice sit uncovered in the freezer. And Lil did get out of the tank once, but even though she was soon found in Rachel’s purse, the snake remains a part of their growing family.
Sometimes, under special circumstances, a sweetheart's choice of animal can even turn into a surrogate child. That's what happened to Ari Glogower, who fell for a Vietnamese potbellied pig after he and his girlfriend, Katy Rivlin, first moved in together.
“Katy was away, and I went to a flea market near the Tennessee border,” he recalls. “I saw a guy with a whole menagerie of farm animals in wire cages. I seriously considered the donkey for $100, but prudence turned me toward a pair of newborn potbellied pigs instead. I picked one out, and the proprietor handed him over. For $30, he came with a can of feed corn. He was just a little, bristly, black butterball, who could fit into your hand.”
On the day Katy was due back home, Ari hid their new piglet in the bathroom and waited anxiously for Katy to find him. Instead of being miffed at his impulsive purchase, she was thrilled, and they named him Minibus.
“From the moment that I walked into the bathroom, Minibus was as much mine as Ari's,” she says. “Together, we house-trained him, fed him and watched him transition from childhood to a more ornery adult." Ari sums up the pig's personality best: "He was 90 percent Gandhi and 10 percent Godzilla.”
Minibus also had his 15 minutes of fame, appearing on the website and in the book Awkward Family Photos, as well as on a poster for an experimental theater company. That said, Ari stresses that “Minibus adamantly and resolutely cared not at all for celebrity and vastly preferred sleeping in the sun.”
Sadly, Minibus passed away, but he lived a good life. “We loved him, and we moved all over the country with him, until he died in my arms,” Katy says. “Minibus was our joint, shared and beloved pig.”