My family does not have a great track record when it comes to pets.
Our first pet took years of begging, pouting and an intervention from our adoring grandpa. We were finally able to convince my parents to get us a bunny rabbit. From some weird old guy selling rabbits at Eastern Market in Detroit. In the middle of winter.
My mother refused to have a pet live in the house, so my uncle built a rabbit hutch in our backyard and we put this adorable soft brown ball of fluff named Jennyanydots the Gumbie Bunny (I was in the throes of my obsession with the musical Cats) into the hutch with some plastic around the chicken wire to keep her insulated.
Unfortunately, plastic over chicken wire does not prevent hypothermia in single digit temperature weather in MICHIGAN. The next day I ran off the bus from school to cuddle my beloved new pet and encountered a husk of brown fur with eyes frozen shut. I screamed and ran to my neighbor’s house.
We had a sombre funeral for Jenny, complete with a decorated shoebox, and Dad promised to bury her. It didn’t occur to me to ask him how he planned to do so considering the ground was frozen solid.
After an appropriate mourning period we somehow convinced my parents to get us another rabbit, this time an indoor bunny. Her name was Missy, and she was the softest little dwarf bunny with perfect little perky ears. I vowed to Missy that I would never let her suffer the fate of Jenny. I promised her she would have the freedom to roam the basement and play to her heart’s content. She promptly pooped and peed all over the floor and chewed up Mom’s favorite cookbooks. At this point, she was relegated to the cage unless under supervision (or unless Laura or I forgot we let her out and would find her hours later chewing mercilessly on old encyclopedias).
Missy made it to the ripe old age of eight, which is pretty good for a bunny. When I think back on it, her last few years were probably not so great quality-of-life-wise. Laura and I were busy with our teenage lives, then with college. Missy spent most of her days in a cage. When we would go downstairs to grab a coke, she would see us and frantically hop around her cage, entreating us to let her out, to play with her, to do anything. I am ashamed to admit the number of times I shrugged at her and turned off the basement lights, retreating up the stairs to enjoy my coke and TV.
When Missy died, my sister found her and ran upstairs, horrified. Dad grabbed a shoebox and unceremoniously dumped her in the trash in the garage. When my sister protested, Dad said he would bury the bunny. He enlisted the help of Laura’s boyfriend. They went to the garage, where my dad looked at his accomplice, smiled and put his finger to his mouth, “Shhhh.” He then dumped the shoebox back in the trash. They walked out to a field near our house, stood there for ten minutes, and then returned to soberly tell my sister they had committed Missy’s remains to the earth.
Then there was Sophie the transvestite cat. My sister came home one day with a sweet fluffy black kitten, who we named Sophie. When we took her to her first vet visit, it was confirmed that she was actually a he. We didn’t feel like changing her name, so she/he remained Sophie the Boy Cat. Dad referred to her as RuPaul. To further emasculate her, we purchased a pink collar with a bell that jingled whenever she moved.
Although Sophie was a house cat and had not yet been neutered, Dad would open the front door wide and let her run outside. When Laura and I protested, he would wave us off and reply, “Ho-ney, cats are curious animals. They need to explore. Trust me.”
The neighbors started reporting disturbing shrieks from cats fighting (or engaging in other physical activities) in their backyards. Sophie came home with a chewed up ear and a stomach in need of stitches, and had to wear one of those plastic neck helmets for a couple weeks. When we wouldn’t let her out, she would crawl up the screen door and hang on the mesh, yowling. The neighbors apparently disliked this, as well.
I believe the piece de resistance, the day Sophie decided she needed to leave home, was when we went on a three-day vacation and arrived home to find her shut up in Dad’s underwear drawer. Dad said she must have hopped in while he was packing and he didn’t see her when he closed the drawer. She screeched, leapt from the pile of Fruit of the Loom undies, and scurried down the hall, leaving a pungent trail of cat urine for my father to deal with. A few weeks later she disappeared and was never heard from again.
Laura and I comforted ourselves with the belief that she must have found a new home, a new family that didn’t lock her in among their tightie-whities or forget to let her in at night. Years later we were reminiscing about Sophie, and surmising whatever must have happened to her.
“Oh, that cat died!” Dad guffawed.
“WHAT?!” We shrieked.
“Shit, he got run over by a car and the neighbor brought him to the house in a box.”
“Dad! Why didn’t you tell us?” We asked.
“Ho-ney, what the hell were you gonna do about it? He was already dead.”
Hard to argue with such logic. I’m guessing Sophie’s burial was similar to her floppy-eared predecessors.