And now, for a blog about animals and death
When I was in junior high, I was asked to pet-sit for some family friends while they went away for the week. It was an animal lover’s dream come true – horses, cows, dogs, cats, and ducks, all to myself – and I got PAID. I showed up once in the morning and once at night to feed the beasts, and would run from pen to pen while my mom waited in the car.
Early one misty Colorado morning, I walked into the coop where the ducks were housed to find every last one of them beheaded.
Their lifeless bodies lay in the sawdust and dirt, blood soaked into the ground around them, their heads nowhere to be found. I screamed a scream that screamed TRAUMA, and then ran to get my mom. It turns out that both skunks and raccoons kill ducks and eat their brains, and this was our best guess as to what happened. Needless to say, that pet-sitting job was a bust.
I once pet-sat for a family in Seattle who had a golden retriever and a rat. At the time, the rat had a large tumor on its chest, and before the family left on vacation, the mother pulled me aside and told me that they would pay me extra if I killed the rat while they were gone, thus sparing their children the anguish. “How?” I asked, and she replied, “Any way you want.”
At first, I thought, “No way” – how sick and wrong is it to put a 20-year old girl up to murdering an animal for cash? But as the week wore on, I thought of the money. And as a result, I found myself imagining sealing the rat in a Ziploc bag, or putting it in a box in the freezer, or employing the ever-handy RAT POISON. I mean, if there’s payment involved… but alas, I chickened out, and wound up letting it live.
There was only one woman in Seattle who I would consistently pet-sit for, and she had a black hell-cat named Tika. Tika was aloof and sleek and sexy and absolutely unperturbed by life. She wore a leopard print collar, and casually batted around orange balls and feathered cat toys. I would call her in at night, and then wait about 20 minutes for her to show up, as if to communicate, “I’m here, but not because you called me – I’m here because I DECIDED to come.” She could be a bit eccentric, which is why she was on Kitty Prozac that I had to mix into her Fancy Feast every morning.
Once, Tika pranced inside with a still-alive sparrow in her mouth. When she let it go, it started flying around, dripping blood and shedding feathers. I SCREAMED, grabbed a broom, and Mark McGwired it, mid-air, straight out the front door. I thought that was the worst thing that could possibly happen. But.
The next time, Tika dragged… dragged… in a pigeon the size of football. She lugged it to the middle of the kitchen floor, and then let it go, revealing its OPEN CHEST, its STILL-BEATING HEART, its arteries pumping blood out all over the tiled floor. Its wings would occasionally ruffle up, and its mouth was opening-shutting, opening-shutting, in final desperate, heroic efforts toward life. The blood was everywhere. It was dying. Tika was watching it die. I was watching it die.
I did not know what to do. I almost vomited, because WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH A BLOODY STILL-ALIVE ALMOST-DEAD NEARLY-ALBATROSS-SIZED BIRD? On the kitchen floor?
I curled up in a ball on the couch, gasping for air, and felt silent tears squeeze out of the corners of my scrunched-shut eyes. Then I called my mom, because what else was I going to do? She told me to think of it as a giant spider that I needed to catch in a jar, and then release outside.
But her words inspired me to find a dust pan and scoop the (STILL-ALIVE, and BLEEDING, and MUTILATED) pigeon into a bucket, and finally deposit it behind a bush outside. Needless to say, I am still suffering the aftermath of this agonizing event.
I have not had the best luck with pet-sitting, as the animals in my care have either wound up killed, almost killed, or killers. And I have no larger moral or point to this report.