My Kingdom for a Rabbit

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Unconvincing a pet-obsessed child

My daughter wants a rabbit. Or a dog, cat, bird, hamster, pony or polar bear, in no particular order.

The problem is, this Want is sticking like the first pancake in an unbuttered pan, and won’t unhinge and fade away with the myriad of other desires preceding it, like becoming a Chinese acrobat, having the world’s largest Pokemon card collection or moving permanently to a bungalow on the beach in Phuket.

It’s not that I don’t like animals. I become as enamoured with Labrador puppies, freshly hatched chicks and the adorable belly rolls on a seal as much as the next person – I just don’t want them inside my house. There’s lots of reasons, the very least being that we don’t have a grassy backyard, a hen house or an arctic ocean in our apartment. It’s also the fact that owning a pet in Beijing can be far too fleeting, is fraught with too many health issues (just ask ICVS) and, frankly – well, the desire is just not there.

It’s also because I’m a sook. I can’t bear the thought of having to leave a pet in Beijing, or worse – of losing it to rabies or feline AIDS or simply old age. When our daughter’s fish died after a one-night family absence, she was hysterical and I’ve never forgiven myself. We tried other fish, but they left us quickly – and I swear I had nothing to do with it. Flushing those bloated little bodies down the loo is not something I relish, in fact, it’s something that positively horrifies me. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if the pet wasn’t flushable – it would ruin me.

But there is more than just the fear-of-loss factor. It’s hair. Not only am I allergic to cats, dogs and horses (very inconvenient when it comes to long, romantic gallops on white horses along sunset-dredged beaches with Fabio) but even when it’s not sending my lungs into asthmatic spasms and turning my eyeballs into itching, watering cesspits of blood-shot damnation, I still have a hard time with the concept of pet hair in my home. Yes, I know about vacuum cleaners. And yes, yes, I have an ayi who just begs to sweep the floors and brush down furniture. But it’s hard enough trying to keep the perpetual gray haze of dust from every surface of my home without adding more to the problem.

My final argument for Not Getting A Pet is the care factor. Yes, we’ve heard it all before – “Mom, I’ll feed it, I’ll bathe it, I’ll take care of it.” Uh, uh. Ain’t gonna happen. Like the fish before them, any pet that comes to live in our house will be looked after by none other than Me, Moi, Wo. And you only have to recall the fate of those fish to realize I don’t have a good track record with pets…

Not even my own memories of begging for a dog at seven years old are enough to sway me. All kids do this, so it seems. Even pet-dream-squashing me. My daughter will eventually tire of asking. Hopefully. And then maybe one day when we return to Australia, she can keep something fluffy in a rabbit run at the end of a very long, Aussie backyard, in the shade of a large tree, and away from my furniture, lungs, eyeballs and mental incapacity to get my head around adding a four-legged family member to the clan.

For pet-lovers out there, don’t worry – I’ll get my come-uppance… my daughter assures me she wants to become a vet. In the meantime, she’ll just have to rely on her menagerie of stuffed pets. And don’t worry – I haven’t taken up taxidermy.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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