The Animals of Our Summer

2

August 10, 2016 by Julia

A few weeks ago a black garden snake somehow got into our house and tried to eat our pet guinea pig Treezy. You can probably imagine the scream of a suburban mother finding a snake in her living room – now double that, and you will have the scream of this suburban mother finding a snake inside her family pet’s cage.

 The scrabbling, people, the scrabbling. I can’t. It was too much for my brain to handle. The snake was no more than a rubbery black blur; poor Treezy was was trying to get out by literally climbing the bars of her cage. I knew instantly that I could not stick my hand into that effing space of panic and coiling and imminent death.

I understand now that am a weenie. Jack (almost five) screamed in response to my scream: “WHAT IS IT?!?” I screamed: “THERE IS A SNAKE IN TREEZY’S CAGE!!!!” I grabbed him by the hand and we both ran barefoot outside with no house keys, just my phone, and called 911. Yes, 911. No, they did not mock me.

I give you this scene of heartbreak: Jack and I sitting out by the parking lot, waiting for animal control, imagining the torture of our guinea pig by strangulation or slow digestion (reason argued that guinea pigs are as big as rabbits minus the ears, and the snake didn’t seem quite big enough for that – although they are stretchy buggers with gaping jaws, and they ARE called rat snakes for a reason). I was powerless, a terrible pet defender.

Jack sobbed with his head in my lap. He said it was the most terrifying moment of his life, and I believed him. “Mama, can we get a new guinea pig if Treezy is dead?” And then, “What if we keep getting new guinea pigs and snakes keep killing them?” Pause. Then: “That would be a hard thing in life to deal with.” I finally gave up waiting on animal control, and called Dennis at work. I wasn’t planning to ask him to come home, but he did anyway, because I clearly could not deal.

He entered the house first, and then triumphantly emerged with Treezy held above his head. “She’s alive!” he said, sounding as surprised as I felt. Jack clasped his hands together and said to the sky, “Thank you, God, for saving Treezy!” and then we held her and congratulated her on fending off the snake…which of course was nowhere to be seen.

We hired a “wildlife pest expert” to inspect the house, set traps, and close up possible outdoor entry points. We did our best to pretend that there was no snake in our house, and that nothing was trying to get our pet, despite the expert telling us that he pulled three snakes from a house in our neighborhood that had baby bird nests in the vents. Somehow we managed to sleep at night and walk around barefoot, despite being a little jumpy about opening closets or unrolling my yoga mat. We put Treezy’s cage in our master bathtub, hoping that she wasn’t in danger.

But the crazy adrenaline of the whole thing messed me up for days. And Treezy was traumatized like no guinea I’ve ever seen. (For the record, she is my seventh since high school. They’re kind of a thing. There are all sorts of online communities. I may or may not follow several Instagram feeds.) There aren’t really answers online for what to do “when your guinea pig has been attacked inside her own cage by a wild black snake,” though. Google couldn’t help me out much on that one.

There are plenty of costume suggestions for guinea pigs, however. (This is Fuzzberta of Instagram.)

Treezy was quiet and still as a statue in one corner of her cage, refusing to go into her little log house.

Guineas in their house, where they belong.

Usually she’s squealing for food, running around, or hiding out in her house. But for two days she did not move. She was like the physical embodiment of my stress, hiding upstairs – out of sight, but never out of mind. Finally, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I do not handle the suffering of animals (or people) well. Until our house was officially declared snake-free, she would stay at my sister’s place, where she was soon to go during our upcoming vacation anyway. I scrubbed her cage, aired out any possible snake scents, and set her up at Lisa’s, where she finally went into her house, and ate hay, and squeaked happily.

Treezy stayed there for two weeks, and no snakes were ever found. She’s home now, and I think we have all moved on. The story has definitely become part of our family mythology, though.

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Treezy on vacation with us before the incident.

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Treezy in better times.

Back in June we found a beautiful water turtle about to crawl across a neighborhood road as we drove away from a friend’s house, and I picked her up and put her in the trunk. We didn’t plan to keep her – I just wanted to do the one-day-pet-thing that I used to do with box turtles as a child. The kids could keep her for a few hours, name her, hold her, and then set her free. Water turtles offer a whole different experience, though. This one was fast on land, and desperate to get away from us. Our neighbors were the ones to inform us that she belonged in the water. Before I knew it, we had set up an outdoor tank in our front yard, and Jack had named her Godzilla.

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She was lovely to watch, swimming. The kids begged to keep her forever. Instead we kept her for three days, and then set her free in a swampy pond at one of our favorite parks. Jack took it better than I expected, and to watch her swim off – free! – brought me more joy than I expected. It was the sweetest feeling. I could have watched her little head bobbing off, exploring, for at least twenty more minutes, but the kids had moved on to the playground already.

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And last but not least: Jack’s puppy:

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As we packed up to leave our beach condo after a wonderful week of vacation in late July, I realized without too much trepidation that Jack’s favorite “cuddly” of all time was missing. See, Jack brings Puppy with him everywhere, and he’s often left in the car, or under the couch. But not this time. We packed up the entire car, and couldn’t find him in the emptied-out condo. So we unpacked everything in the car, digging through dirty laundry and sandy toys. Nothing. Finally, we just had to drive away.

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Leaving from an earlier summer trip with Puppy, and his number two, Duckie (who is really not half as important – a sidekick, at best).

Big sister Fiona and I were holding back tears while Jack stared stoically at the car floor. I could hear Fiona murmuring words of comfort to Jack in the back seat: “Puppy will always be in your heart. When we get you a new puppy it will become Puppy and he’ll be the same.” Meanwhile, Dennis checked online to see if other Puppies were still in stores. Oh, we could get one for $85.00 from Amazon.

I would like to take a moment here to worry about the freaking SOULS of the people who buy up these things in order to sell them to desperate parents after they’ve gone out of stores. How do they sleep at night? Exploiting the tears and fears of families for a few extra bucks. FOR SHAME. You can do better. Seriously. Ugh. (Okay, shake it off.)

Anyway, Dennis kept checking around online as I drove, three, four hours. Finally, it was late enough to try calling all the restaurants we’d been to in our week there, to see if Puppy had been left at one of them. The first one we called said YES, they had a brown puppy in their lost and found bin, and they would mail him to us! We were ecstatic. I have to say, too – I wanted the REAL Puppy back, not some new replacement. We talked about how frightened Puppy must be, and we told him through the magical cuddly airways that we would we see him soon, and we were so sorry to have left him behind.

It gets better.

The next day, as we were still driving home, the manager of the restaurant called my phone. He said he’d already sent Puppy in two-day Priority Mail, and didn’t need us to pay a cent. “My daughter has had the same puppy for eleven years,” he said. “I knew this guy was missed and I had to get him home soon.” I could not thank him enough.

 

It was one of those “there are good people out there” moments we are so sorely in need of these days.

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One of those good people is our daughter, Fiona, eight years old.

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That’s it. I’m exhausted, because it’s summer. No doubt I will find some reason to be exhausted in the fall, too. I fully own that. But the kids will be in school! (Cue emotional roller coaster: glee, nostalgia, sadness, anticipation. I do look forward to having the chance to miss them sometimes.)

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I meant to write more about feminism after my last post (which feels forever ago) – more specifically, the concept of “women’s work.” And I will. But summer at home with the kids, as usual, is not the most supportive environment for personal artistic goals, and I need to roll with that. I’m just trying to keep us active and happy at this point, every week a different routine of spontaneous outings, swimming, video games, vacation, laziness, camp, and appointments, collecting stories along the way, having ups and downs and being grateful and overwhelmed.

In summer, you kind of have to engage with the present moment more often than during other seasons. No time to reflect much, certainly not on cultural issues like feminism, not until the kids are both in school and I can hear myself think.

For now, all I can do is tell the stories, whether they have morals or not.

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2 thoughts on “The Animals of Our Summer

  1. I genuinely enjoyed reading about your family. I feel like I have gotten to know you! I had a Guinea pig when I was little, and it was full of adventures. Thank you for reminding me of that.

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