I blame the education system for the next chapter in the Nichols Family Pet Saga.
One daughter signed up for Animal Science. Picture a room filled with pets of all types and a forward thinking teacher whose idea was to conduct road shows for other schools. The students taking Animal Science had to know their stuff well enough to care for the animals, and answer questions from the audiences. My wife volunteered to provide transportation for the road shows. Things worked well until Mr. Boa Constrictor escaped in the car. Shawn assures me those signs warning motorists about “Emergency Stopping Only” permit loose snakes as a viable reason for stopping.
My daughter presented the next pet proposal, this time for a small Guinea pig type creature called a chinchilla. As she talked, I envisioned a hamster that would live a few months then snuff it. In a moment of fatherly weakness, I succumbed to her puppy dog eyes, and agreed. Smokey, the Chinchilla from Heck, came to live with us. She was soft and cute, loved to be held, provided hours of entertainment, and only bit one person. Me. Every time I got near her.
Smokey had sleep issues. She liked to play all night and her favorite toy was the wheel. She would crawl inside, start it up, and run marathons. The wheel inched across the cage and eventually stopped at the cage wall, where there was some degree of friction. Picture a baseball card and a clothes pin coupled with the spokes on a bike wheel. One evening I bolted Smokey’s wheel to the cage wall to stop her travels. Run all you want, Satan, I mean, Smokey. I will be upstairs sleeping.
After hours of continuous use the pet exercise wheel axle overheated and started squeaking. This was not a rocking chair, comforting kind of squeak. It was more like fingernails on the blackboard. I felt bad waking Shawn up so she could go down and oil the axle at 3 AM, but I needed support for my position that the chinchilla needed to go. Shawn was my most likely ally and I intended to win her over.
Smokey had a peculiar odor and took baths in a special imported dust. The dust could only be found one place on earth and was sold by the same geniuses who figured American children would like chinchillas as pets. Smokey’s bathing technique was to squirm around in the dust, then fling it all over the living room.
Like rabbits, Smokey produced a continuous flow of waste. She dropped a trail of pellets everywhere she stepped and those gems stuck to everything. I longed for her to escape into the wild.
We had an old piano and the girls let Smokey hop back and forth on the keyboard playing notes, one of their favorite pastimes. I arrived home to the wonderful news, “The piano we paid a fortune to rebuild is not working. The keys are sticking.”
I disassembled the piano and discovered Smokey had been pooping while she did her musical walk. Toot. Poot. Toot. Poot. The pellets were jammed between the keys, sticking the whole works together. I used a shop vacuum to remove the debris and Smokey was banned from further concerts.
Smokey’s cage always needed cleaning and apparently, I was the only one who could smell her. Kids wanting pets sing a song about “We’ll take care of it and you won’t have to do a thing.” There is a second stanza they leave out about Dad having to threaten sanctions before any cleaning operation begins. Smokey had to be removed from her cage during cleaning. She was fast and an expert at Hide and Seek. The only way to locate her was to be absolutely still, and listen for the sounds of her teeth tearing up the oak dining room table, the lamp cord, or Dad’s belt and shoes.
One of the girls took Smokey outside to play. A plane roared overhead and Smokey panicked. Smokey ran into the street with me in hot pursuit. I had mixed emotions. One quick splat and the problem would be solved, but two little hearts would be broken. An approaching driver saw me chasing a fur ball and graciously stopped, giving me a chance to zig in front of Smokey and zag him back into the yard. The escapee was returned to lock-up.
After 2 years of Smokey’s torment, I started researching Chinchilla coats. I found out, unlike hamsters which max out at a couple of years, chinchillas can live 18 years. That was the last straw. It was her or me. One of us was moving out. The girls found a friend who collected Chinchillas, and Smokey moved on to live out her years in peace.
My pet stance became rigid. No more pets! Zero. Period. Don’t even ask!
And then we built a fish pond.