Menagerie de Creteur

A gator without a tail, a cub without a mama bear and more
Illustration by Lindsey Masterson

Did you have a cat or a dog while you were growing up? Maybe you had a couple, or if you were a particularly responsible child, you may have been entrusted with a fluffy bunny, a scaly reptile or an aquarium.

Not only did I have dogs, cats, bunnies, reptiles and aquariums, but my family was also host to birds, bears and baby alligators, oh my!

Our family menagerie began when a family friend asked if we could keep his dog for a week. According to my mother, that week turned into three months. Word spread fast, and every family friend, when in need of a pet sitter or halfway home while relocating from one house to another, would bring their pets to the Creteurs for the necessary length of time.

My parents quickly took to pet sitting and developed a particular love for aiding recovering animals or nursing motherless newborns. We made weekly visits to the pet store for supplies and soon became skilled as animal caregivers.

Stitches, a sun conure parrot, had been mercilessly attacked by other parrots at the pet store. We took him in, gave him his name owing to the sutures in his sewn-up behind and cared for him until he was adopted into a new, loving home.

Soon in our care was a newborn bear cub, motherless and requiring four daily hand-fed bottles of milk. The baby bear was with us for three weeks before returning to a more natural environment.

When a baby alligator lost its tail, it took up residence in my parents’ bathtub for a few weeks until it was ready to rejoin the wild. This is starting to sound like that children’s song:

I’m bringing home a baby crocodile,

Won’t my mama wear a great big smile!

I’m bringing home a baby crocodile …

Oh, ow! It bit me!

Have you ever awakened with a constrictor in your bed? We kept a half dozen snakes over the years, including king snakes Jafar and Elvis, boa constrictors Frick and Frack, Burmese python Monty and more, whose names have been lost to time. They were constantly finding ways to escape their terrariums and snuggle up with warm, sleeping humans.

Along with the snakes was another one of my favorite critters, George, a hairless rat. Any snake keeper requires a supply of rodents to feed the constricting reptiles, but George was not for feeding — he was a member of the family. His name recalled an iconic Looney Tunes episode in which a dopey abominable snowman takes in Bugs Bunny as a pet and says, “I will love him, and pet him and call him George!” And did we ever love and pet George.

Our traditional pets were finicky and a bit of a chore, but not much else compared to the demands made by four generations of parakeets or motherless newborn squirrels.

As an adult, I limit myself to cats.

Puss Puss, a tuxedo cat seemingly stuck in her adolescent years, is a rescue cat gifted to my father 12 years ago because she resembled a pet from his past. She is picky about who she spends her time with, but there was no waiting period with my dad, who was permanently disabled at 34 due to a virus that attacked his heart. Often bedridden for weeks or months at a time following surgeries, Dad was never without Puss Puss to watch over and warm him.

Since my father died, I don’t believe I have spent a night without her on my pillow, at my feet or on top of me. She views my typing on the keyboard as a waste of hand movement when I could be petting her instead. She is also sure to pay me a brief visit whenever I am on a video call.

Hosting a menagerie with my family was an exciting and fulfilling experience. I have saved a litter of puppies from heat stroke, assisted in the birth of numerous litters of kittens and syringe-fed many blanket-wrapped baby squirrels. I doubt those days are completely at an end, but for now, I am sufficiently happy to live with just Puss Puss keeping me company.

Categories: Pets