We have gerbils.
If you are my mother, mother-in-law, or some of my neighbors you will read that with the connotation that one might read “We have chronic and very contagious lice” (we don’t, we’ve still only had that one easy bout!)
But we really like our gerbils. Their rat like tails and ratty faces don’t bother us. We think gerbils are cute.
Gerbils HAVE added a lot of “oh man, the things we go through for our kids,” stories to my life over the past 5 years. But I’ve really enjoyed having the little rodents around. It took my husband about 3 years of being mildly disgusted by their ratty look, and having to listen to the beasts running in a squeaky wheel for hours while he watched TV at night, but he’ll even admit he thinks they are kind of cute now.
In fact after a tough loss of our old man gerbil, Teddy, last month, it was my husband that initiated the pushed to get more. We adopted two new little guys last week (gerbils are social and not only enjoy people, but like to be in pairs). It’s fun to have babies again!
Here is a picture of our new pair, Patronus and Sirius Black:
I was watching them this morning as they zipped around running in and out of a paper towel tube, burying themselves in bedding and popping up on another side of their tank. It made me appreciate one of the reasons pets of any kind are so fascinating – it really is amazing to be able to observe an animal up close and study and appreciate their completely different (or similar) brain, body, mind, needs, wants, actions, reactions, mannerisms, abilities, and priorities.
We have a dog, some fish, a hermit crab, gerbils and a water frog. Each kid currently has tank with something living in his/her own room. I can’t say that pet ownership has given my kids any “sense of responsibility” as the plot of Arthur’s Pet Business or any other kids’ book would lead me to believe. I’m pretty sure no one else has ever once cleaned out a cage/tank, washed the dog beds, given the dog a bath, had the dog’s nails clipped, or bought any food or supplies. I doubt anyone has ever once even fed or walked the dog without being asked. I let the dog out, feed and walk her at least 80% of the time when there are other people in the house.
But the amount of compassion my kids show for the animals in my house is worth it. (With one current compassion exclusion: one kid won’t stop touching the new gerbils even when the little guys probably need a break, I’m hoping this wears off a little after they’ve been here a few weeks!)
My kids all talk to our pets with such tenderness. Our dog clears out of a room scared from a lot of weird things, like cardboard boxes, and the kids are so sympathetic and never chase after her or tease her with an Amazon delivery in hand. They are inclusive and tenderly invite her into their rooms, and don’t drag, push or lock her in if she doesn’t want to go. They don’t force her into weird situations she doesn’t want to be in (like standing next to a tower of cardboard boxes) and they help her out of situations that make her uncomfortable (like UPS deliveries left on the front steps that she needs to get past to go inside/outside). If she does something that seems unintelligent to humans, they might laugh for a second, but then they don’t make fun of her, they almost always give her a hug, pet her, and in a soothing voice point out her other good qualities (like that she wins the stinkiest in the house award!)
I’m all for pets, whether or not you have kids in your life. I don’t think pet ownership is a great exercise in physical responsibility for kids, but there is a sense of pride, and I think having pets in the house can make kids more compassionate people as they navigate co-existing and interacting with other beings (animals, people, and even the environment) who need things different than us and can add different sorts of experiences to our lives.
We hugely recommend dogs around here, but we would also recommend gerbils for those who can’t gave a dog looking to start off with furry interactive pets! I can give you more information on gerbil care if you are interested!