One Reason Why Pet Stores Stay in Business
I can’t say I’ve ever really connected with animals. I grew up in townhome suburbia where our family wasn’t allowed a dog, I may have accidentally been indirectly responsible for the death of my best friend’s pet rat, I was run over by a dog when I was eight, I certainly DID accidentally kill a pet beetle I had for all of a day (left his hand-made terrarium on the windowsill; he baked under the sun), and I worked for several years as a paperboy, alternately terrified of the larger dogs/cats or just annoyed by the tiny yippers.
(Okay, I’ll explain the rat story. I was tasked to look after the rat while their family was away on vacation. Every third day, I would show up at their place, clean out the cage, play with the rat, and give him new food and water. And that’s what I did. Then, right at the end of their vacation, there was one day when I looked after the rat (and he was fine), then a day’s break, and then the family came home. And the rat was dead. The darn thing WAS over three years old, after all. But yeah, my best friend and I didn’t really ever speak after that.)
The only pet my family ever had was a lovebird. Think budgie, but he chirps a third as much, three times as loud. Really hard to get any work done while the bird’s awake.
So yes, animal empathy is something I’m working on. Something I need to work on. Living with four cats and a Pomeranian for seven weeks this past summer in Kelowna has certainly helped. But I have a lot further to go.
So one day I walked into a pet store to try to connect with all the little critters held within. To see if I could spark that ‘Awww, how cute!’ reflex upon seeing kittens pounce around the storefront window as an old man teases them with a red laser pointer, or the flock of rainbow-coated birds as they spread their sharp wings and let off shrill cries while climbing from wall to wall to wall of their cages. Or the spotted fishes in a tank marked ‘quarantine’. The old chinchilla warmly standing sentry under thick ruffles of hair.
I have a hard-nosed friend who approaches life in a rough and gruff manner, but whenever she comes across a dog being walked, she immediately melts into a crouch with a loud ‘Aww, puppy!’, regardless of the actual age of the animal. That was the emotion I was searching for. But try as I might, I couldn’t muster that irresistible pull toward baby talk and family bonds that others indulge in.
That said, I was struck by an impulse all the same – a desire to buy them. Not because I wanted to take these critters with me, but just to take them away from all the layered cages and loud noises, no matter how well lit or fed. Not that these animals would have better lives out in the wild (or the wild of the city), per say, but in this moment, those cockatiels were absolutely doing their darndest – in vain – to try to find enough space to flap about. And I suddenly understood perhaps half of all pet store transactions – a compassionate desire to help.
I am still emotionally detached from them; I take care not to attach human emotion to them, so I wouldn’t say the old chinchilla is lonely, for example, but I did find it hard to watch these trapped animals, such as four cockatiels in a tiny cage, and to not want to give them a home with open space to soar in. Found it hard not to want to set them free.
Even for analytical ol’ me.