Plea for a pet

Columnist and her family adopts a pet hermit crab, Shelly

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

I do not want a pet. When I think pets, I think dogs. And when I think dogs, I think of owners shouting "He's friendly! Really!" while their dogs barrel at us down a trail while under "voice control."

If they blast by, then fine. But most don't. They want to nudge and sniff and lick and otherwise make their presence known. When you add to this the fact that most animals, the ones with fur anyway, cause my eyes to swell shut and hives to erupt across my arms and torso, it's no wonder that when I see a slightly crazed looking dog on a trail, panting and drooling, I get a little irritated.

I don't like dogs with bad manners any better than I like people with bad manners, and I hate spending my hike scratching my dog-raw arms.

And while I know there are other types of pets, most of my real experience has been with these furry, histamine producing ones. When I go to a friend's house where I know there will be dogs, I dose up on antihistamines and try to stay clear of the actual animals, though that rarely makes a difference. But for the company of good friends, I'm willing to sniffle and wheeze.

Probably because of my deep aversion to pets, my daughter has been asking for a pet for some time now, and we have been able to ignore her pleas fairly easily. But this week they reached a peak. She wrote me a letter about how she wanted a bunny. I did some reading about bunnies, and they sounded pretty ambitious for a family like ours. So we found ourselves look up "good pets for young children."

Hermit crabs made the list. And the next day, Shelly came to live with us. She seems to be meeting my daughter's pet needs. Admittedly, a hermit crab is nothing like a bunny. It is not cuddly; actually it is a bit creepy.

On Shelly's third day with us, my daughter was holding her and she actually emerged. My daughter shouted, "Mommy, Shelly is moving! Look, Shelly is wiggling her legs! Isn't she cute! Wait, Shelly is starting to freak me out! Help!"

On the second day of Shelly's life with us, we learned that hermit crabs are not that boring. They are, in fact, sneaky. We built a little structure on the floor and put her in to get a little exercise. This worked fine, until my daughter forgot about Shelly.

As it turns out, hermit crabs are somewhat fast as well as good climbers. Before we found her behind a boot, I had visions of crushed crab below my bare feet at 3 a.m. and was reminded that I don't like pets. But returned to her cage once again, Shelly became more benign, standing in her food dish and occasionally exposing her beady pink eyes.

Every night before bed, my daughter feeds Shelly, wets her sponge and gives her a little spritz of water. Then she says, "I love you Shelly."

I am glad she can love that leggy little thing, and on some level, I am glad we have her. And the life lessons kids are supposed to learn from pets? Well, we'll see if those apply to hermit crabs too.

• Marie Ryan McMillan is a parent and teacher in Juneau.

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