Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Off the beaten path pets: the hornworm

Look, I'm just not an animal lover. I'm not an animal-hater, either. I've just never had that natural affinity for our animal brethern that so many people seem to possess. If I needed further proof that this kind of animal love is innate, I got it when I had Seconda. Despite having never been ezposed to animals in any real way, she has always loved them. She's an animal person, kind and affectionate and devoted. She's the kind of kid that really needs a pet.

If she was my only child, she'd have one, no question. If she was one of two, maybe then too. If she was one of three and ANY of the trio were easy-going, low-key kids, maybe even then. But as things are, with three high-string, high-maintenance kids, including a toddler, in my charge, no outdoor space and close to zero disposable income, there is no way she can have a bona-fide pet, the kind that requires walking, pet-sitting when we are gone and trips to the vet. I know my limits and this is one.

The trouble is, I'm ridden with guilt for failing to nurture one of my daughter's great loves and abilities. Having a pet to care for would be good for her in many respects - it would satisfy her need for non-verbal companionship, afford her responsibility, teach her compassion. This is why we got goldfish, and a hermit crab. It will come as no surprise that these did not quite meet the craving she has for a pet.

This summer, with school out and friends far-flung, the kid's felt lonely and has resumed pining for a pet, so David and I have been discussing it again.

Dogs are out because they require so much work they might as well be human babies.
Cats are out because Primo and I are allergic.
Snakes are creepy.
Rodents are scheevy,
Lizards must be fed with live crickets which in turn require their own food supply.
Birds make a lot of fucking noise.
Turtles carry sky-high levels of salmonella which can cause problems when you have a baby in the house because apparently, babies are incapable of resisting the urge to put turtles in their mouth.
Bunnies shit like crazy.

There's always put bellied pigs but come on, I live in a NYC apartment. That's eccentricity gone too far.

I considered guinea pigs for a while but when I found myself face to face with one at the pet store I could not be duped into believing they were not rodents. They're really just extra fluffy rats.

So that's it.

Except for tadpoles, I guessed. I'd seen these little ecosystem tanks at a local toy store which are cimpeletely self-sufficient (meaning, no feeding or cleaning) and inside are little tadpole type animals. They're alive and they're silent and they require no work. They're not much more cuddler or interesting than goldfish but they were worth further investigation, I figured. When I called the toy store, they told me they no longer sold those tanks, so I called the pet store and they, too, were out of tadpoles.

"Do you have any caterpillar, then?" I asked. Maybe I could tide the kid over with some of those.

"No," he said. I was silent, trying to think up new species of animals whose life could be sustained without any effort.

 "We do have hornworms, though," the guy piped up.

"What are those?"

"They are sort of like really big caterpillars that turn into gigantic moths," he elaborated.

"Hmmm," I pondered.

They sounded pretty gross, actually. Part of what makes caterpillars cute is their size. Who wanted a mutant caterpillar crawling around at night in their apartment? Plus, after they transformed, you'd get a moth. Both the before and after versions of the animal were less attractive facsimiles of cute things.

"People get those, for pets?" I asked.

"Well, no," he admitted, "They buy them as food for other animals."

I googled "hornworms" and emailed the link to David, with a subject line reading: "Possible pet?" He didn't reply. We haven't ruled it out yet, though. If I try really hard, I can imagine heartwarming photos of Seconda smiling broadly, with a gigantic hornworm squirming on her palm, hanging off the sides because of his tremendous girth. Then, a few weeks later, we'd snap a picture of Seconda sitting of the couch, a mammoth gray moth trying to eat through her T shirt. We could put the photos in matching frames which read, "Best Friends Forever" underneath. This could work. Right?