Sheena’s gone; Roz has diabetes; King Tut, cancer. Last week, I wrote about Tommy’s sudden laryngitis. I worried it could be—as cat-laryngitis sometimes is—the onset of a serious illness. Clearly, I worried about the wrong pet. Last night, Susan walked by Sheena’s habitat. “Oh no, Sheena died!”
Sheena’s the corn snake we got when Sophie was five. After attending Strawberry Hill Nature Camp, Sophie became obsessed with owning a snake. We asked around town and learned that Nathan, the amiable kid who ran the bakery stand at the downtown farmers market, also bred snakes. As we bought our shoo-fly muffins one Saturday morning, we set up an appointment.
We drove into the countryside to Nathan’s family property—a sprawling compound with a huge house, a bakery, a schoolhouse for homeschooling Nathan’s many brothers and sisters, and a garage converted to a snake and mouse breeding operation. The big room was for mice, not to sell as pets but to freeze live and sell as snake food. In a tiny adjacent room, Nathan lined the walls with Tupperware bins, each containing a single snake, probably fifty or more in total.
We picked out our snake based on the promised color she would blossom as an adult—caramel. She was no bigger than a pencil. We named her Sheena. Something’s up with our pets—three of four animals are sick and/or dying. Our prior cats, a black American shorthair named Spooky, also developed diabetes, and Lilac, his litter-mate, had hyperthyroidism.
I don’t recall this sort of thing from my childhood. We always had cats, and they always got run over by cars before they got old. And our smaller pets, various mice and a turtle named Snappy, were eventually eaten by the cats. No one died of illness or old age.
I’ll be honest, Sheena spooked me a little bit. Somehow fear of snakes became encoded in our DNA—mine anyway and I know I’m not the only one. I overcame, or at least suppressed, that fear for years, but once, while feeding her a thawed rat, Sheena bit my thumb. She drew blood. Not a lot, but it hurt, both my thumb and my psyche, enough to leave me wary of her ever after. My kids, both of them, told me to stop being a baby.
King Tut looks freaky. He’s a bearded dragon. The newest addition to our family. A large growth, the size of a pencil eraser pulled from its little metal clasp, appeared next to King Tut’s eye a few months ago. He looks pissed off all the time anyway, so it’s impossible to tell if he’s bothered much by the growth. Susan googled it and learned it’s most likely a tumor. He’s only two years old.
Roz’s diabetes is easy to manage. She gets a tiny dose of insulin morning and night. The hardest part is keeping the cats separated when we feed them. Per the vet, Roz gets wet food, which reminds me of Pâté. Tommy gets dry food, which reminds me of pebbles. Regardless, Roz will do almost anything to scam a few nibbles of Tommy’s food before he finishes it. We’ve got the twice daily shots down to a polished system, but it’s a giant hassle when we go on vacation. And it takes a toll on Roz. I can’t believe she’ll live much more than a few more years.
After work today, we FaceTimed Sophie at college, and the four of us buried Sheena in the woods behind our house. She’s right next to the cinderblock that serves as the marker of Lilac’s grave. As we approached the spot, I wondered why on earth we marked Lilac’s grave with a cinderblock. It’s not warm and inviting. It’s ugly and industrial. Tomorrow, I think I’ll make some changes.
I doubt we’ll replace Sheena now or King Tut when he dies. Those pets were mostly for our kids, and the kids are mostly adults. Plus, Susan and I don’t get much pleasure from reptiles, they’re not soft and cuddly like cats; they don’t curl up with me in bed as I fall asleep. I suspect I’ll have a pet cat until the day I die, but just once, I’d like a cat that lives to a ripe old age without relying on expensive high-maintenance medications to keep them alive.
Previously Published on jefftcann.com