A recent survey showed more North American households owned a dog than any other pet. While the number of homes with a cat comes in second, it’s also noted most cat owners have more than one. There are other pets people choose, but most have one thing in common; they are covered in fur.
Easily one of the most popular episodes of the original Star Trek series was, “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Sci-fi writer David Gerrold penned the script for the episode and I have often wondered if his house was overrun with pets. The genius of the story is the Tribble being a non-descript ball of fur with no specific attribute other than the soft purring sound when it was held. While dogs wag their tails the purring sound was most certainly derived from cats, and the nature of owners to cuddle with their pets lures us into a level of insanity when it comes to other creatures.
Nowhere do I see this on display more often than when I visit a zoo. I have taken the tour of more than a few animal parks in my time, and without fail people step up to cages that hold large cats, eyes wide with wonder, followed by something like, “Oh, he’s SO pretty! I just want to hug him!”
Obviously, most of these people have never watched any kind of nature documentary. You know the kind where the tiger pounces on a gazelle, ripping it down with its claws, bites through the spine or crushes the throat before making dinner out of fleshy internal organs? Oh no, these nice zoo animals wouldn’t possibly do that, would they?
Whenever I look through the barrier between me and one of these beasts, I am grateful for engineering prowess because I don’t think I look like a visitor to this magnificent creature. I look like dinner.
Granted, Walt Disney animators have brought to life such benevolent things like an Arabian princess with a pet tiger who understands her and a little boy lost in the woods with a furry dragon the size of a dinosaur, all of which feeds our fantasy of having such a thing for a pet of our very own.
I don’t mean to sound as if I’m criticizing others because I am absolutely guilty in my own right. We recently visited a zoo where I saw a Red Panda up close for the first time, and I was completely taken with how adorable they appear to be. They grow to about the size of a large Maine Coon cat (which is a bloody big feline) and their bushy tails along with a raccoon-like face make for unabashed cuteness.
Then you read the placard (I wonder how many people skip this part) and you take note of the claws and teeth that tear apart bamboo for food. Have you ever tried tearing apart bamboo, much less eating it? Why yes, I thought I’d nibble on a little knotty pine after dinner! No, wait, I mean I’m having knotty pine for dinner!
My living room furniture already has a plethora of tiny nicks and pulls courtesy of our furry co-inhabitants. I can only imagine the shredded chunks of sofa arms, missing table legs, and gouged sheet rock leading a path to the cute little Red Panda hanging from the ceiling fan. Maybe? Not so much.
The Ring-tailed Lemur was another critter that looked like it belonged on the plush rack in the gift shop. I found it interesting that lemurs are sometimes used as service animals, although not surprising given their articulate hands and feet. The large orange eyes lend the image of a spooky Halloween figure you place in the window, but then our yellow-eyed black cat can be just as creepy. The lemur is also equipped with serious claws, ones used to clear away tree bark in order to find its chosen diet of bugs. (yuck)
I can just see myself strolling into the pet store now, “Excuse me, but where can I find the five pound bag of assorted insects? My lemur has been a very good boy today.”
There could also be a variation on the carpet-covered kitty condo, “You know those oddly arranged geometric towers the cat never uses? Yes, but I’d like one without the carpet, preferably still covered in bark and natural greenery.”
“I’m sorry, sir. That’s called a tree.” (Anyone who has ever worked in retail can relate to that answer.)
There are lots of reasons certain animals make it to the pet store and others go to the zoo. I have to feel confident some poor soul has paid the price of learning which animals adapt to domestic environments and others, shall we say, have their drawbacks. Then again, I’ve seen more than a few animals in pet stores I wouldn’t dream of bringing home, but that’s another story.
My last example was a furry creature made lovingly popular by Coca-Cola. Who doesn’t think the Polar Bear isn’t a large, white, fluffy teddy bear after seeing those commercials? The truth is, even in person, they are white, and maybe even fluffy, but 1500 pounds is enough to make even a stuffed animal look scary. There is still a lovable quality on the outside but the size of one of his paws makes a print I can stand in with room to spare. “Hey, Fluffy, let’s run around the back yard and make craters to plant trees in later!”
There was an amazing statue nearby in the form of a dancing polar bear. If you run an image search online for “dancing polar bear” you will get dozens of examples of hand carved, Native Inuit art that showcases their belief in reincarnation. The Inuit revere the polar bear as the predator at the top of the food chain, therefore, to return in the next life as one of these beasts is considered a great gift. When they see polar bears acting playfully with each other it is cause to dance and celebrate, believing they could be past ancestors reborn.
When you look at this statue you can’t help but smile, and it did make me think that when bears look at you, they seem to be curious while a tiger or leopard has a cold, deadly stare. I do have a hard time picturing some of my ancestors as dancing bears, but after seeing “The Jungle Book” maybe it isn’t so far fetched after all.
In the grand scheme of things I’ll stick with our cats. They may be plenty dumb, especially the one who can figure out how to push the door open to enter a room, but is completely stumped on how to pull it the opposite direction in order to exit, but they can still be lovable without the danger of lethal bloodshed. My shoes, on the other hand, might be killed without warning.
T. August Green