If you asked my daughter if she has a dog, she would tell you yes, she has a dog who lives with Grandma and Grandpa. Their dog, Tugger, is everyone’s dog.
He was everyone’s dog. We received a text a couple nights before my daughter’s birthday telling us he had passed away. What timing. She wailed a good twenty minutes, giving me a taste of future episodes with her broken heart. I’m more of a quiet, private crier myself, but I remember losing my first animal when I was a little younger than her. Maybe my mom would tell the story differently, but I remember weeping on the footstep of our backyard hoping against hope that Sasha would return until Mom called me in for dinner. Finding our dog dead in the backyard two years later was memorable for me too. I was relieved that I didn’t have to go through that kind of loss again until after college, but losing my childhood friend, my hunting buddy, my fishing partner, and my faithful backseat driver was by far the most painful of the three pets. Perhaps he is what makes me reluctant to bring another dog home, even though it’s clear we’re nearing that point in the family story.
Pets can be wonderful and difficult all at once. The female offenders enjoy having three or four stray cats brush against their window screens for some love every day. Recently one of the females was released on parole in the community and she took one of the cats with her. Having no home to return to and knowing no one in this town, she would find some purpose and companionship in the stray; not to mention she might be saving his life.
Awhile ago one of my offenders asked me about getting a dog or a cat, maybe a hamster. We talked about the responsibilities and temperaments of various pets, and I forgot all about the conversation. That was thoughtless of me because it seemed important to him.
The conversation came back up in telling him about my daughter’s drama over her grandparents’ dog (to illustrate what he might have to prepare for when he becomes a dad). He suggested that I buy a hamster as a consolation. One thing led to another and, remembering how my classmates who had such pets never talked about their hamsters, complained about their guinea pigs, but raved about their rats, I said he might get a rat when he’s out on his own. He looked at me odd, but didn’t say anything. We eliminated squirrels and ferrets from his list of potential pets when he returned to the rats. “Rats, huh?” he asked. I went on to describe a white rat I once met with red, beady eyes and whiskers that would tickle my cheek as he sat on my shoulder. He was adorable.
“You know,” this offender said, “that ‘rat’ is offensive to a certain gang around here.” His old gang to be exact. Oops. I had no idea. Fortunately he’s changed enough to laugh over my faux pas; he even went on to laugh at the irony of him owning a rat. Then he was kind enough to try and enlighten me about other insults for the main gangs on campus. Sometimes I think I should just not speak at all given the numerous ways to offend people. It’s like walking into a mine field.