Poor Beast

Little kids are fascinated by animals as soon as they become aware of the world around them. I was no different, but I did have more to go up against than many kids because my mom did not want pets in the house. This meant that I faced an uphill battle in convincing her that, like practically every family in America besides us, we needed to have a pet! For the longest time, I had to imagine pets of my own, turning my stuffed animals into living, breathing creatures in my own mind, aided by the pet-care advice of numerous books that I found on the subject. However, by the time I turned seven, I somehow pressured Mom into allowing my acquisition of a hamster. I named her Honey, after the color of her fur. I got her on a Saturday. The day of the week is significant because exactly one week later I arose from my bed, hurried to gaze at the exciting thing that had recently become my own, and opened my mouth in terror. Apparently, the pet store did not keep the male and female hamsters in separate cages; Honey had given birth overnight to six hamsters. More disturbing was the fact that she subsequently ate all of her babies over the course of the next several weeks.

Somehow I was not scared off from ever having a hamster again; some months after Honey's death, I bought a new hamster! She was followed by another one, after whose death I decided to switch to guinea pigs. These would each live for a year or two, but after the last one died, I decided that it was much too traumatic to have a pet only to have it die. So, for the past four years I have been content to entertain myself with stuffed animals. -- Michelle Diaz, Poway H.S.

My family has had a fair share of pets. Zakes Mokae was in the family before me. This cat joined my parents in 1988, four years prior to my birth. I don't have anything more than snippets of memory about Zakes, except for his death. Zakes died while my family was in Oregon. The kennel called and said that our cat was having seizures. He died while we were on our trip home. We buried him under a pine tree at my grandparents'. It was my first experience with death. I was seven. I sat in Grandma and Grandpa's yard and sobbed for 15 minutes. We got Luna, an Australian Shepherd, when I was five. She is still with our family. She has a passion for playing tug-of-war with stuffed hedgehogs. In the act of replacing Luna's toys, our family has caused a shortage of hedgehogs in the Petcos of San Diego County.

Cosmo was also called "The cat formerly known as Zoe," partly in homage to Prince, but more due to the quick wit of a vet's assistant. When we purchased Cosmo, he was listed as a female. After a dip into the baby-name books, he was named Zoe. The vet walked into the room and asked, "How do you feel about Zoe as a boy's name?" Cosmo was promptly renamed. Upon our return, the assistant asked about the cat formerly known as Zoe. The moniker stuck. A little less than a year after he came into our lives, Cosmo didn't come home when called. One night turned into three or four. Now the Prince-like cat resides only in our memories.

After Cosmo's demise, we got a kitten (a male, for sure) who we named Taj. There is a huge stereotype about dogs chasing cats, right? But Luna and Taj take turns chasing each other. They tear about, Taj flicking his tail, attempting to provoke Luna. They'll hit a dead end, turn around, and the chaser becomes the chased. Cosmo preferred my brother and me to our parents, but Taj is definitely my mom's cat. -- Kyle Landau, Valley Middle School

Among all the living creatures that have resided in my house, few have survived. In the past, my family and I have owned two dogs, a hamster, three rabbits (and a million bunnies after that), and two goldfish. We currently have one dog. Yes, that says it all -- we are horrible caretakers. It all began when, at the age of seven, I spotted a little yellow hamster in the pet store. Of course, the moment I laid eyes on it, I wanted to keep it as my own. My mom gave in, so we bought a colorful plastic cage and took Peanut home. After I learned that she would pee in my hands if I wanted to hold her and bite if I wanted to cuddle, I soon neglected her. I grew accustomed to the reeking smell in my bathroom, where her cage was located. Throughout her life, Peanut was anything but content (I can't blame her), which led to a chewing habit. So, when we applied duct tape to a hole that she had chewed in her cage, she chewed through that. When my family and I went on vacation, we placed the cage in the garage with a fresh layer of duct tape. The story ends with us arriving home to find a stiff Peanut lying in the washing machine. Well, at least the smell from her unclean cage in my bathroom disappeared.

Within the next period of my life, rabbits played a big part. My brother and I really wanted some bunnies, so after some begging, our wishes were granted. My brother's was Peter and mine was Pellet. Because chasing rabbits did not appeal to me, I decided that I didn't want a rabbit as much as I'd thought. Pellet wasn't fun or cute after I realized how much work a rabbit requires. Well, one day, after discovering that Peter was a girl and could bear furry children, I let Pellet out for a midday frolic and he disappeared. The end. I have no clue what happened to him. However, my dad did get me another rabbit after that. His name was Thrasher, and he disappeared too. Fortunately for me, I didn't miss either one of them.

The goldfish started out fine; I fed Bubbles and Pop every day, and they swam happily in their little tank. One day, though, they began growing mold on their scales. I flushed them down the toilet. Yes, just because they had mold on them. But, I was young...and I didn't want sick fish.

The first dog we owned, we gave away, which is admirable for my family. I mean, we prevented a pet's death. The second dog we still have and plan on keeping for a long time. -- Alexis Sebring, Carlsbad H.S.

When I moved to California about five years ago, I was promised a puppy so I could look forward to the move. Somehow, I came home from the animal shelter with a kitten. I still can't remember how that happened. The kitten that I chose came with the name Boris. He is energized, clumsy, cute, and weird all at the same time. When we brought him home, he would follow the older cat around the house and pounce on top of her and annoy her to the point where she had to hide from him. He enjoys watching TV by sitting on top of the television and leaning over in front of it. Another one of our cats, Crystal, was diagnosed with kidney failure when she was young. Consequently, we bought her special food and had to give her fluids via an IV every other day. "You do what?" people would always respond when we told them that we did this.

Another cat, much older than the first, developed a tumor near her mouth. Since it was causing problems, we decided that removing the tumor would be the best option. After the operation, the tumor grew back. We put her to sleep.

My mom has generally been the one who feeds and takes care of the pets. I've always helped out, but it's never a major responsibility of mine. The medical care that we have given our pets may seem odd to other people, but the thought of them suffering or living in pain was enough for us to be sure that we were doing the right thing.

When two of the cats died -- one was put to sleep and the other one disappeared -- I was not as sad as I thought I'd be. I enjoyed their company but was never extremely attached to them. It seems like the world is divided into "cat people" and "dog people." I definitely like having cats around. I can't imagine living without pets -- the house would be too quiet. But I'm still waiting for my dog. -- Naomi Serling-Boyd, Mt. Carmel H.S.

When I was little, we had two cats: Alan Ladd and Magic Johnson. Magic, a light-cream-colored cat with a white belly, was one of a litter of stray cats my mom found, and she gave him to my dad while they were dating. When Magic and then Mom moved in with my dad, Alan was jealous and temperamental. But I remember him as old and sweet with moody bouts. Both cats' deaths were most traumatic for my mother. One morning, she went out to get the newspaper and found Alan's body torn to pieces across the lawn. Alan was a feisty cat that would hiss at approaching dogs. Unfortunately, his bravery cost him his life. Several years later, Magic became temperamental and needy in his old age and would sit in the middle of the street and wait for us when we went out, sometimes darting under cars. We always worried a car would hit him. One morning, my mom was pulling out of the driveway and Magic ran under her wheel.

While Magic was still alive, my sister got an orange kitten from her second-grade teacher. He was a monstrous creature that attacked everything, so we named him Beast. Like Alan and Magic, he was allowed outside. One day, when our family was playing catch with some neighbors in the front yard, a big yellow dog approached. The dog snatched up poor Beast by his hind legs and shook him. Although Beast survived, he was never again allowed outside and has become fat, lazy, and loving. He occasionally tries to escape, but only half-heartedly.

After Magic died, we found Zoe at a pound. She's a little gray monster, who is even sprightlier than Beast was. No one in the house can sleep with the doors open because she will jump on you and bite your nose. She is also a kleptomaniac who regularly steals game pieces, hair ties, pens, and Christmas ornaments and stashes them inside couch cushions. My mischievous friend, Heather, adores Zoe and Zoe's traits remind us so much of Heather that we often call her Heather. I complain about her daily, but she's so little and rebellious that I love her as much as Heather does. -- Megan Zapanta, El Capitan H.S.

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