The terror of pet-sitting

Before today, I would never have known whether Locusts have balls. Clearly, this one does.

My family have gone camping with some friends. I have made my feelings about camping fairly clear, so I’ve stayed home to feed the cats.

A family we are good friends with have also gone, and so – dizzy from the prospect of getting the house to myself for a few days – I agreed to look after their son’s bearded-dragon.

I’m a little surprised they asked me, to be honest … as I killed their last one.

Well, OK, technically it wasn’t my fault (the family fortunately declined an autopsy). She was old. She and I spent a weekend together; we laughed, we cried, we watched some TV and had deep philosophical discussions where we put the world to rights. The following morning she had croaked – or whatever it is they do. I think the correct way of describing a loved pet’s passing varies according to the animal – rather like collective nouns.

Its just typical of my luck that the lizard should spend so many happy days with her real owner, and then choose to die during the only two days that she was my responsibility. It’s rather hard not to take that sort of thing personally.

Ever since then, I have become rather paranoid about looking after other people’s pets. Which I admit is rather silly: after all, if one of my own pets died then I would be upset, but I wouldn’t go looking for someone to blame … well, unless I were to find Tiddles’ flattened corpse underneath my next-door neighbours’ Transit van. But a natural death, no.

If I’m so Laissez-faire with my own pets, why am I so paranoid about the welfare of someone else’s?

Being a mug, I never say ‘no’ when they ask. Nope, I hear myself claim that it will be “a pleasure” and I’ll be “only too happy to have him/her/it/them” for the weekend. And then I spend every waking moment of that weekend worrying; asking Google about how to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a Bavarian Tree Porcupine or how to check that a Tarantula isn’t suffering from dysentery.

So for the week I’m home alone: the lizard and I are regarding each other carefully through the glass, trying to decide which of us is the uglier.

Truth be told, I quite like him. I find it difficult to dislike any creature that appreciates the value of silence – one that knows not to taint such a precious gift with anything as barbaric as “small-talk”. Not a squeak, woof or hiss comes from this guy; he has clearly never called anyone a Pretty Boy in his life. He looks at me, and he calculates. He gives the definite impression that he knows how to play Chess.

I have already named him “The Sarcastic Loofah” because of his gaze, and his general dimensions and texture. I like the sound of the name, and am considering buying a pub just so I can name it that too. I’ll need to get an artist to paint me a pub sign of a lizard that looks a bit like Will Self, holding a pint.

It turns out that for the most part, bearded-dragons are quite a low-maintenance pet. However … feeding time is a bit of an event.

Supplied with the lizard for his holiday at Casa del Oddbloke are a stack of containers. These containers contain locusts (about ten in each), who seem … active. Not being able to read locust expressions all that well, I can’t tell whether they’re agitated, scared or just doing aerobics. For all I know they’re just happy about being trapped in a plastic box. Who knows how their little minds work?

Deep, philosophical musings are inevitable when you find yourself  in posession of a Tupperware container filled with live locusts. Are they aware of their impending doom? Or do they consider the lizard some sort of god? Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about the responsibility forced upon me – part megalomaniac, part riddled with guilt. I have toyed briefly with the idea of creating a miniature lizard-sized book called “To Serve Locustkind” and hiding it in the tank for the locusts to find. It would only really work, though, if any of them were fans of The Twilight Zone. And could read.

In addition to the locusts, I am also given a container of wormlike organisms described by the owner as Loofah’s “treat”. He gets one out with his fingers and shows it to me. It’s not what I’d call appetizing. It looks like it is going to sprout wings and teeth at any moment and drill itself into my skull. I make a mental note that I’ll be wearing an asbestos suit when I dole those out. As far as “Icky Things” are concerned, I’m like a ten year old girl.

Feeding locusts to the lizard consists of opening the tank, throwing them in, and slamming the tank again before one of the little buggers decides to attempt a jail break. They’re quicker than you’d think. The lizard then goes on a feeding frenzy and downs anything that moves – though he often chooses to let a few live for a while. Or perhaps he too is a philosopher; pondering whether locusts have souls, or giving them the chance to fight for their own freedom.

I photographed a particularly ballsy-one sat on his head. I’m pretty sure he waved. I hoped he enjoyed his moment of triumph – he was gone next morning, and Loofah looked just a teensy bit more smug.

When it comes to feeding animals I think I’m on firmer territory with guinea pigs. They may be smelly, squeak a lot, and defecate everywhere … but I can’t remember the last time I threw some carrots into a hutch and one of the damn things jumped back out again and hopped across the living room floor. It certainly isn’t a lettuce leaf that’s hiding under the settee right now, avoiding cats paws and my rolled-up newspaper.

I’m about to shift some furniture. Then I shall submit to the Oxford English Dictionary that the correct way of describing the passing of a locust is a “crunch”, or a “splat” if it’s a big one.

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posted in Diary, Family by Oddbloke

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