Children and pet animals
When I was a boy - oh so long ago - we had a pet cat. Just one. Yet, being resourceful, this pet cat one day turned into a pregnant female. Then we had many cats. Though that was several cat generations ago, there are still cats to this day, descended from our very smart sole kitten, of my childhood days, at my parents home.
Now, there is a dog, too - a large Sicilian Corso: dramatic, powerful, watchful. A good dog to have around if you like giving intruders a nasty surprise.
Yet, here, in Singapore, where we now live, we have no pet animals. We live on the top floor of an apartment block (the "penthouse") and thought it cruel to have a conventional pet, in such restrictive surroundings. It would not be fair to the poor animal to be cooped up in a small space all day. In my mind, I compare the spacious surroundings of my childhood, with apartment living and just can't see a pet as part of it.
However, my children love animals. They seem to have an affinity for them which just won't go away. They engage with animals much as frustrated mothers-who-can't-be engage with other people's little children: with love, affection and just a little sadness. It should not be this way - but I just cannot see the run-of-the-mill animals living in a top-floor apartment with comfort. So, we have a pet-free apartment.
Yesterday, Fintan, who is the prime animal lover in our household, came up with his own solution. I came home to find a large collection of very small (for the most part) snails, in front of my apartment door. At least one had come upon a fatal accident (perhaps a mis-step by someone entering the house) - but the others were lively enough, moving around in what, no doubt was a panicked run, for a snail, as they sought more familiar territory than the stone tiling outside my house.
Fintan, Ainan and Tiarnan were all captivated, in their various ways, by the snails. Fintan, simply had a fascination for them; Ainan saw them as a scientific phenomenon to be observed and learnt from - and Tiarnan thought they were yukky: "Eek!" he said, when he saw them, his face wrinkled up with disgust.
What I thought most telling of my children's attitude to other life-forms, was seeing Fintan, walking around later in the day with the biggest of the snails perched on his hand. He had brought into the house to play with and was not at all squeamish about its slimey form. He was very careful not to hurt it and invariably moved it about by picking it up with its shell. At one point, he wanted to show its form, pointing out the various parts to me and showing what happened when he prodded it in various places - gently of course. "Don't hurt it!" I said. "I am not." he reassured calmly, placing it down again.
They spent quite some time playing with their "pet" snails. They even tried to put out some food for them: I noted delicately sliced banana laid down in the midst of the snail colony. That evening they put the snails on a stairwell. Ainan asked me to buy lettuce - which I duly did. And he placed what he considered a generous sized leaf out for them to have something to eat in the barren landscape of the stairwell.
Seeing all this made me a little sad that they did not have a household pet to play with. Clearly, the urge to "mother" an animal, to nurture a pet, to play with one and learn from one, was strong in them: so strong that they even made snails from the garden into pets.
Perhaps a reader of this post, will have some suggestions as to child-friendly pets that live comfortably in top-floor apartments, without being messy or smelly to have around (we have got three kids, so that is messy enough already!).
If anyone has a really good suggestion, based on actual experience of what that particular pet is like to have around, we might just get a pet to satisfy those pet-rearing instincts of my children.
(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, left-handedness, College, University, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)