The Time My Mother Tried To Start a Zoo

It began very innocently, in the way that these things do; my family had two children, a cat and a dog. A reasonable collection of small beings. But then a Petsmart opened in our city, and suddenly exotic animals that my sister and I had never heard of before, let alone seen, were on display.

This was how my family ended up with a skink. For those of you who have no idea what a skink is, you’re not missing out on much. It’s a lizard, it moves little and doesn’t cuddle at all.


You know the saying “More fun than a barrel of monkeys”? picture the opposite of that and you have this pet. Also my sister’s skink was not this fat. It was hypothesized that the lizard was terminally depressed and consequently wouldn’t eat much, but we had no way of knowing this because again, it was a skink. (Photo Credit:

However it was my sister’s pet and she enjoyed it. My mother spent my childhood encouraging my sister and I to hold scaly creatures whenever an opportunity presented itself, so she was quite pleased with the new acquisition. My father, by contrast, was indifferent to the skink but he recognized that it made my sister happy, so he tolerated the reptile.

Lizards, like all creatures, must be fed regularly. Tragically they don’t eat normal things from the corner store, like kibble. Happily, this reptile ate crickets. I’m not sure how I would have felt about a pet that ate baby mice. I would have worried about it escaping and mistaking my ear for a tiny rodent in the middle of the night.

Anyway the next week, back to Petsmart we went in search of crickets to feed the skink. This was where I saw a kitten. A lovely black kitten that purred and just wanted to be cuddled. My sister and I begged, pleaded and convinced my mom that it was only fair that I get a pet given that my sister had gotten a scale-covered, cricket munching paperweight.

“A kitten is different from a lizard” my mother argued, she turned to my sister “Are you sure you won’t be jealous?”

“No. No!” we cried, “It’s perfectly fair!”

That night, for the first and only time in our lives, we met our father at the door when he arrived home from work. “How was your day?” my sister and I asked sweetly. “What did you do?” my Dad immediately sensed something was up. Then Splat our new kitten slunk around the corner. “You got a cat” he said flatly.

All in all, my Dad took the new addition well, probably because he didn’t realize this cat’s penis was going to cost him two grand a decade later. (In case you missed it, I wrote about saving a cat’s genitals in “The 2,000 Dollar Cat Penis” it remains the most heroic act of my life and probably would have been the most questionable expense on my Dad’s credit card if vets itemized their procedures, rather than lumping them under the company name.)

The next night, as predicted, my sister was in tears, “Unwashed got a kitten and all I got was a skink” she cried. Back to Petsmart we went where we picked up the kitten’s brother who was still up for adoption. Ever the peace keeper and having never been a lizard lover, my father understood this decision and took it in stride.

But the skink lived on, and thus the next week, back to Petsmart, my mother, sister and I went, in search of more crickets for the once beloved but now essentially ignored reptile. Because Petsmart with all of it’s animals and new products was less of an errand and more of an outing, once again the three of us stopped by the adoption centre where they had cats and dogs. Before approaching the aisle, my mother turned to us “Just so you know, we’re not getting another cat this time.”

That was when my mother saw him. It was less of a dog and  more of a horse, a fully grown St Bernard lying on it’s side placidly while a toddler crawled all over it, sticking his baby fingers into the dog’s eyes and nose. The well trained dog didn’t move, it didn’t even growl, it only looked up at us helplessly as if to ask “Please do something but I understand if you are too busy”.

“I want that dog” my mother said, which wasn’t surprising, as a teenager she had loved and ridden horses and it was easy to confuse the two species given the canine’s size.


Add some long fur and a squirming toddler and you have that docile St Bernard. (Photo Credit:

“That is the most perfect, well behaved dog I’ve ever seen” she said, still staring at the toddler’s two hundred and fifty pound fur playground. We continued on down the aisle to procure crickets for my sister’s dull, sun lamp loving pet and while we walked, my mother reasoned aloud why she should or shouldn’t buy the dog. None of her reasons included the pools of drool the breed produces or the sheer quantity of food it would need, or the exercise it would require, it all boiled down to the number of animals and small creatures we already had in the house. By the time we walked towards the cash register, my mother had talked herself out of it.

But the dog had moved from the adoption center, clearly the store was trying the hard sell, impulse buy technique, by placing him right next to the exit. “Buy a small cat toy and a St Bernard on your way out” the product placement silently screamed at us.

“I need that dog” my mother was back to the edge of indecision, my sister and I realized that we were one encouraging statement away from sharing the back seat of the minivan with a furry horse.

My mother gazed at the animal longingly with warmth “I would be in so much trouble”.

As much as I wanted to ride the well behaved canine to school, and snuggle next to the furry giant at night, I could picture my Dad’s reaction and the new rule that only he could buy crickets. “I don’t think Dad would be happy” I said.

As it was, describing my family’s pet situation was a bit of a joke for a long time: “We have three cats, a dog and a skink.” After one of the cats and our beloved golden retreiver died, (The skink supposedly died too but it was difficult to tell, as it never moved much in the first place) my friend admitted to me that my family’s house always smelled vaugely like a zoo. I can only imagine how a over-sized St Bernard would have added to that. That being said, whenever the story is told, my mother sighs dramatically and remarks about her regret of not coming home with the St Bernard.

Happy Birthday Mom, I hope you get something as wonderful and lovable as the St Bernard that got away.


2 thoughts on “The Time My Mother Tried To Start a Zoo

  1. Every time I read this I smile. I still don’t know if I made the right decision. That was an amazing animal. It drooled patience and invited cuddling.

    • And it would have eaten the house after soaking it in it’s own saliva. I still remember removing a sock after stepping in our golden retriever’s drool puddles, a breed which isn’t known for the amount of saliva it produces.

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