Brigitte Bowers: Pet menagerie offers some lessons in life

March 22, 2013 

Daisy Mae is a potbellied pig my husband and I bought at the Los Banos fair 10 years ago.

She was a teenager then and having a difficult adolescence. She was not one of those sunny, cheerleader types. She was goth all the way, sneering at our efforts to tame her, complaining when we forced her out of her shed into the fresh air, content to be left alone with her own bad moods to keep her company.

For years, she shared her pen with various other animals, including a rooster and a miniature horse, and did not forge a close relationship with any of them, though she did allow the rooster to occasionally sleep on her back.

Now she shares her pen with Grover, a goat who should have been in someone's freezer long ago.

Grover was a 4-H project for my youngest son, who missed the deadline for the Merced County Fair and then objected when we suggested selling Grover. He did not really want to take care of Grover, but he did not want anyone to eat him, either. And so Grover and Daisy live together in a peaceful co-habitation.

Daisy is not fond of Grover, but she does not seem to hate him, either.

When we first brought Daisy home, I had high hopes for her. She would be fun to have around, and my kids would learn valuable lessons from her.

But we have had many pets over the years, and I can assure you that they have taught my kids nothing, except possibly how to avoid the chore of feeding and cleaning up after them.

Most of our pets eventually ended up in our backyard cemetery, the final resting place of pets ranging from hamsters to horses. We are running out of room back there, and I worry about this whenever I enter Daisy's pen.

Since she is not a particularly animated creature, an unmoving Daisy Mae really is no indicator of a dead Daisy Mae, and yet I cannot help but fear that whenever I find her immobile on her side, flies buzzing her snout, she will be rigid and cold when I lean down to touch her.

I can see Daisy's pen from my living room window, and over the years I have caught her in movement only infrequently.

To see Daisy on her feet is so unusual that when it happens, I worry I am witnessing a last heroic effort before she drops dead, leaving me, finally, to confront the problem of the overcrowded cemetery. So far, though, Daisy Mae just seems to live on and on and on.

Though pet ownership has not had the effect I hoped it would on my children, they have still turned out -- so far, at least -- to be pretty good people.

They have learned some good lessons in their lives and picked up some admirable traits, but these have come as a result of their contact with humans, not pets.

I mention Daisy and Grover now because the season for buying chicks is upon us. I will most likely succumb to the charms of baby fowl and, before spring has faded to summer, will find myself carrying home a paper bag filled with peeping yellow creatures.

But I will not imagine them as potential character building blocks for my kids. I know that the job of caring for them will not fall to my children.

So now I am stuck with Grover, who periodically gets out of his pen and follows the dogs into the house, surprising me when I'm putting away towels in the hallway closet or draining pasta in the kitchen.

And Daisy Mae has not turned into the pet I hoped she would be. She is surly instead of friendly and cute, and even if she did possess these latter traits, she still would not be very interesting. She is, in the end, just a pig in my yard.

Daisy and Grover have taught my sons nothing, except for one bit of wisdom: Sometimes, the things we think we want turn out to be a bigger burden than we anticipated. And that lesson has been more for me than for them.

Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.

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