Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Casey and I Walked... and Walked... and Walked Today

Casey and I walked five miles this morning while Jackie, Wendy and Jamie were at Home Depot getting paint for the area around Jackie's fireplace (primer and a lighter color). While we were out and about, she asked me to tell her some animal stories from my past days as an animal behaviorist, so I told her about an elephant that was afraid of chickens, and about the kinds of relationships a human being can have with different kinds of animals (mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds) based on the abilities of the animals' brains to "bond" (or not) with their owners.

I told her that all mammals are capable of bonding and having close friendships with their owners, and that they miss us when separated from us, while amphibians, reptiles and birds don't have the part of the brain (the neocortex) that fosters bonding. I explained, "Even though you can tame a bird, a toad and a snake, or a salamander, so that it knows to rely on you for food, the attachment will be mostly one-way -- your brain will have an affection for the pet that the bird, toad or reptile won't share. They'll respond to you to receive favors, food, and adequate treatment, but they won't do anything purely to please you. They'll take from you and birds will 'trade' with you at times the way they'll trade with another bird, but they aren't givers in the same sense that mammals are. And if they get out and get lost, they won't miss you in the way a mammal will, although birds will sometimes try to come back to an owner if they get loose because they recognize that their owner feeds them, and because life in the wilds is no picnic."

That led her to feeling a little sad. She can't have any pets at home because Jamie has asthma and is allergic to all domesticated pets. I told Casey, "If your mom and dad agree to it, I can always keep a small pet here for you to own and take care of, since you love them so much and want to learn how to be a good pet owner." She lit up like a Christmas tree. We talked some more and settled on a guinea pig as her "starter pet" -- because I already have the proper habitat and I love guinea pigs, too.

When Wendy got back from the store, Casey stated her case and her desire to get a guinea pig, telling her she'd keep it at my house and that she would promise to read a book on the pet and take care of it every time she's in the neighborhood (which is usually at least three days a week); I assured Wendy I would take care of it the rest of the time.

So Wendy is going to talk it over with Phil and see if he agrees with the plan.

She's such an animal lover -- just as I was -- and the thought of her having to grow up without an animal makes me very sad. So this is a viable option. We'll see what her dad says...

Cross your fingers for her!

At VistaPrint I ordered Casey a t-shirt in two different sizes. It has a pretty horse on the front and I had them print below the horse, "Casey Hope McNiven... When I write, I'm not just horsing around!" I'll tuck the t-shirts inside the 3-ring binder I made for her and present everything to her in person on her birthday (if I'm not horse-sitting the weekend she's being feted).

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