We lost Hugh today. Somehow, he managed to slither out of our second-story bathroom window and was run over by an 18-wheeler carrying a load of chickens headed for a KFC. Considering the amount of time he spent futiley chasing birds, it was a humiliating end to an otherwise, distinguished life. The only thing that could have been worse was if he had been flattened by a truckload of squirrels.
Nevertheless, we’ll miss Hugh. But, it was his time to go. After all, he was 12-years-old and beginning to show early signs of dementia. From time to time, he’d confuse his water dish with his litter box, so he’d foul his water and walk around the living room with litter crumbs covering his lips.
I bought Hugh for my girlfriend, hoping that he would provide her with companionship while I was away at work. Unfortunately, he took an instant disliking to Natalie and spent the bulk of his days asleep behind the refrigerator licking his balls. That is, when he wasn’t spraying the couch or her expensive suede pants.
“We should try something different this time,” said Natalie. “Maybe an exotic pet with individuality and charm.” Excluding your run of the mill German Shepherds, American shorthair cats and goldfish, I couldn’t think of a pet that would be easier on the drapes and didn’t need to be taken out in the middle of the night to do their duty. That’s when I remembered FlexPetz.
FlexPetz is a company with offices in New York, Los Angeles and London with more planned for San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C and Paris, France. They offer a complete line of domestic companions that are available for both short and long term leases. FlexPetz is considered the eHarmony of the pet world and uses a similar, patented Compatibility Matching System that helps identify 39 compatibility dimensions between pets and their owners that are scientific predictors of long term relationships. I was also drawn to them because of their “try before you buy” program.
I began by registering for the service on their website and made an appointment with Annabel, our FlexPetz trainer, to go over what kinds of pets would best be suited to our lifestyle.
“We just lost Hugh,” I said. “This time we think we’d like something in a non-traditional pet that’s low maintenance, doesn’t mind foraging around the neighborhood to find its own food and does their duty unassisted in the woods. Maybe something that only molts once a year. Do you have anything like that?”
“Oh, I am so excited,” said Annabel. “We just received a new shipment of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. They’re so cute and love to play with children, although they need lots of room to roam freely at night or they’ll exhibit signs of depression, excessive sleeping, anorexia and self-mutilation.” I told her I was already familiar with that – I have two teenage daughters. As luck would have it, hedgehogs eat dry cat food, so we wouldn’t have to throw out all of Hugh’s food – although they do much better with fresh mealworms and crickets. “You can special order them from our African Fresh insect mail order store.”
“I don’t know, Annabel,” I said. “The last time we had hedgehogs, they ruined all of Natalie’s expensive lingerie and scared our dinner guests half to death when they crawled inside their shoes. What else do you have?”
“How about something in a nice non-human primate, like a lemur, marmoset, night owl or a great ape? They’re very affectionate, love to swing from chandeliers and feel comfortable eating right off your table. But, you’ll need to get your shots. All of them potentially transmit zoonotic diseases, which means that every member of your family and all of your friends who visit will have to get inoculated against herpesviridae, poxviridae, measles, ebola, rabies, Marburg virus and viral hepatitis, but I’m sure that’s all covered under your HMO plan.”
“We also have a special this month on Bearded Dragon Lizards from Australia,” said Annabel. “They’re very independent, enjoy basking on the rocks of the fireplace (as long as you don’t have a roaring fire) and love having their spiny scales stroked. Although, they do tend to snag on fine cashmere and alpaca sweaters, so you might want to wear Carharts or other work clothes around the house. Kids love the way they change colors whenever they’re upset and about to attack. And, they’re easy to feed, too. Just toss out a handful of black soldier fly larvae, waxworms, grasshoppers or cockroaches – whatever you have around.”
We continued through the rest of the afternoon, looking for good indicators of compatibility – low maintenance and something that wouldn’t scare the bejesus out of us when we got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night – which, at my age might be 6 or 7 times. At the risk of appearing finicky, we had to start eliminating some of Annabel’s choices. We liked the independence of the Caiman crocodiles, but were turned off by their potential to grow 7 feet long and crush our ankles in their jaws.
To appease her, we let Annabel bring in a 13-foot Burmese Ball python she’d been keeping in the back of her trunk for special occasions. We thought “Cleopatra” was cute and really liked the way her black and brown blotches accented the shit stains on the carpet Hugh left behind. The way she slithered around the hardwood floors meant we’d probably never have to dust them again. However, what turned both of us off was Cleopatra’s propensity for coiling herself around your neck while watching TV. That meant that one of us would have to be around at all times to pry her free from the other’s cyanotic neck and administer CPR.
By midnight, I could tell that Annabel was beginning to run out of ideas. We had already been through hippopotami, Madagascar hissing roaches, llamas, Sugar gliders, Rothschild giraffes and European polecats. Nothing seemed to do it for us. We even thought about trying some unique species of dogs. “If you have lots of cattle or sheep in your condominium park,” she said, “You might want to choose a herding dog like a Belgian Tervuren, Pembroke Welsh Corgi or a Bouvier des Flandres.” I wanted to try one of the “chick magnet” breeds like a Shih Tzu, Papillon or Yourshire Terrier, but Natalie wouldn’t have anything to do with it.
Ultimately, we decided to go with the “Taliban Adventure Pack.” It included one mature King Cobra, a Blue-Ringed Octopus, 3 Stonefish, a Blue Dart Frog, half a dozen Death Stalker Scorpions and one Marble Cone Snail – all poisonous. “I think you’ve made a wonderful choice,” said Annabel. They’re all so CUTE. And they don’t require a lot of maintenance. For the most part, they take care of themselves. Just be on the lookout for their bite symptoms. Things like excruciating pain, fever, coma, swelling, trouble breathing or swallowing, total paralysis – and death. But that almost never happens. You live close to a Level I Trauma Center with a venom specialist, don’t you?”
I’ll really miss Hugh and know he’ll be impossible to replace. Nothing can substitute for the precious way a 12-year-old short-haired cat crawls up into your lap at night and farts in your face. Not even a Burmese Ball python.