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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Trendy Pets

The first thing to know about getting a pet is that YOU will be in charge of it. No matter how many people there are in your household, all clamoring for a wallaby or sugar glider and swearing they will take care of it, you are the one who will be changing the litterbox, scrubbing algae from the fish tank, shooting formula into the parrot's mouth, and teaching the ferret not to raid the refrigerator.

If you are OK with this, you should next consider your purpose in having a pet. Do you want it to:

Now you are ready to choose your

Dogs and cats. It seems like you have it all. Loads of money. Two-point-three tall, blond kids with very straight teeth. A "humble chapeau" with a living room that, as Liza Minnelli put it, "you can land a plane in." An SUV the size of a small offshore island.*

But wait; things are not perfect yet. Without a pet, your image and your offspring's Total Childhood Experience will not be complete. Mutts are out, of course, and so are felines, although you may soon be able to fork out $1,000 for a genetically modified cat that won't make you sneeze. What you want is an expensive purebred dog. These high-spirited canines come in a wide variety of sizes and colors, so they can prove a useful fashion accessory when you go running or saunter through the country club. The rest of the time, they can be confined conveniently in a cage or behind an electric fence.

Albino frogs. The albino frog is a very with-it pet that requires practically no care. It moves so little that it will take you a long time to figure out it is dead. If it does die and your child is inexplicably attached to it, you can replace it with a poached egg or blanched chicken breast and no one will be the wiser.

Chickens. Who would have thought the lowly chicken would be popular with wealthy persons in any capacity other than entrée? When Martha Stewart started promoting chicken husbandry, the well-heeled started perusing breeding catalogs alongside J. Crew, placing orders for Rhode Island Reds and Polish Hens, and installing $1,500 Henspas, complete with sunrooms and water heaters. Others are building custom coops coordinated with their homes or resembling Swiss chalets, saloons, beach houses, or pagodas.

Chickens also appeal to urban yuppies with romantic notions of bucolic life who obviously did not read the works of Sherwood Anderson or S. J. Perelman in college: "A farm is an irregular patch of nettles bounded by short-term notes, containing a fool and his wife who didn't know enough to stay in the city."

Arachnids. If you are looking for a low-maintenance pet that just basically sits in a cage and that you would never, ever want to take out, why not consider a tarantula or scorpion? While not exactly cuddly, the wily arachnid, star of many a B horror movie, is an endearing creature that won't scratch up floors or furniture and that doesn't have to be taken for walks.

With the cage set cozily in your child's bedroom, little Shelob or Lucifer can become the protagonist in many a grisly bedtime tale (best to avoid if your child is bedwetting or prone to nightmares). Be sure to memorize the route to the nearest

Madagascar hissing cockroaches. If you are no longer troubled by memories of those heady college days when your apartment was so infested with roaches that you automatically checked your shoes before stepping into them, you are ready for one of the star pets of our times. The Madagascar hissing cockroach is the ideal companion for a young boy looking to outgross his friends. It can grow up to three inches long and-get this-it hisses, which makes it ever so much more congenial than other cockroaches.

Pets vs. men. If you are seeking unconditional love, comfort in times of stress, someone who will understand your moods, someone you can talk to who won't gossip or talk back, you are clearly better off with a pet than with a man. Pets require less care and attention and cost less as well.

And what can we say for men? Most of them don't have fleas.

© 2003 Elaine Langlois

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*These quotes are from the movies My Favorite Year and Arthur, respectively.