People and their Pets

The opinions of a sad, bitter man

Words: Max Dylan Lazarus | Illustrations: Kobie Nieuwoudt

For most young adults these days, life can be tough and unforgiving: work is long, pay is low, rent is expensive, and scarily enough this applies to the more fortunate few. So it’s the little comforts that make life worth living – things like arriving home at the end of the day to a happy wagging tail or to the sight of a simple creature for whom you are the centre of the universe. Me? I don’t get such pleasures.

This is my pet-less period. The last family dog (Bruce) died a year ago, and it’s been over a decade since the era of my rat (Fresca), my rabbit (Nelson), goldfish (Azerbaijan), and let’s not forget our very sweet little snake (Jackie). I’ve had a whole assortment of pets, so trust me, I know the joy they bring and I know the kinds of people who keep them. Sure I’m a little bit bitter not to have the time, money or space to own the animal menagerie I’d like, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write an unbiased analysis of different pets and the people that choose to care for them. Sceptical? Classic silkworm owner characteristic, that – just read you like a book.


You fortunate, privileged soul – how did life turn out so good for you? You’ve clearly got time and money (you’d have to to be able to afford dog food, vet bills, and find time for regular playtime) so you’re either the founder of a promising start-up or a freelance creative. Let’s be honest, you’re not doing the right thing and getting a smarter, more physically adept pavement special from the SPCA. You’re paying a fortune for a pedigreed, evolutionarily-stunted Frenchie or Boston that needs to be sunscreened before leaving the house, only gets fed savoy cabbage and lean mince and get its teeth brushed in the morning because @TheAdventuresOfBowieTheBulldog gets so irritable after its weekly colonoscopy. Seriously, this thing is so unsuited to life why would you even do this – you could genuinely adopt human orphans and put them through school with the amount of love and money you’re committing to this anthropomorphic little footstool.


You’re the living, breathing, walking, talking embodiment of Tumblr, “I’m just so antisocial and introverted and off-kilter lol I’m going to tweet about how tricky people are”. At least you have Professor Meow-nerva Mcgonagall to keep you company while you drink a whole bottle of wine in the bath crying to Fleetwood Mac on repeat. Low-maintenance and pretty near emotionally abusive, this pet is the closest thing to a complete relationship you’ll ever experience. If I were to walk into your home, climb your couch, shed my body hair and stand on your lap with my nichtus in your face, I certainly wouldn’t expect a hug and a free meal.


Who owns birds anymore? Freaky little squawky bastards, with their lizard legs and Tipp-ex cloacas, hopping about fighting mirrors and eating health foods and attacking poor innocent fingers – I mean, have you ever seen a canary nibbling on a cuttlefish in the wild? Disgusting. If I walk into an apartment and see a birdcage housing any feathery exotic pigeons I immediately excuse myself, head down the road to the nearest petrol station and come back with as much gasoline as I can possibly afford (enough to singe most of an average-sized welcome mat); the protest is more about making a statement, you see, I’m simply starting the conversation. Over the top? Oh, I’m being unreasonable? Of course! Now please explain to me how enslaving soft-to-the-touch, flying velociraptors with beaks and turning them into decorative little idiots is a fun game? Oh excuse me – you take them to the park in their cage so they can enjoy the breeze? You say you’ve even trained your cockatiel to sit on your shoulder when you go get groceries?  Well congratulations on being an out-and-proud dangerous lunatic. The slavers no longer own Meereen, get the memo you evil sociopath.


So either you’re a child proving to your parents that you’re ready for the responsibility of owning a dog, you’re breeding lunch for your more carnivorous pet (to be discussed later), or you really have no intention of settling down with another human and the smell is actually quite comforting once you get used to it. I’ll admit that I cried watching The Green Mile when a pre-pedophilia tabloid creep Doug Hutchison went and crushed Mr Jingles, but that’s just good cinema. Granted that if you’re a student or unemployed in South Africa in 2016 your living situation is similar to that in The Green Mile, but is that any reason to spend all your hard-earned money on sawdust, plastic toys and furious mating sessions? You can arrange those on niche online forums at zero cost these days.


Do you have a sad little bowl with a single goldfish circling it all day, not recognising its repeated patterns and pointless actions – a fitting metaphor for your sad life, or for a more exotic, bare-minimum effort do you go with a Siamese Fighter fish, incapable of sharing the same space with anyone else, especially if sex is a potentiality – a fitting metaphor for your sad life. Among people who choose to keep fish, you can fit one of two personalities: the incredibly lazy old-age home pet owner, or the incredibly over-involved dorsal fin-eroticist pet owner. There is no middle ground. If at any point you’re considering having more than one fish, you now have a choice to make. You either have to flush them all immediately and stop, or you’re spending your evenings browsing through full-colour water-filter catalogues. Bigger tanks for more fish means getting a stronger pump which involves getting daily chemicals which then leads to getting some extra fish to eat the algae, and on and on and on. It doesn’t end. Well actually, it eventually does, when you go out of town to visit your parents for Christmas and you ask your stoner neighbour to keep an eye on them. Initially they get overfed, then they get starved, and then you either have to stump up several thousand Rand to start again, or you join the hundreds of people selling old fish tanks and pumps on Gumtree.


Once you learn that someone you know owns a reptile, the goalposts shift dramatically. That person has caged a cold-blooded monster, so he’s clearly capable (if not a big fan of) Zodiac-style serial murders, and will regularly lose his temper when mother tells him to cut off his ponytail. An anecdote: back in my school days I went with a bunch of friends to the Grahamstown Festival, looking forward to a week of plays, performances and fun drunken nights away from all parental supervision. The house we were renting was really nice, with beds for all 8 of us, several bathrooms, and a massive kitchen which had all the bells and whistles including several spare open-top freezers. Oh! There was also the creepy shack in the back garden, but we needn’t worry about that – the owner’s adult son Boom lived there, but he wouldn’t disturb while guests were around. Unfortunately, after a terrifying first night where the neighbours had an actual, real-life knife-fight in the driveway, and with us school-kids so far away from any adult help, we felt we simply had to get Boom to help us, he was the owner’s son after all, and we just needed a bit of reassurance that we were safe. We knocked on Boom’s door, and as it opened we were greeted by the most terrifyingly large man ever, standing in front of a wall covered from top to bottom with tanks of various sizes, each housing a slithering, scheming, hissing snake. From that night onwards we were seemingly indebted to Boom for life, and he would come into the kitchen every day and take a snack from the freezer stuffed to the brim with frozen rats and chickens. Presumably for the snakes. What were we going to do – ask him not to? He was gigantic, had saved us from the neighbours, had an entire house full of snakes, and could probably command them in Parseltongue. The week ended with us being invited to witness a very special occasion: Boom feeding a live chicken to his 8ft albino python. It could have very well been us, so thank you for your sacrifice, little chicken. Anyway, it was a magical time, loved every minute, I hate the arts, f**k you Grahamstown.