The Petting Zoo That I Call Home

By Austin Hess –

We have a rodent problem in our house, partly because we don’t try to catch them, we feed them.

It’s a zoo out there, or in there, if you live with my family. Our ridiculously dizzy dog Skip, our “pysch rat” Taya, Oliver the rescue chinchilla, Mia and Tia the hamsters the size of my thumbs, Muffie the escape rabbit, Jimmy the groundhog-sized guinea pig, (and our newest editions) Patrick the goldfish, and Kiki and Khloe our baby guinea pigs, make up the spoiled animal family that we’ve learned to love. Five of which are housed in my room and the others in my siblings rooms.

Every morning I’m greeted by the sounds of clicking water bottles, the scratching of our bunny trying to get out and play, and my mom waking everyone up for their morning treat. This chaotic cacophony has taught me more lessons than many people ever could. Responsibility, the meaning of a dollar, and what it’s like to have a lot of living things depend on you for attention, a clean home, and survival.

Austin Hess

So be honest, when you think of someone having ten animals living inside their house, 8 of them in cages, you assume that the house has to be messy, “they have too many pets for anyone too handle,” or, my personal favorite, that our house HAS to have some kind of funky smell to it.

I am proud to say that you couldn’t be more wrong. There’s a system to this madness, each cage is cleaned out once a week using a strong odor-eliminating cage cleaner and clean bedding. You know those huge bags of animal bedding that most families buy because it lasts them a year? We buy two extra large bags and they last us about 4-5 weeks, add that and the cost of food, treats, and toys and you have a typical Petsmart bill for us. You go to the pet store to buy one thing, and then remember my mother’s rule; you have to buy something for everyone to be fair.

So when did the madness begin? Back in 2001, we bought our dog shortly after 9/11 because my parents thought that life is too short to not let your kids have a dog. Taya was a social psychology rat and Oliver was a chinchilla we adopted from someone who kept him in their unfinished basement the first 10 months of his life. My mother gave both the guinea pig and two dwarf hamsters to my brothers while my dad was away for the weekend. Needless to say, he doesn’t go away too much anymore. The rabbit was sort of a late surprise Christmas present my parents brought home on New Year’s Eve and the two baby guinea pigs were given to me this year after my birthday. The goldfish was brought home against my parent’s will when my youngest brother Garrett brought him home from a birthday party.

Sometimes it’s stressful on all of us, having to find time to clean cages once a week and get each of them out for a good amount of time each night so they can play and tire themselves out. If one of us is slacking on keeping them clean, my dad will be the first to say something smells funny and we need to get the cages done. On top of the play schedule, each water bottle must be checked daily to make sure all three guinea pigs have vitamin C drops, the guineas, the chinchilla, and the rabbit all need hay every day, and food bowls need filled everyday. You can’t imagine how difficult it is to take a vacation because the first thing we need to plan is finding someone willing to care for 10 animals while we are away. There are nights when it’s just constant arguments between my siblings and I about them not doing enough or who needs to clean what cage, but in more ways than one these furry, attention seeking critters have brought us together.

When’s the last time you were sitting in your kitchen and a rabbit came flying down the hall hopping off the walls? Found a sleeping rat in a tissue box? Or had to cut open your box mattress to coax a curious chinchilla out of hiding? Some would say we’re a loving family, others simply think we’re crazy, but at the end of the day, no one could leave our jungle of a home without a smile.

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