Having come to the realization I was perfectly willing to spend hours talking to a school of mute fish (which were my very first pets), my generous parents decided I could also reasonably be expected to enjoy spending my time with a pair of gorgeous turtles.
Their names were Huey and Louie (named after the Duck nephews, of course), and they were magnificent.
They were red-eared sliders, and I loved them to death.
We got them quite young, and they would spend the best part of two years with us (at which time they moved in with my cousins, where they lived for another five or six, if memory serves).
Today I am quite aware that red-eared sliders can be shy and they may not actually like to be handled. Mine may have been an unusual pair, or my memories of them might be a bit skewed, but I honestly think they liked me.
Huey, Louie and myself (never referring to myself as Dewey, mind you) soon morphed into the Three Musketeers. I’m not sure if I was willing to omit a d’Artagnan, or was not yet aware of him at the time – anyway, we were three.
Being the curious and rather introverted boy that I am (despite my advancing years), our first few weeks together were spent reading up on the kinds of things my new friends like to eat and do, so I could take care of them properly.
Once I was perfectly confident that I had got just the right amount of food down for each meal, and that their luxurious home was cleaned and maintained at regular and appropriate intervals, I was free to concoct a whole host of Three Musketeer-approved adventures.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must have had their fair share of influence, for we no longer stuck to purely water-based activities in my wild imagination. We went exploring all over the world, once nearly getting lost somewhere in Central Africa, and had an incredibly awesome time every evening.
I remember sitting with them doing my “homework” (while secretly plotting our next big adventure) while my parents watched TV. I also remember the time I was asked if I wanted to graduate to a cat, but that’s a story for another time.
You’ll understand me a lot better, I feel, if I tell you that while I was desperate to be the friend of my very own cat, I was also quite annoyed with my parents for having asked that question within the earshot of the turtles. What if their feelings were hurt?
Given the fact that I was quite shy around people (still am sometimes), but that I was incredibly comfortable with all animals whether we have been previously acquainted or not, I think the combination of my proclivity for storytelling and the turtles’ company probably saved me from a lot of loneliness.
I was a bit chubby as a child (and am anything but slim to this day). I used to get really nervous when having to speak up in public, was a frightfully good student (to quote my first-grade teacher), and was more interested in animals and books than cartoons and roughhousing.
So, the adventures of the Three Musketeers, albeit fictional, helped me develop a whole lot of emotions and values I am proud to hold on to today. And probably made me a better writer as well.
If you are wondering whether you should get your child a pet – no matter how large or small, furry, scaly or otherwise – my most honest and heartfelt recommendation is a resounding, definite yes.
You may only change their life for the better.