Pets are an intrinsic part of family life. Whether warm or cold-blooded, the care and keeping of another living being is more than just an idle hobby. Aside from the fact that caring for a pet can give children responsibility and can enable them to feel more secure and active, caring for a pet shows that we have the power to help the powerless. Of course, caring for a pet benefits the pet in question, but it has enormous health benefits for the caretaker as well. Caring for an animal, especially for a dog or a cat, can enable the caretaker to experience less stress, ease the effects of anxiety, depression and loneliness and can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
Throughout much of my adult life, I have been the proud mama of several dogs. Over the years, we have had our neighbor’s children watch them whenever we went on vacation. I was grateful for their assistance, for they enabled our dogs to stay in the comfort of our home without the stress of sitting in a cage in a strange environment with strange smells and other animals all day. Our dogs were always more well-adjusted when we returned home and we owe our neighbors and their kids a debt of gratitude.
Over the years, I had the pleasure of helping others with their pets when they went on vacation. I found this to be a pleasurable experience, especially because those who entrusted their pets to my care were able to vacation without worrying about their furry family members. Dogs were my specialty, mainly because I had more than 30 years of experience with dog ownership and training.
This summer changed all of that.
Several weeks ago, my mom and sister and family opted to vacation on the Jersey Shore. My niece had three guinea pigs that could not accompany her on the trip, so my sister contacted me to ask whether my husband or I could watch the pigs over the weekend. Hubby jumped at the opportunity and each day he set out early to offer food and water to the little critters. In the evening, he fed and watered them again and made sure that the temperature of the house wasn’t too warm. It was his way of “paying it forward” for those times that our neighbors pitched in to help us with our dogs.
Hubby’s gig with the guinea pigs opened the door to allow a dragon to enter. I mean this literally.
Our daughter and her boyfriend had plans to visit his family in Delaware for a quick weekend getaway. They were able to take his large pit bull-boxer mix, but they were unable to take her bearded dragon. She asked if we could house him for a four-day stint. I agreed, unsure of how this would all work out. I was also amazed by her adoration of a cold-blooded reptile. Then again, this love affair with lizards happened many moons ago.
When she was a student at Woodland Elementary School, one of her teachers had “class pets,” which were small anoles. My husband used to catch these creatures for her each summer when we visited Florida. She was thrilled that they were in her classroom and asked her teacher if she could take them home for the weekend. I still have a photo of her holding the anole in her wee hands. Over the years, the tanks got larger as we purchased more and more anoles for her. After they passed, she got herself a fire skink and another larger lizard. When she moved out, she purchased the dragon.
I had no idea how to care for the creature and eyed him with more than a bit of trepidation. He surveyed me with the same wariness as his eyes followed me around the room. In the morning, we turned his heat light on and sprayed his tank for humidity. He was given several tiny pieces of carrot, watermelon and a few small blueberries. In the evening, we wrestled with large mealworms that squirmed so much that Hubby dropped them from the tweezer onto the floor. I never saw anything move as fast as that dragon moved when a worm dropped onto the paper lining at the bottom of the tank. Before bedtime, he was given a large blue worm that our daughter referred to as “candy.” It was electric blue and resembled a gummy worm, but that was where the resemblance ended. It was alive. That dragon ate the blue worm in no time flat. His light went off at night and a blanket was placed over his cage to keep him warm.
I watched intently over the next few days as “Picante the Dragon” moved about his tank, from bricks to logs to his little green hammock. Whenever I called his name, he cocked his head to one side and regarded me lightly. One day, I found him on his log, his mouth agape as though he were about to break into an aria. I texted my daughter who called me back in a fit of giggles. “He’s regulating his temperature, Mom. That’s what they do.” Honestly, I thought he was going to engage me in some rather interesting conversation about those weird blue worms.
Our daughter came to pick up her dragon this evening, grateful that we had helped her out of a jam. When she arrived, I greeted her in a t-shirt we had purchased together at Target in Hicksville. The graphic read: “Mother of Dragons.” I smiled at her warmly as she went to collect her reptile. “That would be you, Babygirl,” I crooned softly. I saw a hint of a smile as she entered her room and whispered back, “We both are, Mom.” Indeed.
Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.