Pet Inflation

By Howard J. Bennett, MD

Last year, we bought a Havanese puppy after an exhaustive search for a non-shedding, hypoallergenic dog that would not aggravate any of the nasal passages in my household. The irony of the story is that while none of us is allergic to Jessie, she herself is allergic to just about everything.

Naively, I thought my pet troubles would be over when I accepted our lovable, but high-maintenance dog. Oh, how wrong a father can be. Shortly after I adjusted to Jessie, the natives, a.k.a. my children, got the itch to add some new non-human DNA to our Norman Rockwell landscape. To the cynical mind their efforts may appear to have been masterminded in advance. However, given my knowledge of children, and especially my children, the events actually unfolded in a more random, though predictable manner.

To start, I should mention that my kids have a deep need to share their habitat with as many non-primates as possible. Besides Jessie, three hermit crabs, one hamster and five guinea pigs currently reside in our home. Actually, if it were possible, I’m sure they would add a few primates to the mix as well.

The hermit crabs came first. They’re a tropical variety that creep along the inside of a wire cage and therefore are more interesting to watch than most of their kind. When my wife asked if we could buy the crabs, she reassured me that I would have no responsibility for taking care of the tiny beasts.

The hamster was an impulse buy that occurred two weeks later. My son did a quick tally on his “sibling scorecard” and determined that his sister had more pets than he did. I had trouble seeing the logic of his argument since the hermit crabs were supposed to be family pets. My wife Jan reminded me, however, that Molly was the one who suggested we get the crabs and had, in fact, contributed five dollars of her own money to the purchase.

I should add at this point that Jan usually queries me about these “adoptions” while she is at the pet store with the kids. They go there ostensibly to visit the animals, but all too frequently are compelled to leave with more than a handful of memories.

The guinea pigs came to us one at a time. First the male. “Oh, he’s so sweet,” Jan, cooed into her cell phone as she was checking out at the register. A week later came the female and, well, you can deduce the rest.

I agreed to let them mate under one condition: that we would give away the litter. This fell under the paternal heading of LETTING THEM REPRODUCE SO MY CHILDREN COULD EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTY OF CHILDBIRTH (even if the “child” wasn’t human).

The mating itself was rather interesting. We took Snickers (the female) and Nimbus (the male) out of their respective cages and placed them delicately on the floor in our family room. (We corralled them in a honeymoon suite that was fashioned out of wooden blocks.) As anyone with even the slightest bit of animal knowledge can tell you, the only way a defenseless species can survive is by reproducing efficiently and prolifically. Nimbus was true to form, and after a 2-second courtship, mounted the mother of his future children with the skill of a snowboarder navigating a half-pipe. My children were present to watch the event, what little there was to watch, but this satisfied my wife’s desire to give them a smattering of a country upbringing. And then, a short two months later, Oreo, Hershey, and Truffles popped onto the scene.

“Dr. B, your wife is on line three,” one of my nurses said after she knocked on the door to one of my exam rooms.

“Did she ask to have me interrupted?” I queried.

“She said it wasn’t an emergency, but she’d like to talk to you right away.”

“Hi, Jan. What’s up?”

“They’re here! They’re here!”

I did some quick mental arithmetic. We weren’t expecting any visitors this weekend, and my in-laws already live in town. “Who’s here?” I asked.

“The babies! Snickers had her litter this morning. They’re so cute! I’m going to school to get the kids, but I just wanted to let you know. Bye.”

This is why I was interrupted? I was called out of a room with a sick child because three guinea pigs had been born? I didn’t say anything to my lovely spouse, of course, having learned a long time ago not to spoil exciting moments in my family’s life. At least I wasn’t doing a rectal exam when she called.

So Nimbus now has a family. I’d like to think that his children would manipulate him like mine manipulate me, but I doubt that will be the case. His offspring were being put up for adoption and he’d be neutered by Christmas.

Given my luck with animals, you may have already guessed that things didn’t turn out as planned. The kids had a great time watching the babies nurse and run around their cage, but I could also see that Molly was getting much too attached to the little buggers. In her defense, I should mention that baby guinea pigs are the cutest of the newborn rodents. While mice and hamsters are born naked, wrinkled and blind—sort of like pink blobs with limbs—guinea pig pups are true miniatures of their furry parents. At birth, they’re the size of a plum and they grow to full size by the time they’re six months of age. Imagine a hairy mango with legs and that will give you an idea how big an adult guinea pig is.

When the babies reached their 2-week “birthday,” Molly stated that she wanted to keep them all. Most parents would have seen this coming from a mile away, but once again, I was caught off guard. After intense negotiations and a threat to put myself up for adoption, we agreed to keep one of the pups (the female) and give the two males to one of our neighbors.

Nimbus was neutered last week with a high-tech laser procedure that cost three times more than he did. He took pain medication for two days and antibiotics for a week. I just sent an e-mail to one of my urology colleagues to find out if he’s this attentive with his vasectomy patients. Meanwhile, mother, father and daughter are living a contented, sex-free life in our spare bedroom.

As of this writing, I have declared a small victory because I successfully reduced our pet load by two animals. Although it’s too soon to call this pet deflation, the humans in our house are now outnumbered merely two to one.

Unfortunately, I just found out that Jan has been secretly visiting puppy websites again.

© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

(First published in Stitches, The Journal of Medical Humor September 2003.)

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