Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tazi's Corner #59 - RIP Miss Jingles, Beloved Pet

Dear Readers:

It is rare that I step our from behind the curtain, so to speak, and write a column from the human point of view; this is, after all, Tazi’s Corner – a fact he frequently reminds me of with a glare so withering you have to be of the feline persuasion to actually accomplish it. It looks a little something like this:

As you can see from the title, my beloved pet mouse Miss Jingles (aka Jinxie, aka Jinx) passed on this week. She had been ill and oscillating between fading fast and bouncing back, as so many of us humans do when we face our terminal days. Around 5 AM Tuesday morning, Tazi let out a soft, mewling cry (unusual for him; he usually screams at that hour) and I knew that my “little Miss Jinx” was gone; Saint Francis had offered her his hand and she gently took it in her delicate paw, leaving behind her earthly shell as her spirit stepped onto a higher plane.

I know there are some who would argue that she was “just a mouse”, and even those who would argue that animals have no soul and therefore cannot go to Heaven, and probably more than a few who embrace atheism and believe that dead is dead…but I know those of you who believe like that are far outnumbered by animal lovers who have faith in the existence of the Rainbow Bridge that our pets are said to cross. Far before her time on earth expired, that was what Miss Jingles had become – a pet.

Miss Jingles. She hated having her picture taken.

Jingles came to me purely by accident. I was working my seasonal job at a state park, educating visitors about the ecology of land and ocean. One of the exhibits in my small office was a beautifully colored milk snake that was refusing to eat the crickets we tried to feed it, so my boss brought a feeder mouse back from the pet store – a little white one that, in spite of my disgust for small rodents, I thought was kind of cute. Regardless, and not without a little guilt, I released the mouse into the snake cage where she gleefully explored her surroundings – until she came face-to-face with the snake and tried to claw her way up the slick glass sides of the tank. As a Naturalist I understand that the snake needed to eat, but I was just far too tender-hearted to watch; I felt like I had just thrown Daniel into the lion’s den

Like Daniel in the lion’s den, though, the snake did not eat the mouse. Since leaving the mouse in the tank was cruel to the mouse, and the unspoken reason for her being in there in the first place was making small children cry, the mouse was removed and put into a holding tank until the end of the day. The next morning I came into the office expecting to see that the mouse had been consumed only to discover that she had built a small nest in the snake tank, arranging grass blades and small twigs into a comfortable bed. The snake continued to ignore her, even as she climbed onto the rim of its water dish; took a long drink; and then commenced washing herself. My fellow Naturalist and I looked at each other and realized that we could not sacrifice this small creature to the snake, who was so obviously disinterested.

What could we do? The mouse had been bred to be fed, and had no ability to survive in the wild, so we could not release her into the park; and there was no way we could return her to the pet store to be sold as food to another snake – that would have been inhumane. So we kept her, caretakers to this little white rodent who much to our dismay was worming her way into our hearts. At the end of our season, when the weather got too cold to keep our unheated office open, the mouse – named Mr. Jingles, after the mouse in the Stephen King book The Green Mile and renamed Miss Jingles when we discovered she had no, ahem, jingly bits – came home with me. I was to be her caretaker, not her owner and certainly not her “Mommie”. I promised myself I was not going to get attached, considering the short lifespan of a mouse!

It’s amazing how animals make the transformation from random creatures that show up on our doorstep to beloved pets. When I brought Jingles home, she was no more than a cute, fuzzy attraction; a curiosity for Tazi, who went from high-fiving her through the class to sitting on top of her tank, jealous of any attention she might receive yet protective of his new friend. With the onset of winter, that tank made its way out of my basement office (it was cold down there) and into the family room upstairs, where my transformation from Caretaker to Mommie was complete. Jingles was no longer just a moral responsibility to me; she was officially a member of the family.

People who know me well know that although I am very outgoing and very spiritual I do not go through life with an open heart towards others. I am slow to trust and even slower to allow people into my inner circle because people can be cruel and the worst kind of people are people who are cruel because they derive some sick form of pleasure out of it. Sometimes it feels like schadenfreude is America’s favorite pastime. People will point and laugh when someone slips and falls, rather than run to their side to assist them; I read letters of others’ misfortunes and wonder how people can be so cruel…then I turn to Tazi and ask him why people cannot be more like pets.

It’s funny how we anthropomorphize our pets, giving them human characteristics and emotions and assuming we know what they are feeling…and I suppose I have received enough Paw Slaps of Disgust from Tazi to know that when I walk past his treat trough and fail to offer a small distribution that he actually is disgusted and angry with me for denying him the savory joy of a nom-nom.

So why do we treat our pets like humans, when it is other humans that cause our miseries? Because humans can also bring us joy and pets give to us the best that humans have to offer with none of the pain. I think the best thing about pets – and the reason Tazi is the face of this column and not me – is that we can trust them to keep our secrets. The dog will no sooner gossip about you behind your back than it would take your new sports car for a joyride and hope you don’t notice that small dent it put in the fender. We can trust our pets to be there for us, no matter how bad a day they have had. Have you ever seen a Labrador retriever in a bad mood?

Over the years I have had many pets – mostly dogs (Tazi is my second cat) and a few childhood fancies, like the pet bunny I got for Easter the year I turned seven or the squirrel that would knock on my front window in hopes of scoring a nut – and the loss of each has never failed to leave a large, gaping hole in my heart. In a way, pets are our children that never outgrow their need for us, never go through the wild, teenage years that make us wonder whatever happened to our sweet little child, never grow up to move away and marry someone that everyone else just knows is a mistake. For those of us who choose to be child-free our pets are our children, and while the loss of one cannot compare to the loss of a human child (nor would I ever compare the two), to lose a pet is to lose an important member of the family – perhaps the one family member that everyone loves best.

This past Tuesday morning Miss Jingles was returned to the park where I work, carried in the hollow of a toilet paper roll, the ends stuffed closed, which was always her favorite place and fashion to nap. It seemed appropriate; I couldn't bear the thought of her fur getting matted and dirty as I lay her in the earth. She was very meticulous about staying clean! As I look out of the door to my office, I can see the field where I placed her earthen vessel; a small boulder streaked with sparkling white quartz marks the spot, and is surrounded on three sides by full blooms of yellow flowers – daisies and seaside goldenrod, a stalk of which I broke off and planted above her remains.

As I walked away I caught myself singing the Hymn of St. Francis. A favorite of mine since childhood I finally understand its meaning; it is in giving of ourselves that we receive. I gave a piece of my heart to a little white mouse and in return received the joy that only unconditional love can bring. Rest in peace, Miss Jingles; you were the luckiest mouse that ever lived…and I was lucky to have had you in my life.

Thank you for listening, dear readers.


Rest in peace, little lady...

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.


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