By Romelda C. Ascutia
Father and son were squatting in front of their gate, hunched over black dots on the ground that as I passed by took on the shape of adorable ducklings.
Children and animals go beautifully together like coffee and cream, and my two sons had their own share of animal bonding while they were growing up.
A long list of pets became transient visitors in our home over the years. During mall visits, a stopover at the Bio Research store was a must for the boys, who wanted to admire all the animals on display. Sometimes my kids would succeed in convincing their parents to make a purchase, promising to take good care of their wards. We were naïve to believe them.
One time we bought hamsters, which came complete with a convoluted cage that had all the works including spinning wheels, tunnels, and turrets. For weeks the boys would rush home from school eager to check on their pets, feed them, caress them, and clean their cage. But as time passed, the boys, with the typical short attention span of children, lost interest and moved on to the next attraction, and I was saddled with the care of the abandoned creatures.
The parade of critters in our house included turtles, tropical fish, and white mice that my kids snuck into school, kept hidden in their breast pockets to be shown to their classmates during recess.
The school was another rich source for acquiring pets. Ambulant vendors outside the school premises would entice the pupils to buy goldfish contained in little plastic bags filled with water. There were also chicks and ordinary brown birds given a makeover and dyed garish pinks and blues and greens. My children never let any of these opportunities to bring a surprise pet home pass.
At one point they brought back ducklings, and had a merry time being trailed everywhere by the baby ducks that had mistaken them for their mothers. Unfortunately, the ducklings would later be accidentally squished underfoot.
Of all the animals they had, my children were most obsessed with, to my dismay, spiders. They used up their school allowance to buy spiders locked inside matchstick boxes. These were not regarded as pets, but as combatants to be placed on broom strands and pitted against the spiders of peers. I was glad when they outgrew that phase.
Two particular pets stand out in my memory. One was a pair of outrageous quails which had the most eardrum-splitting squawk I ever heard. Like roosters with a sore throat, they woke us up in the morning with their hoarse noises, and curious neighbors would come by and ask us what those horrid sounds coming from our house were. We grew fond of those awkward fowl which, sadly, met a horrible end in the jaws of the neighborhood cats after my sons forgot to bring them inside the house one night.
The other unforgettable pets we had were hermit crabs. These creatures were sold by pedestrian vendors then, but recently they have found their way into malls. Their shells have been painted in bright colors or cartoon designs and they come housed in proper cages. Of course, they also carry a much fancier price tag.
Our hermit crabs resided in a cardboard box and were actually a breeze to care for. But when my children got tired of them as usual, the neglected crabs escaped from their box, and I assumed they had died from lack of food. Then one day, like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, I saw a strange form dart from behind the refrigerator. It was a hermit crab. The hardy creature had apparently survived for months scavenging on its own (which probably does not say much about my housecleaning skills).
My kids no longer ask me to buy all sorts of pets for them. But they have learned the valuable lesson of taking responsibility for other living creatures they take under their wing, and they now help me feed and care for our pets. They have also learned to respect the right to life of all animals, and during heavy rain would catch frogs that cross our street to put them back safely in the vacant lot where they came from.