Lessons from Animal Kingdom

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when Sweetie came up with the great idea [insert sarcasm here] to get a couple of goldfish for Nugget. I’m uncertain what inspired this sudden affection for the cold-blooded vertebrate, but she was fixated and Nugget was beside herself with excitement, so we decided to add to our little version of Animal Kingdom.

We hit the pet store first thing because we wanted to beat the mad rush to the fish tanks. This is when Sweetie gained my total buy-in and respect, because for just $.39 a fish we could buy our daughter’s love and affection.

Driving home with the plastic bag that housed the two freaked out goldfish, I began to feel for the little guys/gals. I thought about their life experiences, and how much it would suck for someone to pluck me from my home, toss me in a Glad zip-lock bag, and take me to an unknown destination. It was then that I determined we would make them a happy home/tank.

At home, the tank decorating commenced. We dumped in Nugget’s choice of fluorescent pink pebbles, poured in distilled water, jammed a couple of plants into the pebbles and placed a fake cave-like rock in the center. What fish wouldn’t be thrilled with this?

Apparently one of them didn’t like it, because he/she offed him/herself overnight and we had a floater on our hands the next morning. In hindsight, I’m not sure why Sweetie and I hadn’t thought about this.

Going into emergency responder mode, I plopped Nugget in front of Elmo so I could take care of business. I was unclear about how to dispose of the fish. Nothing seemed dignified. Trash? Toilet? So, I fed it to the Feline. Joking. I chose the toilet option and watched him/her swirl down the hole, all the while thinking what a dark place that must be.

For days after this, I couldn’t shake the memory of my childhood dog, Doogan. Doogan was a mix between a Terrier and a Dachshund. Some might say he was really a mix of a rat and bat.  A scrappy little guy, he was 12 pounds of pure muscle, resembled a gremlin, was known to chase cars, and had humongous ears.  Check him out.


Although he was the family dog (Note the professional photo.), he was really my dog. Doogan slept with me, followed me everywhere and was loyal to me through and through.

For example, one afternoon I was pulled from my algebra class because he had walked the couple of blocks from our home into my high school, looking for me. He must have gotten sidetracked by the screech of our choir as he was found in the choir room, howling. I was asked to escort him home.

You may be asking yourself, “Why wasn’t your dog fenced?” Well, I’m not sure why. When we got him, we always let him out the front door and he would scratch on the door when he returned, usually after making his rounds with the neighbors. Everyone loved him.

But, the honeymoon was over when the dog catcher told us to lock him up, or else. As you can imagine, Doogan didn’t go for being fenced in the backyard, so like the prisoner that we made him, he dug escape routes under the fence.

I returned home one day to find that he was gone. Just gone. I looked everywhere. Enlisted friends. Talked to all my neighbors. It was when I went door-to-door in the sketchy apartment complex on the edge of my neighborhood that I was told by a man who spoke little English that he was picked up by “a man in white.” Finally a solid tip; the dog catcher.

My BF at the time drove me to the pound where I saw him in a cage. He barked and whimpered with excitement as his tail wagged frantically. The man with the fat belly and the polyester pants informed us that Doogan had 3 days to live if we didn’t pay the $150 for bail. As he spoke, I could smell the chew that bulged in his cheek. I replied that we would be back in the afternoon with the money.

When we returned to my house, we gleefully informed my parents that we found Doogan and all we needed was $150 for his freedom. I can’t even recall if my father looked at me, but he said that Doogan was my dog, my responsibility, and that I needed to pay the bail. Everything stopped. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t front the money to take him out of the kill shelter.  Not for an instant. Doogan had been in our lives for nearly 7 years at that point and he had been an important part of our family.  BF and I were both floored.

I began working the numbers in my head, trying to calculate how to come up with $150. Working while attending school and competing on the volleyball, basketball and track teams meant that although I put in ample time on weekends and nights when possible, what I earned barely got me by week-to-week.

What I remember most about that moment was BF yelling at my parents. She emboldened me to fight for him as well. She helped me understand that I wasn’t at fault and there was something wrong with what was happening, so I joined in the fight.

We begged them. We cried. But they denied our various requests.

After days of lobbying my parents to  no avail, I returned to the kill shelter, hoping that my pleas for Doogan’s freedom would have more sway with the pseudo officer on duty.  Too naive to recognize that my appeals messed with his fiefdom, not only did I fail Doogan, but I never saw him again.  Maybe it was supposed to be some sort of life lesson that I just haven’t gotten yet.

Lately, I pay extra attention to Nugget’s affection for K9 and Feline. The way she talks baby talk to them.  Executes her rolling pin move down K9‘s back while he lays still, feigning displeasure until he has the opportunity to joyfully lick her as if to say thank you. She bonds with Feline by gently head butting him and yanking his tail like a church bell string. It’s a special bond that reminds me of how the judge in Nugget’s adoption case asked if she had bonded with K9 and Feline. Whether or not she had done so was a factor in his judgment, because it factored into her well-being.

Historically, I’ve felt silly for caring about what happened to Doogan. Looking back, it didn’t help that my parents teased me about it over the years as a way to deflect their own shame, but it’s only since our creation of our own animal kingdom (at Nugget’s pleasure) that I see that now.


About Mama's Tantrum

Midlife tantrum: Mothering a toddler while healing from childhood trauma. And trying not to throw a full-blown tantrum. View all posts by Mama's Tantrum

One response to “Lessons from Animal Kingdom

  • Maura

    At the bottom of each post there’s a default “like this post” — can we change it to “are horrified by this post”? You were right; they were wrong; and I’m so sorry. Doogan was adorable and you are amazing.

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