Ruby and I spent some time at the newest pet shop in town recently. Well, okay, it’s the *only* pet shop in town. We used to have a much larger one, and I’ve written about it. But it went out of business or got sold over the summer. The current one has no cats or dogs, a fact that initially made me sad. This newer incarnation has fish, reptiles and rodents. By rodents I mean guinea pigs, mice and rats. No hamsters. No gerbils. Sigh.
I picked Ruby up from school, the rain drizzling down. She danced over to me. We exchanged pleasantries, then her inevitable question: “Can we go to the pet store today?” Most of the time, I say no. By the time Friday afternoon rolls around, all I want to do is get home and stay home. I’ve shopped, exercised, run miscellaneous errands and probably worked, too. I don’t wanna!
This time, I craved some time with my youngest. As she’s grown, she spends more and more time with her friends and not her mom. I miss her at my elbow, “helping” me.
“Yes, we can go. Let’s see what’s going on today,” I said.
We parked in the dinky lot of the new shop with a much smaller footprint than the original. We strolled in the door, greeted by a small woman with long blondish hair. We meandered through the rooms. We looked at the guinea pigs (high-strung, as usual) hiding out in their plastic domes. We checked out rats, piled in a corner. The pink new baby looked squished but didn’t complain. The mice assumed similar postures.
Then we entered the last room. Oh, my!
The room held an almost overbearing heat. Boa constrictors of all kinds. King snakes. Tortoises. Lizards. Scorpions. Tarantulas. I’m going to confess I have no great love of reptiles, insects or spiders. Spiders with hairy legs? Forget it! Perhaps my dislike stems from the Biblical account of Eve and the serpent. “Did God really say not to eat of the fruit?” Yeah.
Throughout our culture, snakes don’t represent anything good. If you say, “He’s a snake!”, it isn’t a compliment. It means the “he” in question is smarmy with possible latent deceitful tendencies. Snakes remind me of Uriah Heep from David Copperfield, obsequious and conniving. I’ve never heard anything kind in regard to snakes.
Ruby is not of my persuasion. She peered eagerly into each cage, trying to spy the creature housed within. She was entranced.
“He’s so cute!” she squealed over one particularly large snake. Guh. Not me. Why are their heads so small?!
After a bit, Ruby craved greater interaction.
“Can I hold one, Mom?”
I went to go ask the owner. She willingly obliged, following me back to the room. She proceeded to give me an education about snakes. She told me which ones were male, and which were female. She outlined their personalities as she pulled out what she said was a baby ball python. The snake eagerly coiled onto Ruby’s torso and slithered up her arm and around her neck.
Ruby loved it. The snake continued its journey, winding itself around her arm.
“She likes to make a bracelet”, the owner observed. She showed Ruby and I the heart-shaped markings on the snake’s back. It was pretty cool.
I wasn’t too fond of this, but I could see Ruby carefully petting the snake. She has a genuine love for all animals. She’d do great as a lost, maligned fairy princess, living out her existence in an isolated cottage in the woods. Especially with 7 little men to protect her. The vermin could help her with chores.
Ruby fed the tortoise, a rescue animal, meal worms with long metal tweezers. The tortoise, Pinky, gratefully gobbled them up. She found out the lizard on the top shelf was rescue, too. He was nearly starved to death when the shop owner got him. The scorpion, God bless him, was too fat.
“He hasn’t eaten in about, oh, three weeks,” she told us, citing out how chubby he was. “He needs to live off the land for awhile”, she chuckled.
I guess I’ve been a bit prejudiced my whole life. I’ve never had a reptile pet. I don’t mind snakes. But I had no idea they had such quirks and foibles. Now, I have a little more respect for this misunderstood invertebrate. I had a crash course in snakes today. I hope there’s no test.