Sheena

Sheena’s gone; Roz has diabetes; King Tut, cancer. Last week, I wrote about Tommy’s sudden laryngitis. I worried it could be—as cat-laryngitis sometimes is—the onset of a serious illness. Clearly, I worried about the wrong pet. Last night, Susan walked by Sheena’s habitat. “Oh no, Sheena died!”

Sheena’s the corn snake we got when Sophie was five. After attending Strawberry Hill Nature Camp, Sophie became obsessed with owning a snake. We asked around town and learned that Nathan, the amiable kid who ran the bakery stand at the downtown farmers market, also bred snakes. As we bought our shoo-fly muffins one Saturday morning, we set up an appointment.

We drove into the countryside to Nathan’s family property—a sprawling compound with a huge house, a bakery, a schoolhouse for homeschooling Nathan’s many brothers and sisters, and a garage converted to a snake and mouse breeding operation. The big room was for mice, not to sell as pets but to freeze live and sell as snake food. In a tiny adjacent room, Nathan lined the walls with Tupperware bins, each containing a single snake, probably fifty or more in total.

We picked out our snake based on the promised color she would blossom as an adult—caramel. She was no bigger than a pencil. We named her Sheena. Something’s up with our pets—three of four animals are sick and/or dying. Our prior cats, a black American shorthair named Spooky, also developed diabetes, and Lilac, his litter-mate, had hyperthyroidism.

I don’t recall this sort of thing from my childhood. We always had cats, and they always got run over by cars before they got old. And our smaller pets, various mice and a turtle named Snappy, were eventually eaten by the cats. No one died of illness or old age.

I’ll be honest, Sheena spooked me a little bit. Somehow fear of snakes became encoded in our DNA—mine anyway and I know I’m not the only one. I overcame, or at least suppressed, that fear for years, but once, while feeding her a thawed rat, Sheena bit my thumb. She drew blood. Not a lot, but it hurt, both my thumb and my psyche, enough to leave me wary of her ever after. My kids, both of them, told me to stop being a baby.

King Tut looks freaky. He’s a bearded dragon. The newest addition to our family. A large growth, the size of a pencil eraser pulled from its little metal clasp, appeared next to King Tut’s eye a few months ago. He looks pissed off all the time anyway, so it’s impossible to tell if he’s bothered much by the growth. Susan googled it and learned it’s most likely a tumor. He’s only two years old.

Roz’s diabetes is easy to manage. She gets a tiny dose of insulin morning and night. The hardest part is keeping the cats separated when we feed them. Per the vet, Roz gets wet food, which reminds me of Pâté. Tommy gets dry food, which reminds me of pebbles. Regardless, Roz will do almost anything to scam a few nibbles of Tommy’s food before he finishes it. We’ve got the twice daily shots down to a polished system, but it’s a giant hassle when we go on vacation. And it takes a toll on Roz. I can’t believe she’ll live much more than a few more years.

After work today, we FaceTimed Sophie at college, and the four of us buried Sheena in the woods behind our house. She’s right next to the cinderblock that serves as the marker of Lilac’s grave. As we approached the spot, I wondered why on earth we marked Lilac’s grave with a cinderblock. It’s not a warm and inviting. It’s ugly and industrial. Tomorrow, I think I’ll make some changes.

I doubt we’ll replace Sheena now or King Tut when he dies. Those pets were mostly for our kids, and the kids are mostly adults. Plus, Susan and I don’t get much pleasure from reptiles, they’re not soft and cuddly like cats; they don’t curl up with me in bed as I fall asleep. I suspect I’ll have a pet cat until the day I die, but just once, I’d like a cat that lives to a ripe old age without relying on expensive high-maintenance medications to keep them alive.

11 thoughts on “Sheena

  1. 13 years or thereabouts is pretty good for a corn snake. Younger Daughter has a corn snake too. It lived here until she moved out, and I was in charge of feeding her… live mice. She bit me once too. She got a respiratory infection and Older Daughter had to give her injections every few days for a couple weeks. Younger figured since her sister is a nurse, she should do the shots😆

    I’m sorry to read that King Tut has a growth. Beardies are fun, but they aren’t cuddly… not with those spikes.

    We’ve never had a pet that required expensive treatments. We’ve had cats run off, or die in their sleep, or by car. One dog was poisoned, one had that stomach separation thing, two were old and died at home, two were critically injured and had to be euthanized… no lingerers at Casa Cuckoo.

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    • How did you figure out the respiratory infection in the snake. I’m under the impression that our vet only does dogs and cats. I think I’d get an eye roll if I tried to set up an appointment for King Tut. Although, once talking to a vet friend about a bacteria taking over our fish tank, she knew exactly what it was so maybe I should give them more credit.

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      • There’s an exotic pet vet nearby. Our dog & cat vet does horses and other livestock but not reptiles. The exotics vet provided the med and syringes too.
        You could try YouTube also, or Bearded Dragon forums. I was amazed to find such a huge community of people who love these temperamental (or just mental😆) lizards.

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  2. I’m sorry about your snake. The cat that lives under my bed and stares and me while I sleep has bitten me a few times. I have that wary feeling around her too. Every one of my pets – from childhood until now -has died of old age or a cancer they developed in old age. We have had to put every one of them down. That is hard enough as it is. I can’t imagine ever having a pet die by being hit by a car. Those are the dreams that haunt me. If it ever actually occurred I think I would be traumatized for life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Where I live now, my cats would need to be trying to die to get hit a car. Traffic is really sparse and the speed limit is low. Plus there’s woods out back which are a bigger draw than the road. None of my cats as an adult have been hit. I guess the slow decline from illness is better because you really get used to the idea of them dying long before they do.

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  3. So sorry about Sheena. I have a fondness for snakes after taking a class on “herps” at a local college. I don’t think I would want one for a pet, though. You are right – not cuddly enough for me. There is a guy in our county who has a reptile rescue operation. He seems to know a lot about all things reptile. Maybe you could contact him for advice? It’s called the Forgotten Friend rescue. They have a webpage, but I am afraid if I post it here, the comment will go to spam. The man is actually a former student of mine.

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    • Forgotten friends has come to my library a few times for show and tell for the kids. Contacting them is a good idea. One of the other commenters mentioned an exotic pet vet. I really don’t want to get into another maintenance medication situation. Having pets with problems makes it so hard to go on vacation. I have no idea who we’ll get to shoot up the cat this summer. I guess I have to ask: what’s a herp? Sounds like a STD.

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  4. I’m sorry to hear about your run of bad luck with your pets. I don’t think I could have had a pet snake, even if my kids had wanted one – I admire your willingness to do so. And I’m happy to just stick with a dog as a pet, and hope they live to a ripe old age…

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  5. Sorry about your pets. I get you on the expensive medications thing. We had two pet rats that needed hundreds of dollars worths… they only cost us $4 each at the pet store, but what could we do?? Felt too bad letting them suffer so we treated them. Then I cried my eyes out when they both got cancer around the same time and we took them to be euthanized. Not worth it, man.

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