Sunday, April 06, 2008

A requiem for the varmint

When our ferret Chopper first started having health problems just over a year ago, our veterinarian told us that the little guy probably had about six to twelve months left. I treated this estimate much like one received from MapQuest: a challenge to be bested, not an accurate gauge of the reality to come.

Chopper had already easily blown past the low end of the life expectancy range given to us at the pet store back in 2001, so we naturally figured that he’d just keep chugging along, munching peanut butter and sleeping in our crumpled sweatshirts until some point way off in an indeterminate future, some time when robots would serve us vitamin packs for dinner and the national interest in American Idol would have finally worn off.

It’s difficult to grasp the peculiar charm of living with a weasel without trying it for yourself. After we taught Chopper to roll over for raisins, he quickly discovered on visits to my parents that Mom didn’t cap his raisin salary. He’d walk up to her shoelaces and stare up until he had her attention, then roll over repeatedly until he got rewarded, which never took long. We’d become used to blankets and T-shirts on the floor randomly springing to life. Chopper had the uncanny ability to detect which jacket you’d need in an hour so that he could fall asleep in its sleeve.

I was anxious about looking after the little guy in the beginning; I’d never owned a pet before that didn’t ultimately report to my folks. We settled into a comfortable groove after a while, though, and rarely has a walk been taken down the hall in the last seven years without a little carpet shark following close behind. Even in his old age, he’d hobble into the room to see what we were up to, then wait patiently until we wrapped him up in a blanket and set him down at our feet for another nap.

Some people have pets that could win a longevity contest against a redwood tree. When we recently visited some of my wife Kara’s old neighbors from back home, Kara did a double-take at a small gray bird that was hopping around and chirping in his cage in the living room.

“No way. Is that Petey?” Kara asked.

The neighbor replied, “It sure is. He’s eleven years old now. He should live to be about sixty.”

So Petey was eleven in people years, but in bird years he was really more like twelve. That bird will be in their family longer than their great-grandmother’s armoire.

Unfortunately for our little family, Choppy didn’t have the same Methuselah gene that Petey did, and our veterinarian’s original estimate turned out to be only slightly pessimistic. Thirteen months after the original prognosis, we found ourselves back in his office last week, hoping that he’d recommend one more appointment but knowing that he wouldn’t.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, and the whole event was peaceful enough to really be considered an anticlimax of sorts. Still, back out in the waiting room afterwards, I found it impossible to keep from breaking my personal rule of never crying in front of a cashier unless there’s a chance it might get me 10% off.

As we drove home in sniffling silence, I let go of Kara’s hand to punch the radio on, making the obvious mistake of leaving the dial on the country station.

“What kinda gone are we talkin’ ‘bout here?” the man sang. “What kinda gone?”

I remember driving home as a teenager from our golden retriever’s last visit to the vet’s office as Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” played on the radio. Either radio stations somehow know when to play appropriately depressing music, or that’s just what’s always on and I only notice it after being traumatized. In any event, saying goodbye to a beloved pet at thirty turned out to be no easier than it had been at sixteen.

As Kara and I continued driving, the next country singer mournfully implored: “Fall, go on and fall apart,” and we dutifully obliged. About halfway through the song, with tears flowing freely, we looked at each other, realized what was happening and simultaneously lunged for the power button.

“Okay, maybe no more country music for a little while,” I said, which is probably sound advice under any circumstances. Kara blew her nose and nodded in agreement.

After a few days, we began to understand that we had just been through the final act of the best-case scenario for our pet. Three years and many fun times ago, I nearly flattened Chopper when he was hiding in a quilt on our couch, an event that I’m pretty sure disquieted us both equally, though he was quicker to forgive than I might have been. Fortunately for all of us, that day turned out to be chapter five instead of the epilogue. Eventually, though, even great books have to have an ending.

You can give Mike Todd a Kleenex at


  1. Awww, Mike, I'm so sorry. I have a dog, Vincent-the-saving-dog, who is at least 18 years old. He's mostly blind, he can't hear, and won't come in or go out of the house unless he smells my leg, to make sure it's me letting him out. I know it's time to let him go, but I just haven't been able to do it yet.

    Poor Mike...

  2. Hey, dude, many thanks. Hope I wasn't too much of a bummer this week; just didn't want to stop writing about the varmint without giving him a proper sendoff.

    Good luck with Vincent -- my best to you both.

  3. Chopper couldn't have asked for a better family dude... sorry for your loss.

  4. Dude, my deepest condolences.

    Chopper RIP

  5. Man, that was sad. I'm not animating a short to that column

  6. awwwwwww

    I am so very sorry for your loss of your beloved pet. From your writings of Chopper, it appears that you both brought great joy into each others lives. Thank you for sharing him and his antics with us through you writing. I will miss reading about Chopper.

    Condolences to you and Kara and RIP Chopper.

  7. :( Sorry to hear about Chopper :(

  8. Dude; Sorry to read about your lost - I hate it when I lose my favourite varmint!

  9. Dudes! Thanks for all the kind words and condolences. You guys are cool. Next round of peanut butter's on me.

  10. Sorry to hear about Chopper. As an honor, throughout today, I will make sure that I slip "Chopper, sick balls" into conversation.

  11. Aw...I'm so sorry. RIP, Chopper.

  12. Joe -- That made my day, man. And congrats on the new twins! I'm impressed you could stay awake long enough to leave a comment.

    Carmel -- Thanks! He lived one spoiled little ferret life.

    The rest of the internet -- Sorry for being depressing this time around. I'll be back with my regular terrible jokes next week. Or maybe this is the beginning of my Goth period. Haven't decided yet.

  13. Delayed condolences Mike. I remember how upset my sister and I got when our beloved dwarf hamster Scout, who was about the size of a ping pong ball, passed away...