Cleopatra should be on the Sierra Nevada Mountains right now. Lee-Jun is supposed to be slithering through a field somewhere in Tennessee. Petra should be all the way down to Costa Rica, burrowing deeply in a tropical rainforest. And Ripley, well… I suppose a Chihuahua is supposed to be comfortably safe inside a warm home, so here is right where he should be.
Ripley is our only warm-blooded pet. The rest are a California King snake, a Corn snake, and a Zebra tarantula. They should be out there in their natural habitats, but instead they are here inside their rectangles of glass walls. They are easy to take care of, making them popular pets.
It had been a while since I took Cleo out of her tank. For the past month or so, she had taken to coiling up underneath her water bowl, so I let her be. Later, as the temperature of the summer rose, Cleo did too. She was becoming more active, so I started feeding her more frequently. Yesterday, I finally opened the lid to her tank and slowly placed my hand inside, wondering if she would remember me.
Her skin felt cool and smooth through my fingers and around my arm. I didn’t play with her for long; I let her slide back down inside the same home she’s undoubtedly grown accustomed to. As I secured the lid back on her tank, she froze momentarily. And then started panicking and pressing her head against the glass, trying to find a way out. She always does this after being out of her tank.
I watched her until she calmed down and accepted that she was what she had always been: trapped. I wondered if this was not cruelty.
True, there’s not much different Cleo would do had she been living on a Southwest mountain this whole time. She’d still burrow and spend a large percentage of her time resting. Catch a mouse or two throughout the week. Find water to drink. But she’d have to find a safe place to burrow on her own, catch the mice by herself, and seek water instead of having it refilled in a bowl next to her cave. Doesn’t that make all the difference in the world?
All our animals sleep a lot, comfortably. Their guards are often down. For them, nothing much ever changes. While Kent plays video games and I work on my laptop, Ripley will be napping on the couch in between us. That boy could nap all day, I swear. Our snakes and spider will also be sleeping inside their tanks. Only the humans would be actively expanding their brains, through a virtual world of which the animals have no comprehension.
I can spend two days in a row doing the same thing physically, and still have them be two different kinds of days. I could be sitting with a laptop on both days, but one day could be all about work, typing emails and content, and getting a project done. The other day could be wasted on reading Twitter, browsing Internet comments, and getting drawn into the quicksand that is Facebook. But to my animals, I’ll have been resting on the couch this whole time, no different than them.
Maybe we’re not so different after all. The walls to my apartment are not made of glass, but what is this place if not a human version of my snake’s tank? Do I not spend the majority of my time in the confinements of my home? Am I not comfortably safe?
The difference between my animals and me seemed far greater at first. But on a grander scale, I suddenly feel unsure of this. Am I not, too, an animal living in a house?