Confessions of a Future Pet-Sitter – By Rick
When I first told my dad about my day at the zoo, I had never — and still have never — seen him laugh harder in my life. I, on the other hand, failed to find the humour in the story. It has been many years since I told anyone else of the series of unfortunate events that unfolded that day at this unspoken place of horrors. Looking back, I suppose I can see the humour now, but it has taken a while.
Let me take you way back to that time, in the 1970s, when I suggested to my then new girlfriend, Robin, that we take a country drive to what was known then as the Aldergrove Game Park (now the Greater Vancouver Zoo). Since this was a beautiful sunny summer day and I had a new MGB convertible sports car, I thought this would be a nice way to spend the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, keep in mind this was a long time ago and some of the things that happened that day I may have subconsciously erased from my mind, but I swear the following events, as I recall them, are true. I don’t know what was going on with the cosmos that day, but the stars were not lined up in a good way for me.
I wanted to show Robin what a great rapport I had with animals of all sorts and this would be a perfect place to do that since there were many opportunities to get up close and personal with the lovely creatures. Our first stop was at the primate cages near the entrance. After marvelling over their obvious intelligence and uncanny resemblance to modern man, we turned to leave. Suddenly one of the little bastards hurled something at the back of my head. “What the hell was that?” I wondered aloud. Had I known the nightmare had just begun, we would have left right then.
Our next stop was at a field of ostriches and emus. Great, I can show Robin how to properly pet an emu. Here comes one now. “Just rub its neck like this,” I demonstrated for her, “they love that.” Ow! Son-of-a-bitch nipped me on the arm! “Maybe it was trying to eat some of that stuff the monkey threw at me,” I reasoned as I rubbed my arm.
OK, over to the next enclosure. “Look at these llamas, they’re coming right up to us. Check this out, Robin, this one wants to have a staring contest with me.” As I followed the animal’s gaze, playing a kind of game of mirror, thwaap!, out shot a gross concoction of saliva and grass that landed right between my eyes. “Damn it!”
Mopping my forehead, we headed over to the hippo enclosure. One of the big fellas had made his way out of its muddy pond and was standing right up to the fence. Perfect, a close encounter. Except it was a little too close. At that precise moment, while I stood right next to him, he chose to relieve himself. He then turned and proceeded to swish his tail like a windshield wiper at high speed, spraying his stinky hip-poo all over my pants and shoes.
Undeterred, off we went to see the lions, my favourite animal in the world, King of the Beasts. I have nothing but respect for this beautiful cat. Look, the big male is making his way over! This is great, just look at him, he’s magnificent. A little kid was standing beside me also observing the lion and asking questions. “Why is he turning his back on you? Why is he lifting his tail?” “Why is it twitching?” “I don’t know,” I replied, just as — bullseye — he got me! “I guess he was pissed off,” giggled the kid as he scampered off. Right then and there, dripping with cat spray, I lost every ounce of respect for lions…
Struggling to contain her own laughter, Robin suggested that we go over to the kids’ petting zoo area, where they keep the friendly animals, as if I need some sort of safe zone. I reluctantly agreed. With my tail between my legs, we moved towards the kiddy area. What could go wrong? Well, for starters, before we even entered the zoo, I stepped in dog shit. While I was scraping the crap off my shoe, Robin went and purchased some food for the waiting animals. “Hey, give me some of that,” I told her, “I’ll go feed these guys over here, they seem hungry by the way they’re looking at me.” It was like they hadn’t seen food in weeks, I was under attack! They were coming at me from all directions. The sheep were stepping on my feet and biting at my fingers trying to pry the food from my hands, while a goat kept taking runs at me from behind like it was rutting season. Aren’t these animals a little too big and aggressive for a kids’ petting area?, I wondered, as a llama barrelled toward me, head down, a crazed yet familiar look in his eye. I tossed the food in the air, the animals scrambled to gobble it up, leaving me room to make a hasty retreat.
Failing to see a pattern, and determined to salvage this disaster of a day, I decided to hang out with the elephants while Robin fed the last of her food to a gathering of calm, well-behaved animals that surrounded her. Meanwhile, I stood face to face with this huge beast, who looked me square in the eye like it wanted to say hello. I suppose it did, in its own special way. I had turned away for only a moment to see how Robin was doing when I turned back to the elephant, but we were no longer face to face. We were face to butt, and before I could step back the magnificent fat bastard let go a fart that gave new meaning to the phrase “breaking wind”. More like breaking bad. My hair literally blew back from my face in a warm gust of putrefied smog. I stumbled away with my eyes running, gasping for air. “That does it, no more, I’ve had it!” I hollered.
As Robin finally came into focus, I wondered what she was thinking after having to witness this awful display of animal behaviour. Rather than sharing my horror, she was laughing hysterically. Mustering whatever was left of my dignity, I turned on my heel and declared, “We’re leaving.”
You may think it all ended there, but no. While I stomped back to the car, reeking from a fetid brew of animal excrement, Robin trailed behind, trying desperately to hold back her laughter. Not seeing any humour in the events of this bizarre outing, I proceeded to fold down the top of the MGB to allow for the maximum amount of wind to disperse the stench clinging to my clothes. But the park had one final parting shot in store for me. As we were driving out of the lot, a lone seagull let loose its load from above with stunning precision and landed a direct hit on the steering wheel, spattering my already abused face. Robin, at this point, could not hold back. Her eyes were filled with tears of laughter as she hysterically cracked up at my expense. I did not say a word, I did not smile. Instead, I calmly wiped the feces from my eyes, and drove away. In my wake, I could swear I heard a chorus of cackles coming from the direction of the primate cage…
And still there was more. On the way home, somewhere between the park and my decontamination shower, some sort of large (perhaps a crane or heron) bird opened fire with a massive amount of droppings on our car, spraying the hood and windshield. Ha! missed me. Triumphant, I turned on the wipers and we drove the rest of the way home in silence. I have never returned to the zoo.
Postscript: Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that, decades into the future, this beastly trauma would prepare me for years of adventures in pet-sitting. After my day at the zoo, nothing any four-legged furball throws at me will break me.