a brief history of secondary pets

Whenever a security question asks for the name of my first pet I always always put my first dog. This makes sense because dogs are forces. They have distinct personalities. They look you in the eyes and they shed on your couch and you can wrestle with them on the floor until they spring onto their feet and tear around the house in a mad frenzy, nails clattering on the floor, sliding headfirst into the hallway wall. They will always think you have thrown the ball even when you haven’t. They twist their heads in alert confusion when you make weird noises. Sometimes you stand there for upwards of 15 minutes going “Beeeeooooooooooowwoooop” so you can watch them freak out. And cats, I mean, they’re pretty much the same kind of emotional return on investment, only if you try to wrestle with a cat you can expect claws.

My first dog, however, wasn’t technically my first pet. Before my first dog I had a string of secondary pets. Secondary pets are great because what they lack in charisma they make up for in relative ease of maintenance. They’re also small enough to suit apartment living. And if you whine hard and long enough, your parents just might give up and let you get one. Or four. Definitely not all at the same time.


Alice was the best you could have asked for in a blue parakeet. He was technically a boy but I was four years old when we brought him home and so Alice it was.

For a period of time in Germany my dad had a second job delivering clocks; from massive grandfather clocks down to tiny intricately carved cuckoo clocks. My parents bought a moderately-sized pendulum wall clock from the same shop and whenever I’m back home it still startles me awake with its half-hour chimes. When Alice was on shore leave from his cage, this clock his favorite perch. Sometimes he’d huddle behind the round clock face and periodically poke his head up, then duck back down again. Other times he’d just sit up at the top and listen to my dad play records. He’d bob his head to rock music and close his eyes and sway to classical.

When we left Germany Alice was rehomed with a couple of my dad’s coworkers who changed his name to Holmes. We went over so I could say goodbye and the adults could have a few beers. Alice/Holmes was fluttering around the apartment and landed on my glass of lemonade. He circled the rim, cocking his head, looking at it with one eye and then the other, then dove in headfirst. Always a riot, that bird.


Sometime later I started begging my parents for another Alice, so they took me down to the pet store in the mall (NEVER, EVER DO THIS) and I picked out a blue parakeet. Samantha was no Alice, though. Samantha had nothing going on upstairs. No personality whatsoever. We lost her during the Loma Prieta earthquake of ’89 when my dad burst into the house from the patio during the worst of the shaking (NEVER, EVER DO THIS), accidentally knocking the cage over with the door, and she flew off. Farewell, Samantha.


I changed things up with Henry, boy. For one it was my first male bird I’d actually given a male name, and for another he was a cockatiel and not a parakeet. Henry was a biter and you had best not put your fingers near the cage. He also prompted some very uncomfortable conversations with my parents about why he was “dancing” with my hand like that. One day we brought Henry’s cage outside so he could get some fresh air and he started crawling up and down the bars like he did when he wanted out, so I unthinkingly lifted the lid. I still haven’t forgiven myself for that bonehead move! He predictably flew off, never to be seen again.


Floppy was… wait for it… a domestic rabbit with floppy ears that hopped onto our patio one day. He had a mysterious string of numbers tattooed inside one of his ears — an escaped research animal? My parents let me keep him despite his propensity for chewing through electrical cords. Floppy lived with us for two years until he had a heart attack in my bedroom closet. We buried him under cover of night behind a hospital adjacent to Moffett Field’s base housing, which Google Maps tells me is now a Marine recruiting center adjacent to a Microsoft campus.

Tell me about your pets, whether they be primary, secondary, or tertiary.

2 Responses to “a brief history of secondary pets”

  1. I haven’t thought about my secondary childhood pets in a long time. The primary pets in my life have both been adorable black labs (for good reason, as you know) but I totally had forgotten about Blacky and Floppy the rabbits and assorted fish. But honestly, that’s because Booker and Sprocket will have my heart forever.

  2. i love this! (also: awwwwww, alice!)

    i only had one set of secondary pets, two gold fish, barbara and danny, that were inexplicably named after the parents of the boy who lived on the corner who was my second real friend (my first real friend being another boy who lived down the other end of the street who told my mom he was going to marry me). they were exceptionally long-lived, i think seven or eight years? which we didn’t even know was possible. probably because we were careful not to overfeed them and my mom would religiously clean the bowl at least every week if not more frequently. also, once my dad got up in the middle of the night to get something to drink and rescued danny who had leapt out of the bowl and onto the kitchen floor, where he was desperately flopping around. they were some damn lucky goldfish.

    second friend boy had a secondary pet who was a turtle named tommy. the last time i was home visiting my parents, my mom had unearthed an awesome letter that he had written me. it’s in two colors of marker and states that he will gladly be my brother and that his turtle will be coming too and there is a tiny drawing of said turtle. so maybe i kind of had a turtle too, by proxy?

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