Traveling Circuses

Of the keeping of pets there is no end, and it’s a pleasant thing to be greeted by your domestic animals when you come home. I do not, however, recommend traveling with them.

We recently made a car trip from our home in Portland, Oregon to the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s an eleven-hour drive but we were no more than thirty minutes into it when Phoebe, the cat, who had been freed from her carrier, relieved herself unceremoniously on my wife’s lap. This comment on my driving – because that’s how I took it – proved an inconvenience, and cleaning up added another hour to our travel time.

The cat was not the only animal in the car, however. We also had with us a pet frog. Large Marge (so my daughter named her) came to us two years ago as a mail-order tadpole. She’s some lab-bred species of African water frog and spends her whole life swimming in filth and staring stupidly up at the ceiling. Sprinkle a bit of food in her water and she lunges about, swatting blindly with her front limbs in hopes of pushing something into her mouth. In the car Marge’s aquarium was placed on the floor by my wife’s feet, but happily it was never overturned.

I read the other day in Gibbon’s second volume that the emperor Valentinian kept two bears, named Innocentia and Mica Aurea, to whom he enjoyed feeding criminals, personal enemies, and old crones convicted of practicing magic. The cages of Innocence and Golden Crumb (the emperor had a genius for naming pets) were set near Valentinian’s bedchamber so that he could more easily amuse himself with “the grateful spectacle of seeing them tear and devour the bleeding limbs of the malefactors who were abandoned to their rage.”

I have myself once or twice abandoned a small spider or fly to the rage of my cat in hopes of enjoying a spectacle, but Phoebe either eats the thing in a single gulp or bats at it half-heartedly until she’s distracted by a bit of fluff under the couch. We have also dropped waxworms now and then into Large Marge’s bowl, but the sufferings of waxworms are difficult to take pleasure in.

Gibbon does not mention whether Valentinian took his pet bears on his travels. He might have wanted to; an emperor never knows when he may stumble upon a wizard in need of being eaten alive. One imagines them moving glumly down the ancient highways of Gaul or Illyricum, stuffed into barred carriages like those of antique traveling sideshows. In any case, it’s a safe bet that Golden Crumb never peed on the lap of Mrs Valentinian.


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