Hard decision for parents-to-be: a sad farewell to Frankie

October 4, 2009 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

Frankie_2Our baby is due in early November, and that has prompted changes in our family. Some have been minor and pretty fun, such as painting bland white walls bright green to match the jungle nursery theme. Others more challenging, such as  preparing the dogs for the major change of having another loved family member in our home.

The one change that has been among the hardest,  however,  was making  the difficult decision to find a new home for Frankie, our bearded dragon.

My husband and I had raised Frankie since he was a hatchling, when his lizard body and tail barely matched the length of my pinkie finger.  He is now nearly two feet long, a proper beardie with a gentle spirit that still loves to be held and handfed veggies and other fruits.  Frankie followed us on holiday trips to visit family and even had his own stocking and snow covered pine tree statues set up to decorate his tank at Christmas.

My husband, Pat, became more involved in pursuing his masters degree, and I worked to learn to be a dog-trainer, and these changes meant  less attention for Frankie.  Although before getting Frankie I heard reptiles did not mind being alone and required little attention, my experience with Frankie taught me differently, as the little horned lizard showed he enjoyed human contact.  Frankie scratched the glass sides of his pen frantically with his claws towards us each time we entered the room, and he visibly relaxed and fell asleep at times when we would take him out of his pen to hold him and rub his spiny back.  Although Frankie would eat food out of his bowl, his excitement level increased tenfold when we were involved in the process and hand-fed him, taking his dining experience from a mundane hungry meal microwave dinner to a five-star dining experience just by us interacting with him.

Unlike our two Pugs who could request our attention by sitting on our laps or reminding us of their needs for walks and play just by sitting next to the door or bringing over a toy, Frankie’s demand for attention was more silent as he was separated from us by a glass cage and didn’t display the same signals of need that we would notice as readily.  Although he was provided for well and received some time out of his pen with us a few times a week, his life wasn’t filled with the level of interaction and vibrancy that he received when he was young. With our baby on the way, the idea of keeping Frankie seemed  less fair to him.

Pat and I spent weeks debating what to do.  We both decided that we didn’t want to sell Frankie, as we wanted to be as sure as we could be that  he would never be re-homed again.  We wanted him to go to a home where he would be given the veterinary care and physical attention by someone who had enough resources to care for him, as reptiles can be very expensive to keep, especially when it comes to buying their food.  Most of all,  our main requirement was him going to a family where he would be held dear and his affection needs would be tended to.

Although our small apartment would be soon be crammed with baby gear in addition to Frankie’s  55-gallon enclosure, supply cabinet and lights on top of our concern for not having enough time for him,  we knew that if we couldn’t find Frankie the right home, he would stay with us.

I began calling around to veterinary and pet contacts to find someone interested in adopting Frankie.  I felt a  cloud of shame overwhelming me on each call.  As a shelter volunteer, I felt even more ashamed at my inadequacy to be keeping a pet, and felt like I was one of those owners who throw away unwanted pets as if dropping out-of-fashion clothes at Goodwill.

I came up with excuses for why we were letting Frankie go when I talked to people about him needing a home that made it seem less shameful.

“Reptiles carry salmonella, which is a hazard to children under the age of 6,” I would tell people over the phone as I explained his re-homing need.  Although the salmonella excuse could be viable, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the core issue, but that it simply was that Frankie had dropped down our priority list.  I’ve heard from people dropping off pets in the shelter system is that they “don’t have enough time to give them the attention they need.” I had always scoffed off that excuse as a cop out for not taking the responsibility for their pet, but here I was in the same situation, with the same lame excuse, but this time the excuse I had blown off had actually become one directly at the core of our situation.  Rather than keeping Frankie in a mediocre situation, we both wanted a home for him where he would be deeply cherished and given the time investment required.

All of our leads  hit an embankment of turndowns.  As summer was drawing to a close and the baby started getting even closer to her due date, I realized the time we had left was short.  With prayers lifted and all pet contacts called, all we could do was wait and hope that the right home would come.

Our answer came unexpectedly one day in an e-mail, as a veterinary contact at the Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine who specialized in reptile care said she had heard about our situation and was willing to take Frankie for us and find him the right home with a veterinary student.  We were overjoyed at the tremendous gift of a veterinarian working to find our pet a new home, especially with a veterinary student whose life revolved around animals, but we were still struggling with the same guilt for being in the situation where we needed to surrender an animal.

Frankie_the_Bearded_Dragon_2We set the time and date to drop off Frankie at the veterinary school, and began the process of getting his belongings  together.  As I packed his items, the guilt I felt was mixed with feelings of nostalgia.  I remembered all of the endearing things Frankie did, from slurping water with his tongue from the end of my finger to when we’d take him outside on his  leash when we would garden and how he would bask lazily in the sun.  Near the end of his time with us, the attention I gave Frankie further waned, as I couldn’t bear to get any more attached and make our parting hurt even worse.

Drop-off day finally came, and I packed up Frankie and the Pugs in my car for the four-hour drive from my parent’s home where we spent summer vacation back down to Pullman, Wash.,  the home of WSU.

I know cell phones and driving don’t mix, neither does having a dog running around wildly in the car when you’re driving, but I had never heard anything against holding a bearded dragon while you drive, so I took Frankie out of his tank as we drove so I could spend the last bit of time with him.  He gripped onto my forearm, his head cocking towards the side to stare outside the window at passing cars with curiosity.  I talked to Frankie as if he could understand every word, telling him how much I cared about him, how I would miss him, and promising him he would be going to a good home.  His rounded, gold flecked eyes peered up at me and his tongue flicked out periodically as if to let me know he was paying attention to what I said.

As soon as we reached the veterinary schooll, I went inside to meet with the veterinarian,  who had me sign papers over releasing responsibility to her.  Before I had time to go out and say goodbye to Frankie, assistants were outside in the waiting room ready to carry away Frankie and his belongings.  Everyone said how cute he was as they carried him and his belongings away. It wasn’t quite the solemn goodbye I had pictured — he was taken away so quickly –  but it was better that way, I suppose, and I knew he would find a home that appreciated him.  The veterinarian told me she had a couple of veterinary
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