Something Furry Underfoot by Amy L Peterson
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Kindle ASIN: B00CWMT8AM
Published in 2013 by CreateSpace
This is the strangest review I’ve written and not just because it is of a non-fiction book when most of my critiques are of science fiction and fantasy novels. In fact a book about small pets has some similarities to SF: alien-looking critters, usually with an agenda quite different from humans. When I teach science fiction workshops on characterization I produce photographs of insects, and deep-sea creatures to demonstrate that no matter how weird we fictioneers create our aliens they can’t get stranger than those with which we share our planet.
The other odd thing about me reviewing a book about pets is that I’ve not properly owned one. My sister bawled until my parents gave in over a rabbit in a hutch and this mug found he was the one who cared enough about Snowy to clean the hutch. I tell people I like animals too much to ‘own’ pets. As a child it disturbed me to witness animals being caged, confined in tiny environments such as bowls and aquariums, forced to wear collars, left all day howling, forcibly separated from their parents and siblings, and so forth. I fought kids who pulled legs off craneflies and spiders. As a teen I became an animal activist, successfully forcing fox hunts to be abandoned when my fellow conspirators and I sprayed aniseed around a village centre so the hounds wouldn’t leave. True, I’ve now abandoned the practise of superglueing the locks on butchers’ doors, but my attitude that every creature has a right to its own life, remains vibrant and definitive to my vegan lifestyle.
In this context I read Something Furry Underfoot with trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Yes, flies are chased, caught and fed to similarly captured then imprisoned frogs, but that game soon tires the intrepid Peterson family so they cheat and buy bagfuls of live crickets. Those insects make bids for their right-to-life but sooner or later end up inside frogs. However, all this is executed (so to speak) with humour and gusto. So that’s all right then – right? Honestly, I am smiling at the many antics of both the non-human prisoners and human captors in this book: so many critters test the humans with their penchants for eating weird stuff, and above all, escaping from pet-proof cages. There’s no doubt too, that in spite of the insouciant attitude to live food creatures, Mark and Amy Peterson are passionate and loving to even the badly behaved pets, and as both are biologists there is much to learn and have your chuckle muscles exercised in this book. However, I squirmed at Amy’s tongue-in-cheek remark on the expense of buying a lamp and vitamins for their iguana: “I figured a lustrous coat might make for a nice belt, so I was all up for it.”
You’ve all heard the joke: how do hedgehogs make love? Answer: very carefully.
Mark always wanted (a running joke) an African pygmy hedgehog. Amy agreed to acquire and add to their menagerie because “they look so cute”. And so, dear reader, we find out exactly how hedgehogs make love, but you’ll have to buy the book to find out for yourselves!
Talking about sex, determining the gender of gerbils is important for their own safety as well as reproduction but their ‘bits’ are so tiny it’s a matter of noting which have two holes close or farther apart. Sadly, we don’t read whether males or females have which pattern of orifices – perhaps in a new edition of Something Furry?
It’s just as well Amy goes through armfuls of sweatshirts because her pets love to snuggle up in them for comfort and sleep. Luckily she doesn’t need them back after discovering some pets come with their own livestock such as fleas, ticks and lice.
Amy is guilty of anthropomorphism to such an extent she writes epilogues from the point of view of some of her pets. I admit to the same in that my main objection to me keeping pets is my surmising what they might be thinking when being held captive. As a child I had tortoises, called Donner and Blitzen, and I always felt sorry on their behalf because they spent every day patrolling the garden fence looking for a way out. Maybe they enjoyed that journey and didn’t mind. I’ll never know. Similarly, we don’t really know if even the tail-wagging dog is happy with his friendly owners or just playing to their expectations in order to be fed. He might – given the opportunity – have preferred his natural family / pack, living more off his instincts than being humiliated (maybe), trained to do tricks: to roll over and beg for treats.
Amy says, “every critter has a story”, so I see why pets are more than a ‘thing’ to possess and appreciate. They can be an insight into the uniqueness of every living thin. I am reminded of the work of Alfred C Kinsey of the 1950s sexual behaviour studies. As a biologist he studied thousands of fruit flies under the microscope and found each one to be different. Even more reason to treat all creatures with respect.
Something Furry Underfoot isn’t meant to be a dialogue on the philosophy of pet-keeping even though I touch on that aspect here. The book is a light-hearted very amusing account of what happens to a home when they become taken over by their love of pets. As such I can heartily recommend it to pet lovers everywhere.