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THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE PET PROJECT

This is a typical conversation in our household these days:

Daughter: "Mom, can I get a hamster?"

Me: "No."

Daughter: "Can I get a hamster soon?"

Me: "No."

Don't get me wrong. I am a pet lover, but right now we have more pets than people living in our house, and I think that is quite enough. We have two cats and two goldfish.

The cats - one in particular - are big trouble and the fish are simply big. As in 8 inches or so. Even with its fancy filtration system, the tank upkeep takes work - especially with a 6-year-old close at hand to "help."

The cats are named Gump and Sammy. Gump is probably the single most mischievous cat I have ever owned, and I have always had pets. He has ruined wallpaper, pushed through screens, broken into his bag of Iams, annoyed countless visitors, jumped into a bathtub full of water, gotten stuck on roofs.

He once tore into a plastic bag holding pink party napkins and shredded them to smithereens. We can't have fresh flowers in the house because he tears them apart, too. He jumps up on the kitchen counter, and I scold him. He jumps up again, I scold. Jump. Scold. Jump. Scold. The cat is relentless.

Gump: 1. Susan: O.

Sammy, on the other hand, is not too bright but troublesome in his own way. Every morning at dawn, as I balance the food and water bowls in my two hands, he stands in the exact spot where they go, waiting for his fresh food. Every morning I tell him to move and he just stares at me. I give him a little shove with my foot, and the water dish spills down my leg.

Sammy: 1. Susan: O.

The only thing I hate more than cleaning the fish tank is cleaning the cats' litter boxes. One is covered. One is not. At one point, both were covered - which helped contain the litter - but Sammy developed some sort of phobia of closed litter boxes, so I had to take the top off of one of them.

Now, Gump makes a sport out of kicking the litter out of Sammy's box.

Gump: 2. Susan: O.

This is why I don't want a hamster. I don't want to take on any rodent responsibilities. When our daughter first asked for a hamster, I gently explained that our cats would not get along with one. (I know what Gump would do to that hamster if given the chance, and it would not be pretty.)

Now, when she asks for a hamster, I simply say "No."

"How about in the summer?" she'll ask.

"No!"

The other day, as I was picking up the pieces of paper from Gump's most recent shredding party, I asked myself, "Is all this really worth it?"

Daily, I pick up the fur balls that fly when the two cats wrestle. Daily, I gather up the items that Gump knocks off dressers and counter tops (if you are looking for a pen in our house, check the floor). Daily, I mix 80 percent dry food with 20 percent canned food because this is the only way Sammy likes it.

And that doesn't count what the other famly members do to keep them happy, healthy and entertained.

I often tell people that our pets are more work than our young daughter ever was. But this daughter loves these animals, helps care for them and always includes them in the pictures she draws.

The other day, shortly after she got home from school, she stretched out flat on her back on the sofa, patted her chest with her hand a few times and within seconds, Gump sprung up on top of her, stretched out, and stuck his cold, wet nose in her ear.

She giggled. This is one of their many routines. Yes, I guess it is worth it.

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com