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Sorry, Mr. Yappy
An animal-hater changes her ways, sort
of. By Ariel Horn
the second month of my junior year, I had grown accustomed to the frenzied
cries of yelping dogs being shorn for impending lung surgery.
the fourth month, I was no longer startled when I saw hamsters cuddled
to their owners chests like babies, cats strapped to gurneys, and sobbing
women holding their beloved dead rabbits in their arms like injured children.
(Why, God? Why take Willy from me when hes so young? He had so much
to live for! Whyyyyyy?)
next to Penns veterinary hospital has its kicks. If you dont mind the
perpetual sight of clumps of dog hair on the pavement, yellow snow, and
the stifled cries of pained kittens awaiting imminent cataract surgery,
theres simply no better place to live in West Philadelphia. But it took
me a while to feel this way.
moved onto Pine Street next to the vet hospital on a sticky-hot rainy
day in August between my sophomore and junior years. In a trashy, made-for-TV
special kind of way, it was the perfect dramatic moment my life had always
craved. As an English major, my academic career had been spent throwing
around words like poetic justice, irony and pathetic fallacy.
It was time for me to live them.
days before moving back to campus to start my junior year, I had not-so-reluctantly
given up my Siamese pet fighting fish, Mr. Yappy, to my responsible four-year-old
cousin, who had an impressive range of experience caring for imaginary
giraffes. Fearful that I would be a negligent parent to Mr. Yappy while
dealing with schoolwork, I threw my once-beloved fish out of my fishbowl,
out of my heart, and out of my life forever, as if we had never shared
any meaningful moments together in all of our three months. As if my staring
at him in the fishbowl and his staring back hadnt created a bond. As
if my tapping on his cheap glass bowl out of boredom, or shining a mirror
at him to scare him hadnt somehow brought us closer. As if my three months
of force-feeding him fish food that looked like rabbit pellets every day
amounted to nothing.
was only fitting that my history as an unfit fish mother would slap me
in the face every day as I watched elementary-school children hysterically
charge through the hospitals doors with bags of floating fish in their
hands and tears running down their cheeks. The painful memories of Mr.
Yappy and our happy moments together would torment me every day as I walked
home from classor at least until I replaced him with Mr. Yappy II (or,
as I liked to call him, The Cheaper, Faster, Funnier Fish).
a long time, I wasnt too pleased with living next to the veterinary school,
despite my parents constant reassurances that Pine Street was the best
place to live off-campus. (Coincidentally enough, it was also the only
place my parents would allow me to live off-campus). Yes, I appreciated
the perks of Pine Street, like any Penn student lucky enough to snag a
lease on the popular off-campus property. Every day I could enjoy the
picturesque candy-colored brick row houses that allowed me to pretend
I wasnt in West Philly, the way the sunlight hit faux-wood doors in the
late afternoon, how students gather on doorsteps daily to chat like neighbors
in an old Brooklyn neighborhood.
somehow, the sight of black Labs with bladder infections cringing in pain
just steps away from my house made me feel queasy. My friends advised
me to ignore the sounds, the whimpers, the limps. But each day as I walked
home from class, visions of the Animal Bloodmobile would dance in my
head like sick sugar-plum fairies. I had to do something about itand
somehow, euthanasia for all the sick animals just didnt seem right.
one day, rather than hurriedly rushing past the hospital to get home as
I normally did, I took my time and decided to give the animals a chance.
I let my feet trot happily in the pattern of the dog footprints that are
embedded in the pavement. I strolled through what Pine Street residents
have fondly named Dogshit Park. I watched dogs, hamsters, cats, and rabbits
go in and out of the revolving doors. The Circle of Life wasnt really
in The Lion Kingit was right here, where lives rolled in and out
of the hospital as constantly as Penn students go in and out of dining
the fact that I had ruined two pairs of shoes from stepping in freshly
yellowed snow hardly seemed to bother me. There was something interesting
about living next to the animal hospital. And despite the fact that all
my life Id hated animals with the very core of my being (Mr. Yappy excluded),
for whatever reason, I was changed. I suddenly felt bad for the little
furballs. And cruel for having not-so-secretly wished that their vocal
cords be removed. Instead, from that day on, the sight of German Shepherds
with lamp shades around their heads, shorn Collies, and Golden Retrievers
with peg legs and glass eyes has filled me with an inescapable feeling
of, well, sympathy.
turns out that I am lucky to be living on Pine Street, after all. Most
college students dont have this golden opportunity to learn about the
traumas of the animal kingdom from an insiders perspective. Normal students
arent privy to the special sounds of cats, dogs, hamsters, and rabbits
shrieking in pain as amateur veterinarians apply toothpaste-like medicine
to the animals wounds. Normal students who live on normal streets enjoy
the normal sounds of college: the creaking beds of roommates having sex
like rabbits in the room next door, their piggish squeals of feigned
pleasure, the repetitive barking of fire alarms triggered by people either
too careless or too stupid to turn their ovens off. No, I alone have the
luxury of listening to hundreds of dogs a day named Pepper or Ginger yip
their way into puppy heaven.
doubt about it, this is the college experience Penn had always bragged
to me about in its brochureslife on Penns campus was actually changing
me. I was growing as an individual. I was learning to care about animals
I had always hated. And in a strange way, I was learning on a daily basis
how ephemeral life truly is through the constant death of hamsters. Who
knows how long well live? From now on, it was time for a carpe diem
mentalityto pee on the fire hydrant if I wanted to, like my animal brethren.
Who knew if I would have a chance to do it again?
Id like to say
that living next to the animal hospital has made me a better
person. That it has made me want to create a non-profit veterinary hospital
for all the sick little puppies in Uganda who cant afford top-of-the-line
healthcare. I wish I could say that after living only a block away from
the deathbed of so many furry and innocent creatures I became a crusader
for animal rights and now make pins that say My dog walks ME! But
the truth of the matter is that living next to the animal hospital hasnt
inspired me to become a veterinarianbut it has made me appreciate every
element of my surroundings at Penn. Its not just at the library that
you learn, but, oddly enough, while watching puppies rushed off the Bloodmobile,
is a senior English major and Daily Pennsylvanian columnist from
Short Hills, N.J.
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Gazette Last modified 6/28/01