~Herb Tarlek, WKRP
Tough day yesterday in the Stanglin household. I killed Valerie’s birthday gerbil. It’s dead. And I did it. It was an accident, a completely innocent mistake. But I did it.
We got the gerbil, which she named Cookie, for Valerie Thursday night, January 24th. Sunday afternoon, the 27th, we gave it a bath. We cleaned out the already smelly cage and gave it a bath. I didn’t think twice about it. Pets need to be bathed or they’ll stink up the house. I had a hamster when I was a kid and I gave it a bath all the time. It never died as a result. My hamsters died because I forgot to feed or water them. That’s another story.
So we’re giving this little gerbil a bath in warm water and liquid soap in the bathroom sink and the thing starts to freak out. He shut his eyes and just kind of curled up and froze. Like he was paralyzed. He stuck one little leg up in the air and just stopped moving. Of course, with his fur all plastered against him we could plainly see that he was still breathing. So we rinsed him off and put him in a towel and just stared at him. Once he warmed up, I guess, he came to. He fluffed right up and eventually bounced back to being the same old Cookie we’d known and loved for three days. I assumed maybe I’d gotten soap in his eyes or maybe the water was too cold or maybe he had gone into some instinctive defensive position.
Cookie made it through the rest of the week just fine. But I thought we needed to bathe that thing once a week. Clean out the cage and give it a bath, right? It’s part of the responsibilities of owning a pet. So Monday evening we get Cookie back in the sink.
The joke all week had been how Cookie had curled up during that first bath, In fact, Carley was making little cracks all day Monday. “When are we going to paralyze the gerbil?”
I was more careful this time. I made sure the water was extra warm. I made sure not to get any soap in the little gerbil’s eyes. And it was much easier this time because Cookie didn’t move at all. I assumed he knew what was coming and was just resigned to his fate. He was being still so I could do what I needed to do and we could get it over with and he could go back to his wheel and his food dish and his little cage. I was so careful.
And the whole time, the whole ten days, it never occured to me one single time that there was even a remote possibility that a bath could kill a gerbil.
But Cookie froze up again. It didn’t look good. We dried him off as best we could and put him back in his cage where he just kinda wobbled over to a corner and stood there. And he kept wobbling. I kept assuring Valerie he was going to be fine. But by this moment, I wasn’t sure. He just stood there. Wobbling. Like he needed a cane or a walker to balance. We checked on him before we went to bed and he had fluffed right out and was eating. Everything looked good. I was greatly relieved. And I resolved then to call a pet store and find out maybe if there’s something I should know about giving gerbils baths before we try again with Cookie.
I never got that chance.
At least not with Cookie.
Cookie passed away sometime late Monday night-early Tuesday morning.
I leave the house at 6:00 on Tuesday mornings for our weekly Bible study up here at Legacy. So I didn’t see anybody until Carrie-Anne walked into my study at about 8:00 to break the news.
And I felt like Herb Tarlek from WKRP. Remember when Herb, the promotions guy at the fictional Cincinnati radio station from the late ’70s, pulled a Thanksgiving publicity stunt by dropping live turkeys from a helicopter over a shopping mall? The results were disastrous. Newsman Les Nesman, unaware at first of what he was seeing, reported on the turkeys as they crashed “like bags of wet cement” onto the pavement and into windshields of parked cars. Chaos ensued. Hundreds of turkeys lost their lives. And Tarlek’s classic response: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
As God is my witness, I thought you could give gerbils a bath.
I met Valerie at school with Chick-Fil-A for lunch. We talked about it. She’s sad. But she’s very understanding and forgiving.
Unlike the ladies up here at the church building who expressed great shock that I would give a gerbil a bath. They were incredulous. Like everybody in the whole world knows you can’t give a gerbil a bath. I didn’t know. How was I supposed to? And at last night’s Jr High Bible study at the Engers’ house, Keith kept asking me if I’d give his daughters’ guinea pigs a bath. Not funny. Not nice. Give me a break. I’m now the Grim Reaper of household pets. Great.
We’re trying again this afternoon. Val and I have a 4:00 date to go buy a new gerbil. This time, I’ll ask a few more questions about rodent hygiene.