This one’s from reader David Riffkin:
I spent my Christmas binging on seasons two through four of Game Of Thrones. While I spent tens of seconds afterwards pondering the dangers of intractable familial love and the ephemerality of power, mostly I daydreamed about how cool it would be to own a direwolf. What work-specific pop-culture pet would you most like to own?
Gizmo from Gremlins. He’s adorable, a friend to both man and animal, and he likes to watch Rambo movies and jam on the Casio. And the poor little fella has been through so much. I’d take him home, close the blinds, and set him up in front of the TV, putting a lock on the fridge and the bathroom, drinking only out of a spill-proof travel mug, making careful note of daylight saving time, and never, ever inviting my clumsy neighbor Corey Feldman over to gawk at him. I’m a responsible adult, I think I could handle it.
Surely I can’t be the only one who wants my own real-life Remy from Ratatouille. He’s a cute little rat that cooks world-class food! That is a win-win. Though I probably wouldn’t open a restaurant (unless he demanded it), having all my meals prepared by an adorable rat—and yes, he would be adorable, as per the film, not gross and disease-ridden, as per real life—is basically my idea of heaven. Though it’s not my favorite Pixar film, it might be the most charming, and Ratatouille completely sold me on the idea of a rodent best friend. Did I mention the part about never having to make dinner again?
My choice is based on pure delight, with no consideration for practicality: Toonces The Driving Cat. The star of my favorite recurring Saturday Night Live sketch, I’d get a big kick out of living with Toonces, and we’d pass the days singing his theme song and taking motor tours of various California canyons. Sure, adopting Toonces could only lead to certain injury and astronomical insurance premiums, but c’mon—cat with a driver’s license! Think of the added bonuses Toonces would bring to any owner’s life: All of the stock car-crash footage you could ever want, and a surefire method for halting the hateful online screeds of SNL alum Victoria Jackson. (Because she’d be so busy riding with Toonces, she’d never have time to write blog entries like “Is Obama A Muslim Or A Jihadist?” Did you think I was suggesting that Victoria Jackson should be driven off of a cliff? Who are you, Victoria Jackson’s lawyer? Oh, I see: You are Victoria Jackson’s lawyer. Well, have you met my cat Toonces? He can drive a car—just not very well! I think you two are going to be great pals. Say, who’s up for a drive?)
Oh dear, it’s clearly time for some really serious nerdery. Okay. The fantasy field is absolutely packed with magical telepathic pet/steed/companion beasties, which are usually permanently bonded to one character. It’s almost as though the average fantasy reader is assumed to be a lonely person who really wants a best friend, especially one who knows everything about them, loves them unconditionally anyway, and will never ever ever leave them no matter what. So I cringe when I’m reading a book and suddenly it turns out the protagonist has a shoulder-dragon or a winged cat or an alien whatsis bound to them. But I still want a jhereg, a sort of a winged poisonous scaly lizard-thing that’s a primary character in Steven Brust’s long-running Vlad Taltos book series. The jhereg is also a smartass who constantly undercuts the protagonist, telepathically tells him when his jokes or plans are stupid, and basically functions as a combination bodyguard and reality check. If I’m going to have a fantasy companion, I want it to be capable of acerbic banter as well as chomping my enemies into a stupor.
My love for Bubo, the clockwork (dare I say proto-steampunk?) owl from the original Clash Of The Titans, goes way back. The movie came out when I was 9, which was the perfect age to latch onto Bubo’s chirpy, R2-D2-like cuteness—which was obviously the point, as the little guy pandered to the younger end of the film’s intended audience. I was a huge mythology buff at that age, which was actually the main draw for me, but Bubo sealed the deal. I recently re-watched the movie with my wife, who had never seen it before. For the first time it struck me that Bubo isn’t merely some tacked-on gimmick; in many ways, he’s the hero of the entire story. Since then my wife has been combing the Internet for a halfway-decent Bubo model or figure that can bravely, adorably guard our apartment. Until that happens, I’ve found a way to keep him close.
While some people look for cuteness or companionship first and foremost in a dog, I’m easily impressed by the ability to do tricks. And there’s no better dog trick than speaking fairly decent English, with the possible exception of solving mysteries. So who better to be man’s best friend than Scooby-Doo? You want a dog that suits your personality, and Scooby shares my tendency to panic at the first sign of trouble, and my love of giant sandwiches. Plus, I feel like if I owned Scooby long enough, I’d eventually get to meet the Harlem Globetrotters, which is just icing on the cake. The only drawback? I’d be forever living in fear of his relatives showing up. It might not be worth having such a great dog if it means Scrappy-Doo and Scooby-Dum tagging along everywhere.
As a video-game fan and dog lover, I’m spoiled for choice here: Gaming is full of very, very good dogs. There’s Fallout’s recurring canine hero, Dogmeat; Persona 3’s world-saving Shiba Inu, Koromaru; and the protagonist’s unnamed pooch from Fable II. But I think I’m going to have to go with the Mabari war hound from Dragon Age: Origins for sheer puppy personality. Bred by wizards to be the ultimate battlefield companions, the Mabari are the source of the people of Ferelden’s “Dog Lord” nickname, and the Grey Wardens’ personal pooch is one hell of a front-line fighter. More importantly, though, is the way the Mabari dog brings out the lighter side of everyone he meets. Even perpetual sourpusses like Morrigan and Sten can’t help but smile when interacting with the ferociously cute fella, and having his smiling doggy face at my side would be more than worth the feed bill to keep a 200-pound mastiff/wolf hybrid fit and healthy.
I don’t just want a pet dinosaur. I want a pet dinosaur that I can communicate with telepathically, which is why I would adopt Old Lace from Runaways, the Marvel Comics series about a group of teenagers that run away from home after discovering their parents are supervillains. A Deinonychus with a nose ring, Old Lace is as adorable as she is deadly, but if she were my pet, she’d probably spend most of her time grabbing things for me that I’m too lazy to reach, assuming she can pick things up with her claws. Actually, I’d probably spend a lot of time riding her around the city, because who’s going to stop me when I have a dinosaur that obeys my every command? And then we’d cuddle on the couch at the end of the day, because I have a pretty big couch that could support her weight.
Okay, so I have this thing for disabled animals. It’s gotten to the point where anytime a disabled animal makes news, a friend will immediately tell me about it (not gonna lie, I already know. Thanks, Google Alert). It’s weird, I know, but I just find them so adorable. They try so hard and they’re always so enthusiastic! (This extends to obese animals, as well, but that’s a whole other thing.) The softest spot in my heart is reserved for three-legged dogs. I’ve always wanted one. So when April and Andy got Champion on Parks And Recreation, I was insanely jealous.
Even though I’m not sure how the hell I’d ever be able to keep it in our house, given its size, as long as I’m not being limited by the boundaries of time and space anyway, I’m going to say a Vulcan sehlat. Ever since I first saw the Star Trek episode “Journey To Babel,” I have been intrigued by the idea of this creature that Spock’s mother described as “sort of a fat teddy bear,” even if it did—as Spock was quick to clarify—possess six-inch fangs. When the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “Yesterday” finally gave viewers a look at Spock’s pet sehlat from his childhood, I-Chaya, it may not have been canon, but the creature itself was still darned cute. Not to be trifled with, certainly (not with those fangs), but absolutely loyal to the end. That’ll do, sehlat. That’ll do.
My long list of favorite fictional animals includes many that would make terrible pets. After all, it’s impossible to own just one tribble, Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax would be difficult to care for in my urban home, and Stitch from Lilo & Stitch is just a little too destructive. In the end I settled on a pet that’s equal parts adorable and practical: an owl from the Harry Potter series. In J.K. Rowling’s world, owls are not only super-competent deliverers of mail, they’re also loyal and intelligent animals with distinct personalities. Owning an owl is like having a servant and a best friend all in one! I’m not sure I want to claim any specific bird from the series (Hedwig is too temperamental and Pigwidgeon is too hyperactive), but I would love to stop by Eeylops Owl Emporium and pick out my very own feathered companion.
In some ways, my sheltered, suburban childhood served me well. I make fun of it now, but being raised in a quiet little bubble of lonely nerdiness left me free to think things were awesome—regardless of outside considerations. So when I got invited to a friend’s sixth birthday party, I scoured the racks until I saw the coolest action figure I’d ever seen and bought my friend The Falcon—and got a confused look for my troubles. (Black superheroes were not the norm.) I liked Captain America, sure, but the first comic I ever bought featured a team-up with The Falcon—and his badass actual falcon sidekick Redwing. (I think they were fighting some sort of sponge-people. It was a long time ago.) The visual of Sam Wilson, with his original red-and-white winged uniform kicking ass while Redwing (Sam could talk with him telepathically) swooped in and struck down any bad guys The Falcon and Cap missed was indelibly thrilling. Plus, the way Sam would fly into battle with Redwing perched on his arm made him the coolest superhero ever. Redwing was the ultimate wingman.
When choosing a fictional pet, it’s important to take logistics into account, because I’m not up for believing in two impossible things at once. I don’t have the room for a magical horse, and, since I have a roommate, I’d feel guilty about owning anything that could potentially kill someone. So I think I’m going to go with a Billy-Bumbler from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. They’re smart, conveniently small (about the size of a large raccoon), and fiercely loyal, and their ability to almost mimic human speech means they’d be endlessly entertaining; and even when they aren’t entertaining, I could use the Billy-Bumbler to irritate my roommate, which would be excellent. Plus, they’d probably be easy to house-train, and there’s always a chance we could end up stumbling through a dimensional portal while out for a walk, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I grew up with cats and sometimes enjoy the company of dogs. But as I get older, the more the idea of having my own pet seems vaguely (or sometimes very specifically) burdensome; all of that care for a creature that, however cute or even affectionate, will never grow past a certain point. With that chilly and selfish attitude in mind, I think I’d enjoy owning Lying Cat from the comic book Saga, to whatever extent that Lying Cat can truly be owned. Beyond the obvious utility of having a large cat that can tell when someone is lying and will let you know about it, Lying Cat extends and amplifies independence I admire in real-world cats—she’s more a self-sufficient sidekick than an animal who needs care and tending. Plus, I like the idea of a pet that could call me out on my own BS, too. At least in theory.
While at first I was crushed to see Other Caroline take a Harry Potter pet, I quickly realized that I only ever had one answer to this question: a dæmon from the His Dark Materials series. Yes, it might be a little weird to have the physical manifestation of your inner self walking around with you at all times, especially if you were hoping for a panther and ended up with a turkey or something. Still, I was always jealous of Lyra going on adventures with her dæmon, who was less a pet than her second half, a constant companion who would understand your every last weird impulse. I’d risk a turkey for that.