The Terminally Practical Person’s Guide to Choosing a Lifelong Pet

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman June 15, 2014 16:56

Bateman and friend Snakey

We ask a lot of questions before bringing a pet into the family.

Will our new pal get along with the kids? With our other animals? What does he eat? Will he shed, scratch or howl?

But as we age, another question occurs: Is the darn thing going to outlive me?

I just turned 68, and may soon be asking that question myself. Actuaries give me about 15 more years, so if we adopt a small-breed dog, it might be licking my face as I pass into the great beyond.

So maybe I’ll go for a larger, shorter-lived breed. Yes, I’m trying to avoid a staring contest with my own mortality, which so far hasn’t blinked.

But I’m not entirely comfortable with the notion that our dog will be wagging its tail at my funeral or begging for cocktail franks at my wake. And I don’t want to be survived by a cat that knocks my ashes off the mantel then mistakes them for EZ-Clump kitty litter.

On the other hand, having our new companion die first has its own consequences. I’ve bid farewell to many family pets over the decades, and it’s never easy.

The answer? Pick one likely to die about the same time you do. That way you and your pet can be honored at a combined celebration of life before a lively crowd of surviving humans and animals at the Moose Lodge.

Years later, your nearly simultaneous deaths will sharpen survivors’ memories: “Dad? Oh yeah, didn’t he die about the same time Bowser left us?”

I’ve examined life-expectancy tables and put together this guide to pets whose departure time might match yours.

Dogs: Smaller breeds do live longer, so don’t get a Pomeranian (life expectancy 14 years) for your 85th birthday. Instead, try an Irish wolfhound (six years). Just don’t let it knock you over.

If your dog is aging faster than expected, feed it vegetables (veterinarians say this prolongs its life).  If it’s aging slower, dig into that broccoli yourself.

Cats: Time on your side? Get a cat. Tabbies live 12 to 18 years, with many making it into their 20s. One, the legendary Creme Puff, lived 38 years. Have another Creme Puff on your hands? Open the window: Outdoor cats live only four to five years.

Birds: If you fancy a hookbill, buy old. Lifespans: parrots 50, macaws 60, cockatoos 70. Finches and canaries, on the other hand, last only 15. And lovebirds bring the love for only 10. Want a bird that will take care of you after you die? Turkey buzzards, assuming you can capture and train one, last 16 years and can resolve that tricky burial-vs.-cremation debate.

Tortoises: They live beyond 100 and see owners come and go. Since you’ll want to be your tortoise’s last owner, make sure your shellback is a centenarian. Downside: If you walk this reptilian geezer down the block, it might take three hours. But tortoises have nothing but time – and really, isn’t that all the rest of us have?

Hares: They live eight to 10 years and can get down the block fast. But don’t get a breeding pair. Unless you own a Komodo dragon (see next entry).

Lizards: Check your life expectancy, then pick your lizard. Lifespans range from three years (chameleon) to 30 (gecko), and iguanas go 13. Nine-foot, 150-pound Komodo dragons can also hit 30 and need feeding only once a month. Downside: Those meals can be rabbits (lots of them), goats or humans crazy enough to own a Komodo.

Fish: Most tropical fish live from one to 10 years. Some goldfish make it to 25 and one, Tish, hit 43. Is one of your fish threatening Tish’s record? Introduce piranhas (lifespan eight to 10 very carnivorous years) into your tank. Think you’ll live forever? Buy koi. These large, colorful outdoor fish can last 150 years, with the record-setter reaching 225.

Rodents: Even the oldest among us can find lifetime friends (their lifetimes, not yours) in the rodent family. Expectancies: mice one to three years, hamsters two to three, gerbils and rats two to four, guinea pigs five, hedgehogs four to six.

Snakes: Tired of rodents? Doc give you a few more years? Corn snakes (18 years) will just love your baby gerbils and guineas. But are snakes affectionate? I’ll say: Burmese pythons (19 feet, 200 pounds, 25 years) have been known to hug their owners to death. Downside: Such displays of affection might ruin your simultaneous-departure plans. Unless, of course, your python chokes on you during its post-hug meal.

Ferrets: They’re sociable, playful, live 10 years and can hold their own against snakes. But ferrets are illegal in California, as wildlife experts believe escapees could displace ground-dwelling native species like terns, salamanders and brush rabbits. Upside: If you’re busted for ferret possession, you’ll get instant street cred with your buddies at Perko’s.

Mantises: They’re not cuddly, but if you don’t buy green bananas, consider a pet praying mantis. They live only a few weeks and have very kinky sex lives. The female bites her mate’s head off during intercourse – and not just figuratively.

So have you done the calculus? Checked your lifespan tables? Narrowed your choice? Reserved the Moose Lodge for that joint celebration of life?

Good, but what if your math is off? What if Bowser happens to be the Creme Puff of its species and outlasts you by a decade? And what if – and this may be the deal-breaker for grown kids in line to inherit your actuarial miscalculation – Bowser also happens to be a buzzard, python or Komodo dragon?

The danger is that your children might forget all your years of love and support. “Dad,” they’ll groan decades later. “Crazy old Dad and his rabbit-eating Komodo.”

Which makes a loyal dog begging for cocktail wieners at your wake sound pretty good.

Chris Bateman is a 40-year journalist still trying to retire. Email him at

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine


Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman June 15, 2014 16:56
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