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Dylan Spicy, and How I Learned About Spiders

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It seems that as people grow older, everyone has stories of favorite pets. I've had cats my whole life, and I can tell many tales of many felines. However, the story I really like to tell is about the most unique pet our family has ever had. While not a favorite pet (of mine) by any stretch, I suppose you could say it is my favorite story about a pet. Her name was Dylan Spicy.

On a rather chilly morning while waiting for my daughter to finish getting ready for school and not miss the bus, I made a quick stop into our downstairs bathroom and was confronted with probably the most unique-looking and oddly scary spider I had ever seen. It seemed rather large to me, but having only seen the garden variety types like Daddy Long Legs on the one extreme and tarantulas at the pet store, I judged this one to be of medium size. I have to admit that it both scared and intrigued me in that first moment, and being a pacifist first, and a wuss second, I never even considered killing the thing.

Instead, I went into mom problem-solver mode and brought into the bathroom my kitty—the one who loves to hunt and chase things. She had no interest whatsoever, but instead let me know she needed some food ASAP. While pouring her food and contemplating my plight, my seventeen-pound cat Dawson lumbered over. As always, I had to remember to bend at the knees to pick him up, but it would surely be worth it if he would just stun or somehow catch this arachnid. No luck. Dawson meandered around the bathroom for about four seconds, then saw the spider and—how else can I describe this?—he freaked and jumped backward.

I still had a problem on my hands. Then I remembered a jar that recently held spicy dill pickles and, more importantly, had a lid. Proud of myself, I grabbed a sheet of paper and the jar, and yelled for the ten-year-old, who had about ten minutes left before making it to the bus. Together, we got the spider to move onto the paper, and I promptly inverted the jar over it, and I'd like to think deftly maneuvered the jar and lid to capture our prey.

My daughter, also a pacifist, but more importantly a fellow animal-lover, was intrigued and curious to see our specimen. Then came what I would consider one of my greatest inspirational moments. Sensing that the bus was about to arrive, I asked her, “How would you like to take this spider to school and show your classmates?” She immediately liked the idea and hoisted her backpack on both shoulders so she could carry the jar.

Feeling a little guilty, I'm happy to say that I was able to get a quick call into my daughter's teacher that morning, moments before the bus arrived, and she agreed that it would indeed be a “neat thing as long as it is securely in the jar.” I assured her it was, and I more adamantly assured her that there was no need for her to send it back home. I blissfully went about my day while my daughter's class was highly impressed and as excited as my Ava was about the spider.

I remember the moment she got off the bus that day. I waited for her outside and saw immediately that she was still carrying that spicy dill pickle jar, and too carefully for my taste. I inquired, “Do you still have that spider there?” She beamed at me and said, “You mean, Dylan Spicy! We named it! We learned all about it today, and Zach says it's a wolf spider, and  it eats live crickets. Let's go to the pet store and get some, and the library, too, so we can read about it!”  I believe those were her words verbatim but the stream of them was so fast I'll never be sure.
Well, what mom can say no to that kind of enthusiasm and natural curiosity?

So those were our first two stops of the day. The nice woman at the library who helped us find wolf spider books, as well as the pet store employee, were interested in our spider. They were even more interested, I think, in the mom and two kids who intended to keep it and, though they didn't express it, no doubt were wondering why. I'll add that my son pretty much went along for the ride the day we got it, but made no pretense of how crazy he thought we were to keep it.

Fast-forwarding several weeks, I'd have to say that we had by then provided Dylan Spicy with a very nice habitat in an old five-gallon fish bowl with what was my husband's great contribution of a very tight-fitting plastic lid we put holes in. Gotta love him for that! In addition, Dylan got regular rations of live crickets, which my daughter strangely enough had no problem throwing into the bowl. Never mind that the summer before featured a brief stint with a “pet” cricket. By this time, she was able to separate her love for critters with the responsibility of feeding her spider.

I should say that all along I had some misgivings about having a spider and attending to its admittedly modest needs, but I was truly motivated by the fact that my little girl somehow loved it, and we had recently allowed my son to get a first guinea pig—something not lost on my daughter's delicate nature. 

Oddly enough, it was October, and it was actually kind of fun in an “aren't we the cool Halloween family with a pet spider?” way. I was willing to go along with it to a point—maybe let Ava keep it through the winter, and then release it somewhere. At least, that was the plan.
There were two major things we didn't count on that derailed that plan. The first was that Ava's love grew stronger and more ardent every day for “her” spider. Then came the day we learned that Dylan was a girl. She grew an egg sac! It was rather gradual, and very fascinating to watch it grow. Eventually, Dylan's sac ballooned to the size of her abdomen, and she gamely just carried it around, then built a very interesting and cave-like web structure where she seemed to hang out most of the time.

In my mind, this created several problems. One, perhaps a minor one, was that I realized if Dylan was pregnant, there might be a Baby Daddy in our house or near vicinity, perhaps many, perhaps hundreds. But the real problem with this scenario was that through internet research mostly, and some book references, we learned that wolf spiders can have several weeks or months' gestation periods and do have up to 300 eggs at a time. Now we were in a real pickle, so to speak. My daughter's curiosity had only grown along with the size of the egg sac, and now we were contemplating the idea of Dylan having babies!

I think I'll always look back fondly on the Christmas season in which we had Dylan, because of all of the "virgin birth" jokes and no room at the inn quips. Trying to get this all figured out, I told my daughter that we needed to do something. Again, the only thing I could think of was to contact her long-suffering teacher to see if she would be willing to have Ava once again bring Dylan (and now her possibly 300 progeny) to school. She assented but must not have realized that I meant permanently when she added, “I guess if you're OK with it in your home, I'd be comfortable having it for the afternoon.” All I could do was ask her as humorously as I could to extend Dylan's classroom stay. “How about you take her for several weeks or at least until we can find 300 suitable homes?” I suggested.

Well, things do have a way of working out in general, and this was the case with Dylan. While I never really lost sleep over the predicament of the 300-plus babies, I did find myself pondering the idea a lot of the time. What on earth would we do with them all? Because of some Facebook posts, I now had a number of friends and acquaintances who followed our saga, and one neighbor who followed it very closely. She implored me once at a basketball game not to release either Dylan or the young ones in the neighborhood. I made a silent vow to honor her wish, which echoed my own of course.

Finally, after probably six weeks of life with the egg sac, Dylan disengaged it from herself and eventually it began to get moldy. We learned that in all likelihood it was never fertilized, so we had nothing to fear after all; she had never even been in a family way. My husband once again came to the rescue when my children and I talked him into disposing of Dylan's egg. He did so without ceremony.

It is a small blessing that after this occurrence, my daughter began to lose interest in Dylan, her welfare, and even the crickets that we never seemed to have enough of. Once I realized that like so many pets in history, Dylan was going to become mom's chore, I set about finding a suitable home for her and making my intentions clear to Ava.

 I am delighted to say that I found one right under our noses. The pet store where we'd purchased so many crickets (not to mention much guinea pig bedding, hay, and cat food) had an employee who openly told me he didn't like wolf spiders but said it was their store policy to accept “adoptions.” He dutifully gave me his card with his own hours on it and said to call ahead when we wanted to bring her in as he was in charge of adoptions.

I think what makes this above anything else a “pet story” is that our last scene with Dylan at the pet store is one I won't soon forget, and it even moved me.

Two pet store employees spent about fifteen minutes together preparing a very large, aquarium-sized habitat with lots of dirt, a bowl for water and several crickets for our spider. With sensitive eyes, they both saw the tears streaming down my daughter's face as they assured her (and me, in her absence) that Dylan would be fine and would even most likely be adopted by someone. The non-spider-lover told me that there are spider enthusiasts out there. “You'd be surprised,” he said to me, and half to himself I'm sure.

And that's where we left her. It was the end. She's gone now, and it's not real surprising that she was well missed, at least in the first several days after we relinquished her.

I'm not exactly sure what I learned from that experience, but I know it was something, and I think I like to tell her story because that question still intrigues me. I never gained a love or even like for spiders, nor do I think I would ever consent to having a pet wolf spider again. But it's amazing what we will do for our kids, their needs, and their well-being, and that's what I'm left with—that, and if I'm completely honest, some empty pickle jars at the ready.

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