JOPLIN, Mo. —
A long time ago in a city not that far away, the 9-year-old version of myself was playing with his first pet that was all his own.
When I came home, I made sure that he was fed. I changed his water. I'd sit there and have conversations with a pet that I knew would not respond in a human way. I would pick my pet up and I'd play with him, making sure I was completely careful not to hurt him.
For the first pet that I was truly responsible for, my parents didn't let me have a dog or a cat. They thought outside of the box and they allowed me to get a hermit crab.
While I cared for that pet greatly, I can still appreciate the lessons that it taught me in responsibility. For kids, a first pet can mark the start of learning how to manage tasks and to focus on the maintenance on something that you are ultimately responsible for.
I remember my first conversation with my father on getting a pet and, after much debate, it was made clear that this pet would be ultimately mine to care for. The feeding, the cleaning and the care were up to me. This wasn't something I could lose interest in a month later.
My parents helped me get a tank and the proper sand and rocks to make an aquarium home in preparation for my new pet. I thought we were set. I was ready to go to the pet store and pick up my new crab. I had already picked out a name.
All of the hard stuff was done in my eyes. After that it was going to be beach adventures with my new buddy.
My dad asked me how I intended to pay for food. I told him that I didn't know. His follow up question rocked my world.
"Ryan, what does a hermit crab eat?"
Dumbfounded, I didn't answer. I didn't know nor had it occurred to me. I thought there would be a shelf in the store marked "crab food" like there was for other pets.
My father offered me a ride to the local library so we could look it up together. We spent a few hours there going through encyclopedias and tracking down books in the stacks about crabs. We came across a book on how to handle small hermit crabs and how to keep them as pets.
After checking out the book and heading out to the car, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to the pet store now. I told him no and that I should probably learn a little more before I get my crab.
I finished the book in a matter of days and I asked follow up questions to my dad on certain things that I didn't understand. I comprehended algae and why it wasn't good and how to get rid of it, but I didn't know where it came from.
A few weeks later, I had my hermit crab. I named him Dribble, which was a reference to a Judy Blume novel that was popular from when I was young. I had that crab for a better part of a decade and I made sure he was well cared for during that time. My dad was true to his word and that pet was my responsibility.
I am an advocate for pets for the young and old because I believe there is something to be shared between both the pet and the owner. While I'm sure my pet crab lived a pretty fantastic life inside of his aquarium, I also look back and remember the lessons in responsibility that I learned from caring for him.
Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 417-627-7363.