I’m not obsessive about pet names. I usually leave them to the kids, perhaps with a little parental guidance, like avoiding undistinguished names likeFluffy or Spot, or ambiguous names like Pussy, or aggressive names likeGenghis or Trojan.
So, when we drove up to Frank Bryan’s hill farm in Starksboro to choose a tiger kitten from the dwindling array of barn cats left after an onslaught of fishers had depleted his neighborhood of most domestic pets under forty pounds, we decided on a double-toed tiger male and brought him home in the arms of my then 5-year-old daughter, Anna.
Looking small and confused on the floor of our kitchen, the still nameless kitten relieved himself mightily. I muttered under my breath, “Oughtta name him sphincter.”
Anna chirped, “What’s that?”
Now with children, parental duty demands honest and forthright answers, which I delicately provided.
Anna and her slightly older brother Steve were delighted with their vocabulary addition, which neither could pronounce, so our new kitty was henceforth known as “Phinxter.”
Luckily, I remembered from the legion of domestic house cats we’d had since I was Anna’s age that Phinxter would need shots. I made an appointment with the local vet and, to imbue my children with a sense of responsibility for their new pet, told them they were to accompany Phinxter to the vet. I’d drive and answer any difficult questions.
The avuncular vet knew the drill. He bent down over his computer keyboard to meet Anna’s smile as she held Phinxter in her arms and asked, “What’s your kitty’s name?”
To my embarrassment and his astonishment, in her 5-year-old voice, Anna pronounced “Sphincter.”
The vet blinked, but knew not to repeat the offending word in front of children. He just looked at me quizzically as if wondering whether to call the authorities.
I, too, avoided the offending word and simply nodded.
He shook his head and carefully hunt-and-pecked the word it into his computer.
After a terse lecture on the prevalence of feral ticks and a futile effort to sell us overpriced cat food endorsed by his trade association, I drove home with the children in the back seat, taking turns comforting their wounded pet.
The following year to my confusion, we received a blue, computer-generated. merge-purge, postcard from the vet that said:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Schubart, it is time to bring your Sphincter in for a rabies shot.