“Coco is my best friend,” my 10-year-old son Nicolas told me recently. “I just feel like she loves me no matter what.” Every day after school, they roll around on the floor while she smothers him with wet kisses. When he’s away, the first “person” he wants to FaceTime with is Coco.
Pets are a big responsibility and a lot of work, but if we can find the time, energy, money and love it takes to care for them, they give us back much more than we could ever imagine. They enrich our lives with love, fun, laughter and loyalty. In this month’s Voices from the Village, we hear from some Valley families on how to decide when your family is ready for a pet and how pets have enriched their lives.
Discuss the responsibilities
By Cara Denby
“I don’t want another dog,” my then 9-year-old daughter Katalyn told me after we put down our beloved old lab Maggie. We had adopted Maggie as a companion for Zorion, our blind 3-year-old dog. At the time, we had two children under age 3. I refused to get a puppy, so we got Maggie.
From the moment Maggie entered our home, she burrowed her way into our hearts. She was our playmate, confidant and pillow. She could even smile! Zorion was the blind, quiet one, whereas Maggie acted like a real dog.
After seven wonderful years, Maggie suddenly became ill. Within five days, and after several vet appointments, we knew it was time. We arranged for the vet to come to our home. The girls chose to be present. We shared that sad but special moment to say goodbye.
This led Katalyn to express that having a pet is hard, maybe not even worth it. I agreed—having a pet is a lot of responsibility. We have to care for them and share our time, resources and love. “Having a pet is a choice,” I told her. “But remember, having a pet opens us up to beautiful experiences.”
We laughed and cried together as we shared our memories about Maggie. Afterward, Katalyn said, “I am glad we had Maggie. I want another dog, but not yet.”
It took a year before we adopted another dog, Tucker—and recently a yellow pup named Takoda joined our family. We’ve also had fish, guinea pigs and hermit crabs.
Each time we consider a new pet, we discuss the responsibilities and the interest in that particular pet. It’s a conscious choice, because we understand the obligation. We choose to have pets because we value all they give to us.
Create a list
By Suzanne Pickett Martinson
Secret tunnels, cozy niches and elevated walkways—unique spaces that we added to our home during a remodel—aren’t just architectural elements. They were actually designed for our cats!
Our children have grown up playing hide and seek, spy and “Where’s Waldo?” with our menagerie as the cats strategically navigate hidden nooks and crannies to outwit the kids and dogs. It’s great fun for all of them and I know it is creating a lifetime of memories.
Recently, when my daughter asked for a puppy, I had to revisit my checklist before I exclaimed, “Yes!” We have dogs, cats and horses—and I’m just a heartbeat away from falling in love with another four-legged friend.
I place a high value on our family’s relationship with animals. But I believe it is important to make realistic decisions based on our lifestyle and not solely on emotions.
A helpful tool is to create a list—a step that is often overlooked in the excitement—that includes: What we are looking for in a pet; our available space; how much time we have to spend with a new pet; a budget and a responsibility chart.
The opportunities for our children to learn responsibility and compassion as they care for our pets build character and connection with others.
Now, about that puppy…
By Turner Davis
The decision to acquire a family pet can be tricky.
Divided unevenly between two houses, we have six chickens, two dogs, a leopard gecko, a finch, a ball python, an unknown quantity of fish and—until last summer—we had a little pot-bellied pig named Rosy.
Different kinds of animals require different kinds of care and interaction. Most of our pets don’t require or engage in much “bonding.” The chickens don’t seem to miss my company much. The fish are pretty laid back, too. The snake is not very sentimental. In fact, most of our animals are what I’d call “low maintenance.”
Kids often forget low-maintenance animals once the novelty has worn off, but it’s hard to forget a dog or a pig. Dogs and pigs require more attention than just feeding and picking up after. Bonding and companionship take some effort.
Then there is the issue of ownership and responsibility. In our family, the kids have worked out a somewhat complicated system of “ownership.” They are happy to say, “I own Butterscotch,” but that is where the notion of responsibility takes a nosedive.
Owning a pet requires an acceptance of the eventual loss of that pet. Rosy, a pizza connoisseur who loved her belly scratched, hung on for months while we administered antibiotics injections. It was a tough slog for everyone and hard on the kids when she died.
The loss of a beloved pet can also lead to a larger realization of mortality: If Rosy can die, so can Mom and Dad. So can I!
Having pets requires an ongoing commitment. Deciding who “owns” that commitment—who is ultimately responsible for the work involved—is important to consider.
Grateful for a second chance
By Bretta Nelson
I remember coming home from school in the first grade to find a beautiful stray dog on our front porch. I thought he was my birthday present. When I found out otherwise, I begged and pleaded with my parents to keep him.
Fortunately, it didn’t take much convincing. Now I am blessed to have a career in animal welfare—and when I come home, it is three dogs that greet me.
I thought I understood the plight of homeless animals in our community. Then reality hit. Within a week of working at the Arizona Humane Society (AHS) animal shelter, I came to grips with the fact that I knew very little about pet overpopulation and the struggles homeless animals face.
This was evident in the animals treated at AHS’s Second Chance Animal Hospital, a trauma center for homeless animals, those recovering from their spay/neuter surgeries and others waiting to get into overflowing foster homes. It equated to hundreds of animals.
I quickly learned that shelter pets are the complete package. Not only have they been spayed/neutered, vaccinated and medically/behaviorally evaluated, they are a fraction of the cost of a pet store pup.
While any AHS staff member or volunteer can fill potential adopters in on the quirks, skills and personality traits of our shelter animals, one thing we won’t need to tell you is how grateful they are for a second chance. You will see it—and feel it—in their wiggling back ends and wet kisses.
When you adopt a shelter pet, you are saving two lives: the one you adopt and the one you make room for in the shelter. You will also find that life isn’t as good without pets!