Back before I had dogs of my own, I vowed that I would not be the kind of pet owner who treated their pets like babies. I had children before we got Digger, so I already knew that as much as I would love my dog, I would love my children more (on most days). Indeed, I shuddered at the term fur-baby.
Growing up, we had many, many pets. We had a dog, Ginger, before I was three or four, so I don’t remember life without her. Then we were on a hike, and we saw a cat in the rocks. We named her Pirate, as she had dark fur over one eye, and brought her back home. The next day, she gave birth to four kittens: Smokey, Blackie, Stripey and Topaz. My mom, who was allergic to cats, put an ad in the paper: “Beautiful kittens, must be destroyed.” Within a day, they were all adopted, including Pirate. (Of course we weren’t going to destroy them! It was just my mom playing the public).
Ginger died tragically at the hands of a careless vet during a routine procedure (we never forgave him; I swear Sainted Mother would’ve shivved him, given the chance). Then came Brandy, another Irish setter, whom my parents bred. Brandy, an extremely fertile dog who birthed twelve puppies. We kept two: Maggie and Patrick, fine Irish names. And so I grew up with three large dogs who took up space on the couch so that we kids sat on the floor. They slept on our beds. Red clumps of fur clung to our socks and entered our mouths as the dogs milled around the supper table, waiting for us to sneak them some stew meat.
Then came Jenny, our horse, and shortly thereafter, a goat named Billy Jean. A cat appeared at the barn; we named her Annie, then switched the name to Andy when we took a closer look. My sister managed to woo the neighbor’s Golden retriever away from them (with their blessing), so we were up to four dogs for a time. Another cat appeared in our garage (that’s the lie we told our mother…my sister and I brought it home from the school parking lot and pretended it had just wandered into the garage).
Four dogs, two cats, a horse, a goat…our lives were overrun by badly behaved, leg-humping, furniture destroying, adventurous pets who wandered the neighborhood. Patrick, one of the Irish Setters, knocked up a neighbor’s dog, the same neighbor whose chickens he would “fetch” and bring home to us, still flapping. (Sorry, Brancifortes.) My horse would jump her fence and run a half mile down the road to see Mr. Williams’s horses. The goat would head-butt her door down and terrorize my cousins and me. She only loved my sister.
So when it came to having my own dog, I vowed that he would be well behaved, and treated like a dog, not a baby or wagging despot. Our pets would sleep on dog bets and cat cushions and eat only dog or cat food.
Well, that hasn’t gone entirely to plan, has it? Tiny Willow was just too traumatized when she came to us. I had to let her sleep with me. I had to. Huck was semi-feral when we got him, so him sitting on my lap or lying on my pillow…that’s a gift, isn’t it? And Luther…Luther is so affectionate. So snuggly. He drinks my coffee leftovers each morning. And he gets cold easily, the poor beastie, so one must wrap him in blankies, obviously. He does occasionally lie on the floor, but only after gazing at me with sad, disappointed eyes.
I regret nothing.