Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fur kids

Me (left) & my sister, with our one & only puppy, Honey.
One of just two photos we have of her.
I've been pondering a post about pets for awhile now, and Mel's posts (here & here)  about the passing of her family's pet hamster, Cozy Jackson, prompted me to pull up a pet-related post I started awhile back.

Among the many myths about those of us living without children:  if we don't have kids, we must have pets. 

Some of us do, of course. I have many childless friends & relatives who may or may not have wanted children, but dote on their "furkids."

I am not one of them.

It's not that I don't like animals (reptiles of almost any sort being the one big exception -- although my sister & I did briefly have a pair of turtles when we were pre-teens). If I come to your house, I will happily sit and stroke your dog or cat. I have fond memories of visiting the chirping little yellow chicks at my grandparents' farm.  I used to love going with my (other) grandfather to the 4-H Club barns at the county fair to see the animals, or to go for long drives in the country with him after supper, hoping to spot some deer (followed by a trip to the dairy bar for ice cream). He and my grandmother loved birds, and had a bird feeder outside the dining room window.  I am thrilled everytime I see a rabbit hopping through my backyard. (Perhaps less so when it's a pesky squirrel or raccoon. Or skunk.)

But aside from the turtles, the only pet I have ever had was a dog -- and reading Mel's post about Cozy Jackson made me realize that my very first experience with loss was the loss of a pet. (I'm sure I'm not alone in this.)

I was a pre-schooler, probably about 4 years old, living in a small town in Saskatchewan, when we got our puppy. I think it was my mother's idea -- although I find that kind of hard to believe because, for the rest of my growing up years, she was never keen on having pets around the house. (She did have a couple of dogs when she was growing up -- although I find THAT hard to believe, because my grandmother wasn't very keen on pets either -- she absolutely loathed cats.) (The turtles were a gift from a dog-loving neighbour who insisted that my sister & I needed a pet. I think my mother could have killed her, and was secretly relieved when both turtles finally died.) 

I have memories of being taken down into a dark basement to see a new litter of puppies (no particular breed), and delighting in holding them (and, of course, wanting to take them all home). The puppy we picked -- which we named Honey -- was, my mother says, probably too little to be taken from her mother . She whined all through the night, for the first while we had her. I remember my bleary eyed father getting up in the middle of the night to check on her. We put an alarm clock (the old-fashioned kind that ticked) into her basket with her, and gave her an old sock to chew on. Cleaning out mom's basement a few years ago, I found pieces of an old child's jigsaw puzzle with some of the edges chewed away -- by Honey. 

 I don't know how long we had Honey. It wasn't very long -- months? Maybe a year, tops. I remember her cooped up in a rudimentary crate that my father built, which sat on the floor of the car at my sister's & my feet during the long drive to my grandparents' farm. We left her there as we continued our trip across the border to visit our other grandparents. And then we left her there for good when we went home again. I'm not sure why -- I remember my mother once saying "she was getting so big."  At any rate, my grandparents loved her.

And then one day we got a call or letter telling us that Honey had died. She was run over by a car on the road near the farm.

I remember crying in my mother's arms, inconsolable. I remember my mother telling me that Honey was in Heaven now, and what a wonderful place Heaven was, and that, if I was good, I might see her again someday. I remember asking if she would have lots of bones to chew on in Heaven, and being comforted by that thought.

We've enjoyed (even doted) on various neighbours' dogs over the years -- but neither my sister nor I have ever had another dog.  We -- and my sister in particular (always more keen on dogs & horses than I was) -- used to sometimes bug my parents about getting another one, but my mother said she was done with pets (& I can't blame her, since most of the work fell on her, as it usually does). And since being married, I've just never felt a strong urge to have a pet.

For one thing, our first apartment strictly prohibited pets at first (as well as children -- although both restrictions were eventually lifted while we lived there).  Dh did not grow up with pets at all. Many of his aunts & cousins consider pets unclean and are almost phobic about them. He doesn't mind smaller dogs, but if we are out walking & we see someone walking a big dog, heading our way, he will drag me across the street to get away from them.

I have to admit I'm not particularly fond of the big ones either. There is a vicious Rottweiler that lives across the back fence. Dh sometimes leaves that part of the back yard unmowed, because the dog will put his paws up on the fence and bark at him like crazy as he mows the lawn. We are actually quite surrounded by dogs here, and once one gets barking, it seems like the entire neighbourhood joins in the chorus -- usually about 10 p.m., just as we're trying to go to sleep. :p 

From a practical perspective, pets are a big responsibility -- and unlike children, they don't eventually grow up and learn how to do things for themselves. More importantly, working and commuting means we are away from home for almost half the day -- 11 hours, minimum, when you factor in commuting time. It would not be fair (or probably wise for the furniture...) to leave a pet by itself for that length of time (and doggy daycare is expensive). Most of my coworkers who have pets live much closer to work than I do, and/or have spouses who work from home or are retired and can look out for the animals. We're generally exhausted when we get home at night, and pets need to be walked and exercised regularly.  Having pets also means you can't just easily pick up & go somewhere. We travel to see my parents at least twice a year for a week or two at a time, and would have to bring the pet along with us (and some flights are pet-restricted), or board them at a kennel or with friends or relatives.

And, as it turns out, I am mildly allergic to pet hair.  I've never noticed a problem, being at other people's houses, but living with one might be another story. BIL is allergic to cats and can't be around one very long without his eyes getting red, puffy and itchy. 

Or maybe that early childhood loss has subconsciously made me shy away from further heartbreak? 

Whatever. I just wanted to make the point that "childless" doesn't automatically equal "pet owner."  People will sometimes ask me if I have kids, & when the answer is no, the next question is often, "Do you have any pets?"  Ummm, no to that, too. Sorry to disappoint you -- twice. :p  I AM a nice person... really...!

There are plenty of ways we can give and receive love in this world -- pets and offspring are just two of them. To each their own!


  1. We have pets, but neither of us could imagine life without them! We both grew up in homes with pets. We both had pets before we met. But you are right about the responsibilities! Even so, I cannot imagine my life without them.

  2. I loved our cats. And I do miss them now they're gone. But I have to admit, I don't miss the mess they left (especially as they aged), the cat hair I found EVERYWHERE, and the scratching at our bedroom door on a cold winter morning before six am!

    I know we'll have cats again. But we have no plans to get any yet. And dogs - no, dogs are just too dependent! At least with the cats we could go out and stay out spontaneously, go away for a few days and leave them food, etc etc.

  3. My childless neighbors can say the same. Everyone expects them to have lots of pets because they live on 10 acres. Neither one works so people really can't understand why. They do have one cat and gold fish in their pond but that's it. They like animals but don't want the work that goes with it.