I've already shared this poem my grandfather wrote:
“Learn to like what doesn't cost much.
Learn to like reading, conversation, music.
Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.
Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.
Learn to like people, even though some of them may be different...different from you.
Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction doing your job as well as it can be done.
Learn to like the song of birds, the companionship of dogs.
Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.
Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.
Learn to keep your wants simple and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.”
It was a long time before our family could say we had learned to enjoy the companionship of dogs. When I was pregnant with Shaemus, we adopted our first dog, a juvenile german shepherd named Turtle. Turtle was very big. We picked him because at the shelter, he was marked as a Gold Star dog, which means "Great with kids."
Turtle was not great with kids. Turtle was big. He was young. He nipped, and his nips hurt. He freaked me out. The kids were frightened of him. So we spent four hundred dollars having him neutered and vetted, then returned him a few days later to the shelter because we could not handle him. (I think they were very happy we neutered him for them...)
Soon after, we went to a different shelter where we hoped their gold star system was a little more reliable. We got a darling beagle named Cocoa. Cocoa was so sweet with the kids. Cocoa nipped no one. But Cocoa had emotional issues. Whenever anyone left the house, Cocoa tore around the rooms like a crazy person and wouldn't stop for many, many minutes until everything in her path had been thrown from its proper place. She must have had serious abandonment issues, but it was so strange, because she did it when everyone else was home.
I could have dealt with this, she was otherwise so good, if it weren't for the troubles we had at night. Cocoa was a beagle and she howled, and if she wasn't in bed with me—specifically, cuddling right next to me all night long—she howled and scratched and threw an absolute fit. An absolute fit!
Sam had had it one night and after some rather heated and lengthy discussion between the two of us, he went to sleep on the couch. It was the only time in our marriage where he had gone to sleep on the couch (except for when we had tiny babies, and I told him to go get some rest elsewhere). I realized as I lay there with my dog instead of my husband, that if I didn't do something, there would be trouble. It was a choice between this howling dog or Sam.
I chose Sam. (And Cocoa found a very nice home on a farm where no one could hear the howling.)
We gave up owning a dog for several years. Then we tried puppies. Two of them. I won't go into details except to say that I am incapable of potty training children. I am also incapable of potty training dogs. I don't like human or animal waste. I have no patience for it. I think it should be eliminated (he he he).
When these two puppies did not work (don't worry—we found good homes for them both as well!), I gave up all hope. We had three parakeets. We'd had some fish over the years. We were fish and parakeet people, not dog people.
This truly made me sad. I had a dog growing up, and I loved him. I have some serious animal lovers in my house, and I wanted dogs for them too, but it didn't seem to be in the cards.
And then a woman at my church casually mentioned that she needed to find a place for her dogs. She was getting too ill to take care of them, and she wanted to find them a good home. We'd walked their dogs before, and Sam and the kids knew them. I had been thinking of her and her dogs and wondering if this would be the case, but I hadn't said anything to her or Sam. When I brought up the possibility later to Sam, he looked at me, startled, because she had spoken to him about it that very day.
It worked out. We took her dogs for her, and they are wonderful. We love them. They were already potty-trained (actually, one wasn't perfectly trained in the beginning, but he hasn't had an accident in a very long time. I have no idea why—it is certainly nothing we did), they are gentle with the kids, they sleep happily in crates at night, and they are practically maintenance-free. We could not have found better dogs for us. Everyone pitches in to feed them, walk them, pet them, love them. And every one does. Every single one of us, even Sam. I regularly catch one of the kids snuggling with them, not just Calvin who loves animals so. I consider these dogs literally a blessing from God.
(Here is Mary with one of our dogs, Aesop. I can't find a picture of Ruddy.)
I truly believe it is a good thing to learn to enjoy the companionship of dogs (or any pet).
Fast-forward to this morning. Calvin got two frogs for his birthday.
I wasn't in town at the time. I'm not sure I would have let this happen (I'd been rooting for a turtle). The frogs have to be fed live crickets, which means the crickets have to be fed so they can stay alive until the frogs eat them. They need a heat lamp. They need to be regularly sprayed with water to keep the tank at a perfect humidity level. They are pretty high-maintenance pets.
But Calvin does it. He takes care of them completely on his own, or so I thought. I haven't had to lift a finger, but this morning, I saw Shaemus opening the frog's tank to spray water on them. At exactly the same time, I saw Lucy come into Calvin's room to coo at Calvin's rat. She noticed that Scabbers was low on food and began to feed her. Lucy as three pets of her own to feed, and here she was, without recognition or thanks, helping Calvin take care of his pet, the exact thing Shaemus was doing. It was innate for them. It took no thought. No one was paying them or forcing them or even asking them to do it.
This scene made me so very happy. They were being considerate to both their brother and to these really quite sweet living creatures (though I still won't touch the rat—and okay, I won't touch the frogs either). I hope, as they grow and mature, this translates into a love for all livings things. I hope these experiences with these pets teach them responsibility and duty and the true satisfaction of caring for something that cannot care for itself.
(No, we don't own a horse. But that would be cool if we did!)
Here are some of my favorite books ever about pets.
Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat. We LOVE this book. It is hilarious, and based on a true family that owned every pet you can imagine. Awesome.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, and other books about animals (Have you read these books?)
These are from one of my favorite Non-fiction series for younger children, the Read and Wonder series by Candlewick. I Love Guinea Pigs and All Pigs are Beautiful by Dick King-Smith.
A Very Young Rider by Jill Kremetz
This is from an out-of-print, from-the-seventies, series about young children with great talents. I had A Very Young Dancer growing up. This one is just as awesome, all about a girl who loves horses more than life itself! (There is even A Very Young Circus Flyer in this series!!!)
My Pony by Susan Jeffers
I have many more—I'll post more tomorrow—but do you have any favorite books about pets?