Other pets I’d warmly welcome

Obviously, I’d be perfectly happy if the only pets I ever had were dogs. Dogs, dogs, and some more dogs. But I just love animals in general, and so a large part of my daydreaming involves thinking about all the animals I’d like to have in my life one day–including my small pack of dogs.

Here’s a list of the non-dog animals I would also love to adopt, ranked in order of desire:

1: RABBITS

Our Spencer actually looked just like this guy, same markings and everything. Click for source.

I adore rabbits. I think this is because our first family pet was a rabbit: Spencer, the mini Holland lop, who was the Greatest Bunny Who Ever Lived. Spencer was the gentlest and sweetest bunny. Miraculously, despite being somewhat roughly handled by the four of us as children, he never bit us, not even once. We liked to think he played “hide and seek” with us in the backyard; he enjoyed chasing us around the yard and hiding with us underneath bushes and small trees. I would get rabbits in a heartbeat–although I think they’re probably the most tempting (and defenseless) small animal to bring home if you have a dog like a German shepherd. Rabbits, unlike cats, have no defense mechanisms and I don’t know if I could ever trust a dog with a rabbit, but that somehow hasn’t dampened my desire for a bunny of my own. Maybe one day.

2: CHICKENS

Source: Heather Bullard.

Backyard chickens are the new thing for suburban dwellers, it seems–at least in our area of Virginia. Everyone (ourselves included!) wants to think of themselves as quasi-farmers. We have lots of friends who have a small coop of egg-laying hens in their yards and I confess that the idea has become very attractive to me lately. I don’t know if we’ll have enough room at our new house–and I think chickens would also be a constant, maddening distraction to a high prey-drive dog–but it’s a nice daydream. They’re certainly not as loveable or companionable as a bunny, but I like them just the same. They’re also not as stupid as people tend to think.

3: HORSES

I've always been partial to Arabian horses, even though they are the most high-strung. Click for source.

Like many little girls, my horse obsession began at a very young age. I think I actually became fixated with horses before my dog obsession began. I read all the horse books I could get my hands on. I memorized horse breeds. I begged my mother for riding lessons. The equestrian life is, however, a very expensive one, and my parents couldn’t afford to send me (and my copycat little sisters) to riding lessons. They did, however, send us to a horse camp where we mucked stalls and groomed horses in exchange for a few lessons in the summers. I loved every minute of it, even mucking stalls. The sweet smell of hay and the presence of these glorious, sensitive animals filled my little heart with joy. While I haven’t had much interaction with horses in a long time (*excepting one of the best parts of our honeymoon: Guion knew about my lifelong adoration of horses and surprised me with a two-hour trail ride in the Blue Ridge mountains), I do dream about them still. They’re a serious, serious commitment, but they’re also a nice thought.

4: GOATS

Baby goats, you are breakin' my heart with your cuteness. Click for source.
Baby goats, you are breakin' my heart with your cuteness. Click for source.

Goats are such ornery, funny creatures. I like them a lot, even though they may be somewhat hard to love (excepting those babies). I also love chevre and goat milk soaps and such, so I daydream about having a small dairy flock of my own one day.

5: FINCHES or BUDGIES

Zebra finches. Click for source.
Snuggling budgerigars. Click for source.

I like birds a lot, even though they are a pain to take care of/sometimes saddening to think about living your whole life in a cage where you can’t fly. So, maybe I won’t get a bird. But I grew up with a Zebra finch named Sprite and a pair of budgies that I received for my thirteenth birthday, whom I christened Monet and Renoir (they were in love). They are messy and noisy, but oh-so-beautiful to look at. Maybe not reason enough to adopt some, but I love them just the same.

6: CATS

A handsome family of kittens. Source: Itty Bitty Kitty Committee.

I am very ambivalent about cats, but I like them most of the time. I don’t think I would like to take care of one or actually be responsible for one, but I have my moments of soaring adoration and affection for cats. It’s perhaps not surprising that my favorite cats are the ones who act like dogs. The only cat I’ve ever truly loved was my roommate in Denver, a tabby lady I called Kitteh. She was inquisitive and affectionate without being obnoxious. Kitteh was charming and intelligent and I loved sharing a bed with her. I would get a cat if I could get one with a temperament just like hers, but I’m doubtful about how likely that is. I think cats are supremely beautiful. I think they make every room look more elegant. But I wonder how quickly I’d resent a cat if I actually dared to bring one home. Who knows? Maybe one day there will be room for a cat.

Do you have other animals, besides your dog? How do they interact, if at all?

Pup links!

Alex the borzoi and his lady, the Princess of Wales. Source: the3goobers.blogspot.com

A few dog-related links from around the Web:

Literary Pets. Naturally, I love this: A post about famous writers and their menageries of pets. (50 Watt)

6 Other Animals Dogs Will Adopt. Why are stories about animals adopting other animals so heartbreakingly adorable?? (The Hydrant)

Who Said Dogs Can’t Fly? More from The Hydrant! A fun photo series of dogs in flight. (The Hydrant)

Two Brunettes + Pretty Pet Portraits. Sleek, modern pet portraits by a new design firm. Very adorable, even if the designers don’t use spell check. (Pawsh Magazine)

The Nail Wars. Patricia McConnell discusses how to clip a dog’s nails without causing panic and terror. (The Other End of the Leash)

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Chows. Gorgeous black-and-white photographs of the famed painter, walking through the desert with her chows. (Dog Art Today)

The unconditional love of dogs

Elizabeth

On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.

When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.

Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.

Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.

The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.

One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.

The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.

If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.