My first positive experience with a pet dates back to my early 20s. I basically had a petless childhood, and only a few encounters with my cousin’s cat caused me to panic and break out into a sweat as a child. I suffered from a phobia of cats and dogs, which was probably brought on by my sister getting bitten by a neighbor’s dog when we were kids. It was nothing serious, but I can still remember panicking even when hearing a dog chain jingle.
And yet, a tiny part of me wondered what life with a pet would be like, and secretly envied classmates who got to write essays about their pets.
But all that changed when I met my husband, who was an avid animal lover. One freezing winter night, during a snowstorm, a stray cat appeared at my parent’s door. My husband and I brought her into the house, fed, and took care of her. No one ever claimed her, and she became our first pet, despite my parents’ protest.
Shortly after, I was introduced to my cousin’s new dog, a pointer, at her house, and slowly I became comfortable around him, even petting him. To this day, I wonder if I was truly phobic as a child or just reacted and imitated everyone around me who feared animals or had no interest in owning a pet, including my parents.
I never looked back or regretted living my life raising my four kids in the company of animals. And that is not to say it has always been easy because, let’s face it, the mommy of the house is usually the main caregiver to the fur babies too.
First and foremost, I was thrilled my kids grew up not afraid of animals and enjoyed the companionship of pets, enriching their childhood memories. Since we were homeowners early on and had a comfortable yard, there was plenty of room for outdoor/indoor pets right from the start.
Our first pet in our own place was a pure-bred Irish Setter we brought when our oldest was 2 years old. We ran the gamut of cats, dogs, parakeets, guinea pigs, hermit crabs, an occasional bunny, once a baby turtle for a couple of days, and of course fish. And we have had such funny, surprising, joyful, and difficult moments with all of them, just like with our kids.
And they are so different, in unexpected ways, just like our kids. I thought cats were generally aloof, loners. But we had one cat that would run to my kids’ side when they were younger, at the tiniest whimper. I now have a cat who seeks my company almost every night, saving me a spot on the sofa to cuddle when I finally drop after a long day. She suffices my urge to have a lap dog since all the dogs we’ve owned are medium to large breed upon my husband’s choosing.
Although we went on to have two more pure-bred English Setters, my daughter and husband adopted a young German Shepherd mix right before my fourth child was born, many years ago, who was so protective of “our” baby. I had my doubts at first about her co-existing with our other dog, but it all worked out in the end. She was incredibly special. But then again, all our pets were in their own way, either in presence now or in our beloved memories.
Our kids witnessed the birth of kittens, and unfortunately, the death of our long-time best friends. Many tales and so many life lessons to be learned for ourselves and our children living with the unconditional love and loyalty of our family pets. Despite all the work, cost, and inconvenience of caring for pets, I’ll never regret having them in our lives and sharing all the invaluable experiences with our kids.