When I was growing up I was very lucky to experience a dog in my family, and many other family pets along the way. To me, it was quite normal to have the family pets all co-existing under one roof.
I certainly had the animal gene as a child, which I am sure was inherited from my Grandmother Ruth Allen. It was rare for her to own only one dog, usually there were two or three. Many of our chats together were with a dog close by or on her lap.
We would spend part of our summers with Granny and Granddad on Stoney Lake. One summer, Granny announced that there would be a goat on the island! She heard that a goat was a wonderful way to get rid of poison ivy as they eat it. She had a friend with a farm who loaned her a male goat. Granny named him Monty after a successful army general, Montgomery Alamein who led many troops in both the First and Second World Wars.
A new animal to entertain me on a summer vacation was right up my alley. At the cottage, Granny had her dogs and my dog Ben; other Allen cousins would visit with their dogs on occasion, too. Monty would follow me around and would come when he was called. He would even come up the stairs to my cabin and paw at my door to be let in!
Over the weeks, however, he decided to eat all kinds of plants at the cottage including my Grandfather’s beautiful flowers; he was returned to the farm he came from – Granny’s mission to get rid of the poison ivy was unsuccessful.
Family trips in our station wagon often entailed the following: my three siblings, a dog, a bird in a birdcage, the occasional hamster, and once in a while fish in their bowl. My parents were incredible in taking the family zoo on holiday in addition to everything else needed for a family of six.
When I first married my husband, Ken, we got a kitten from a family member’s farm. We named him Zipper as his markings were like clothing zippers going around his body; he could also run very fast. A year later we decided to add a dog to the mix. Chip was a chocolate lab who loved to eat the cat food when the opportunity arose; separate feeding stations were the solution.
They figured things out quickly. Zipper would jump high into a location where Chip could not go if wanting personal space. At other times we would find them on our trendy 1980’s water-bed lying close together. We had a tropical fish tank, too. Chip ignored it while Zipper, on the other hand, was quite intrigued watching the fish swim around.
History has repeated itself with our daughters and a multitude of family pets. Fish to start out with, then hamsters. I don’t think we got any hamsters until our present lab Abby was with us. She could never really figure them out.
Abby would be-line out of a room if they were rolling around in their hamster balls. I think that she was not sure how the ball was rolling without any human assistance! We would let her see the hamsters if we were holding them, but there was defiantly no love affair between them – just a quick sniff by Abby before she walked away.
We had geckos for years as family pets, but again they were no threat to Abby. They rarely came out and were quiet creatures by nature. Some dogs boarding were more interested in them, often the smaller breeds of the hunting variety. Charlie – a spaniel – was always very interested in them despite his senior years.
I know a family that had a guinea pig and a dog at the same time. The guinea pig came first, and then did their dog Owen. He and the guinea pig slept in different areas and were able to co-exist with little transition time needed. Owen would even lick the guinea pig’s face affectionately!
I spoke to a friend tonight, Anne, who is a kindred animal lover too. They had two rats and their family dog Chelsea at the same time. Chelsea was a lab-Shepard cross and loved the rats! The rats would climb on her back to rest or to go for a ride on Chelsea. The family thinks that they were the babies Chelsea never had from the way that she responded to them. When one of the rats died, the remaining rat Murph and the dog continued the friendship.
When Murph died the family added a rabbit named Woody. After Chelsea passed away the family decided to get another dog. They knew that it could be tricky to add another dog to their family because of the rabbit; they were careful in choosing a breed of dog that could be the right fit. Their choice was a Tibetan terrier they named Heidi.
The family was very careful introducing them together. Heidi thought that the rabbit was another dog and they have been a great pair together! Anne told me that at night, when Woody needs to go to his bed, they ask Heidi to find Woody in the house. This is a fun game and the dog searches for the rabbit and gets a treat as a reward, as does Woody when tucked in for bedtime! There has never been any aggression amongst their animals.
Probably 40 per cent of dog owners I know have cats as a second pet. The dogs and cats interact with play or a game of chase; interestingly, the cat is the alpha animal in their households.
I feel quite blessed to have experienced a Noah’s Ark of pets firsthand in my childhood. They have certainly taught me responsibility, empathy, joy, laughter and tons of love in all shapes and sizes.
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