Despite their quirks and occasional bad behavior, pets are an indispensable part of my family.
By Judy Sutton Taylor
My dog Stella is scratching at the back door for what has got to be the 20th time today, and it’s not even noon. She is a Rott/Lab mix, and she loves nothing more than sitting in the snow on our deck in winter—the colder it is, the better. But she has got to check on her rawhides inside every five or 10 minutes. Or maybe get a drink of water. Or bark at the mailman. She is very busy, and she needs someone to open and close the door for all of her important comings and goings.
That someone is I. After eight years, I’ve got what can best be described as a Pavlovian response to her scratches. Regardless of what I’m doing, once I hear her paw hit the door, I’m up and over there before I even realize it. It’s one of the many parts of my day that revolves around the dogs and cats in my life. They’ve all been rescued from one sad situation or another, and they’ve all got issues that require a bit of special attention.
My other dog, Scully, has a case of separation anxiety, which means I can’t do so much as close the bathroom door. And even though she is 11, she still has a feverish obsession with tennis balls that requires almost constant play and inevitably results in a fine layer of shredded green fuzz coating the floor each night. Did I mention that she only likes one type of treat, which I’ve only been able to find at a single store that’s nowhere near our house? Murray, my small and timid white cat, requires prescription food for his sensitive stomach—which tends to flare up when Ginger, the bully of my felines, messes with him. (Ginger bullies me, too, by using my pricey upholstered furniture for scratching posts and, from time-to-time, suddenly turning and biting me when I’m petting her.) The moment I crawl into bed at night, my giant grey Tabby, Toby, plops on top of me, meowing and kneading his paws incessantly until I scratch behind his ears. If I stop before he’s decided his needs have been met, the meowing and kneading start in all over again. And then there’s Mario. Once a semi-feral, he lived under a bed in a spare room for three months, and I spent countless hours working to coax him out and socialize him, wearing oven mitts on my hands for fear he would attack me. Today he is under my feet so much that I often trip over him, and his favorite hobbies include eating the dogs’ food before they can get to it and dragging peanut butter–topped bagels off my kids’ breakfast plates and throughout the house.
The days aren’t pretty around here when everyone’s needs, problems, and quirks rise to the surface simultaneously. It’s easy to get frustrated by the constant tending to, the endless quests for attention, the nonstop Swiffering and cleaning. Those are times when I try to take a step back and remember that there aren’t many guarantees in life, but there are a few things I can count on every day thanks to my pets: welcome homes from my dogs that make me feel like a rock star—even when the extent of my absence is a minute or two; a supersoft and warm (although quite heavy) cat purring beside me each night; and kisses and nuzzles just about every day, whenever I want them.
I’m the light in their lives regardless of whether I’m having a bad hair day, in a grouchy mood, or have to cut a morning walk short to make it to work on time. My pets don’t judge me; their affection and companionship never come with any strings attached. What I get from them is love in its purest form—which is more than I can expect from most people. For that, the inconvenience of opening and closing doors, living with not-so-perfect furniture, and doing some extra cleaning is something I’ll gladly put up with—even if it’s something as unpleasant as washing away spit up from a nervous cat off of my slightly shredded sofa.