Yesterday I left for work half an hour early so that I’d have time to swing by the feed supply store and pick up 50 pounds of chicken feed. I wasn’t planning on doing this. I had my day all mapped out, as I like to do. When I plan my day out and know what to expect, my anxiety is lower. But I have kids. And kids, love them to the moon and back, are scatterbrained. So an hour before leaving for work, I heard, “Moooooooom! We’re out of chicken food!”
“Out out? Or out, like we have enough to feed them later today but need some for tomorrow?”
Monday it was dog food.
Saturday I hauled home three boxes of compost from work to split between the chickens and the tortoise. And Friday I thawed a dead rat for the snake. Yes, I have five pounds of dead rat in my chest freezer in the basement.
Why do I do this to myself??
This morning I woke up with a head cold and dragged myself downstairs to make coffee and dig up a new box of tissues. It was chilly, I was cranky, and everyone else was still sleeping. But as soon as my feet hit the stairs, I acquired a shadow. Step, jingle, claw click, claw click. Step, jingle, claw click, claw click. The dog woke up out of a dead sleep and followed me downstairs, and when I curled up on the couch in a grumpy ball, she rested her head on my knee and gave me The Look.
If you have ever had a dog, you know The Look. It rolls “you are my universe” and “I adore you” and “pet me please” and “…you are going to feed me, right?” all into one pair of big brown eyes and an eyebrow quirk.
It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy when you get The Look.
Yesterday I was doing yard work, and the chickens provided a running comedy show to keep me company while I worked. They have weird little personalities and an ever-shifting hierarchy that leads to antics rivaling any soap opera on TV. I could have done the yard work without the entertainment, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.
The snake and the tortoise have both traveled to my kids’ schools and starred at birthday parties and play dates. They have served as ambassadors to the world of reptiles and have taught a number of young friends the difference between scary and merely unfamiliar. As rescues, they have also helped demonstrate why getting high maintenance pets on a whim can be so damaging to that pet. I have faith that other reptile lives have been saved through their example and willingness to be handled by scores of small people.
My girls sometimes complain about doing their animal chores, the same way I sometimes complain about having to go grocery shopping when I don’t want to. But they do them anyway, and they learn the importance of prioritizing care for living things over other tasks. We cry when we have to bury a furry or feathered or scaled friend who has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But we are reminded that we live within the circle of life, not outside it, and we treasure our living companions the more for it. Pets are a lifetime commitment in our household. We talk, sometimes for several years, before taking on a new responsibility. And through doing so, my husband and I hope we are teaching our children to honor their commitments, to take full responsibility for their decisions, and to embrace those new relationships to the fullest.
I could live without pets. But they bring an extra dimension to the microcosm that is our family home that we really enjoy, chores and all.