Pets were taken so seriously in my household growing up that my dad would refer to one dog as his “number two son.” I hope that meant I was number one.
The company, companionship and love of many wonderful animals more than compensated for any loneliness that might have come from being an only child. From the day my parents brought me home from the hospital to the day I finally moved out for good nearly 24 years later, our pets were simply part of the family.
No matter where we lived, which included eight houses across two states, and a cast of live-in girlfriends, boyfriends and grandmothers, a house was not a home without at least one four-legged friend to greet us, protect us and keep us warm.
Whether the purpose they served was functional or pure joy, our pets were there with us—and for us. The first dog in my life was Schnapps, who would innocently roll around in the herb garden and come inside smelling of cilantro—an association that forever ruined the herb for my mother. I recall the first Christmas that sister kittens, Thelma and Louise spent with us, climbing the trunk of our Christmas tree, knocking it and many prized ornaments straight to the ground. Then there was the mother-son mouser duo of Zoe and Heba (a name inspired by the cat food brand Sheba), who diligently kept our home rodent-free for many years. My mother’s prized Humane Society rescue was Eddie, a handsome and lovable mutt who protected her and served as a source of love and light through one winning battle with cancer and another losing battle. When my mother was gone, Eddie, Thelma and Louise were still there, comforting me with their presence and the gift of fond memories.
Since we moved to Atlanta four years ago, we have fostered four cats and a dog with widely varying health, behavior and overall condition. Balancing the many challenges of adulthood, including pet ownership, has been a greater challenge than I ever could have imagined as a child growing up. The experience has filled me with awe and gratitude for the enormous responsibility and sheer love that my parents possessed and exuded seemingly without effort.
As we seek to support ourselves, nurture our relationships, advance our careers, maintain a home, and fill our lives with joy, I am hopeful that one day soon a pet will again become part of the family.