Guest blog by Joel Schwartzberg, a father and cat rescuer from Chatham, New Jersey. A nationally-published author and essayist, Joel works in executive communications for the ASPCA. Learn more about his personal writing at joelschwartzberg.net.
As a kid, I grew up with a string of great dogs: a loyal German Short-Haired Pointer, a handsome and majestic Collie and an incredibly smart black Standard Poodle. I never thought twice about where they came from, or why that might even be important.
When I started talking about animal welfare issues with my own 15-year-old son Evan and his twin 12-year-old sisters Mylie and Josie, they processed it as if we were talking about astronomy. To them, the points were mostly distant and theoretical.
Even when we visited animal shelters or spent time with PetSmart’s sweet temporary tenants, the origins of these dogs and cats never really intrigued them—as if all dogs come from Dogville, and all cats from Catville.
So one day, as we passed a strip mall puppy store for the umpteenth time on our way to the bowling alley, I impulsively stopped.
“We’re going to check out the puppy situation here,” I said.
“But isn’t this the place you said was bad for puppies?” Josie asked.
“Yes, but I want to see what it’s actually like from the inside. I think it’s important to know what we’re talking about.”
We went in, and the kids immediately gravitated to the front window’s cuter-than-cute puppies who were scampering, whimpering, and begging for attention. There were only a few other items for sale. This place was all about one thing: selling puppies.
Within my kids’ earshot, I approached a saleswoman.
“Where do these dogs come from?” I asked.
“Good breeders,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“We have a list.”
“Can I see it?”
“No—we only give that information after you buy a dog.”
“So I can’t simply see the list of breeders you work with?”
“No—but they’re good places.”
“Have you visited one?”
“Visited one what?”
“One of these breeders.”
“No,” she said, as if I’d asked her if she’d ever been to the moon.
I thanked her, then called for my kids. Twice. They were reluctant to leave.
Safely back in our car, I turned to them.
“What do you think happens at the pet store when someone buys a puppy from them?” I asked, trying to sound objective.
“They get another one,” my son said.
I nodded. “Those puppies’ moms are somewhere in a very small cage, pumping out puppy after puppy—as many as they can, for as long as they can—just to keep these places in business,” I said. “That’s what a puppy mill is, and the conditions there are usually horrible and cruel. Meanwhile…”
Evan interrupted: “There are lots of dogs in shelters who already need homes.”
“Desperately,” I said.
The girls said they felt bad for the puppies they’d played with, and I sympathized.
“Those puppies deserve homes as much as any other,” I said. “But that’s why we support pet stores that work with shelters to find homes for homeless animals, not those who mass-produce puppies to make money.”
As we talked, a large family entered the puppy store, their eyes wide with excitement and anticipation. If we’d stayed, chances are good we would have seen them leave with two things: a tiny, furry animal, fresh off the conveyor belt; and a piece of paper describing an idyllic Dogville from which it came.
As we drove away, our conversation shifted away from animal issues and to thoughts about Iggy Azalea and the merits of ziti pizza.
But like many of my own childhood memories, I hope this trip sticks with them, so that when it’s time to get a companion, they're adding shelter animals to their families, instead of adding to the problem.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor to Vetstreet.com and other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site, Crayons and Collars.
A mother’s work is never done—especially when it comes to caring for a multispecies family. Every time I turn around, someone has a pediatrician or vet appointment, needs to be fed, needs their medicine, has thrown up on my couch, peed on my floor or ruined something of value. Not that kids and pets are exactly the same (cats don’t require a college savings plan, for example) but let’s face it: there are some distinct similarities.
They are always hungry, but never finish their meals. All day long I hear, “Mooommmy….I’m staaarving!” from my kids or, from my cats, “Meoooow…Meow….Meowww,” which is basically same thing. Yet, once I prepare something nutritious and delicious for the little humans or felines to eat? They take two bites and then walk away. Unless, of course, I’m serving treats or snacks. Then suddenly, they’re bottomless pits.
They steal your pillow. Anyone with pets and kids knows that despite our best efforts, we’re going to be edged off our pillow and we’ll lose our blankets at some point during the night to a small human or feline bedroom intruder. I usually end up with my head on the mattress, with a small corner of the blanket for warmth. But the trade off is that everyone’s quiet, asleep and not making demands and hey, that’s worth the discomfort.
They wake up early—way too early. As if keeping me from sleep during the night isn’t bad enough, the kids and cats love to wake me up at the crack of dawn. I either pry open my eyes to see a curly-headed human staring me down or I awake to whiskers in my face, meows in my ear or the weight of a heavy cat lump on my chest. What I don’t understand is that it’s clear Mommy is a much happier person when she has enough sleep…yet no one lets me have it.
They just don’t listen. Cats and kids never do what you tell them. I have nothing more to say about that, because my cats and kids won’t listen anyway.
They always poop at inconvenient times. Cats and kids have this ability to choose the worst possible time to poop. Our cats have a litter box upstairs near my home office and without fail, every time I bring my lunch to my desk, one of the cats decides it’s time to use the bathroom nearby. Talk about spoiling one’s appetite! The kids seem to prefer to go when we’re on our way out the door (running late, naturally) or while at the grocery store. Both cats and kids love to poop when we have guests over.
The good news is, cats and kids have some other things in common: They are undeniably cute and oh, so wonderful when they’re ready for snuggles. These things have a way of making you forget the other stuff, don’t they?
Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
As Thanksgiving approaches, many families are gearing up to celebrate the holiday with their kids and pets. My family is starting to think about how we will safely incorporate our dog, Clyde, into the preparation and day-of festivities. This time of year, there are so many food hazards to pets in the home. And since Clyde is a large dog, he can reach the table and garbage pail quite readily. We will take the following steps to keep him safe before, during and after the holiday:
Take out the trash: Throughout Thanksgiving Day, we will empty our garbage more often than usual. Bones, chocolate, onions and other Thanksgiving food staples are all hazards to Clyde that will make their way into our kitchen during the festivities.
Food tasting: We will explain to our daughter Gabriella that we can’t give Clyde a taste of every food item we’re making for Thanksgiving dinner, but we can stuff his Kong toy with veggies of Gabriella’s choosing, a bit of cooked turkey and some gravy. Clyde will be thrilled!
Quiet time: We’d like Clyde to have an extra quiet space (other than his bed) while company is visiting so he doesn’t get too stressed out. We’ll set aside a few towels on the floor to give him another nook where he can sit back and relax—something we all hope to do this Thanksgiving!
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, has worked as a writer and editor in the parenting world for over 10 years. Danielle also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babble.com. Find her on her blog, Some Puppy To Love, Twitter, or Facebook.
I was stressed out last week. I had one of those days when I had a million things to do in about an hour, and everything was going wrong. I was running late, forgot to make my son’s lunch, was further held up by the mounting ice forming on our front walk and the phone was ringing off the hook.
“Calm down, Mom,” my daughter said. “You’re making Django nervous.” She was right. Our black lab, Django, didn’t want to be near me and walked around with her head down. It was something I had noticed before. You know how when someone comes into the room frazzled, and you can feel their nervous energy? Well, Django does the same with me. She knows my tones, and when I’m stressed or feeling sick, she knows it.
Many dog owners have long known this to be true. How many times have we told our friends and family that our dogs sense when we are feeling sick or down in the dumps? Fellow pet owners understand right away, but non-pet people sometimes look at us as if we’re crazy. Recent studies suggest that dogs read our emotions based on our vocal cues.
It’s surely not news to those of us that love our pets; we have already known that they understand us. But it sure is affirming to have science back us up!
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
On that afternoon in August when we said goodbye to our youngest child at her freshman dorm, my husband and I became empty nesters. We joined ranks with countless other parents who also turned keys in front door locks and walked into much quieter homes. Although I miss our daughter terribly, I take comfort in knowing that our chocolate labs, Gus and Moose, wait for me at home. They are great companions and cheer me with hearty tail wags, their exuberance on our morning walks, and expressions of devotion when they look up into my eyes, holding the stare.
Having dogs but no children under our roof made it easy to relate to a fellow empty nester, Susan Morse, who has recently published a memoir, The Dog Stays in the Picture. In the book, Morse credits her rescued greyhound, Lilly, with providing similar canine company after her three children had moved out to go to college. I discovered Morse’s writing when her book and the blog I co-author with Lisa Heffernan, Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest were both featured in a story in a recent article in The New York Times, “The Empty Nest Book Hatchery” as examples of a growing group of blogs and books aimed at adults whose children have flown the coop.
Morse’s title refers to Lilly’s steady presence in her household despite constant changes. The youngest children graduate from high school and leave for college while the eldest child, a daughter, begins her career. As her children grow increasingly independent, Morse laments “At least Lilly needs me, even if her constant shadowing has been a bit tiresome, more and more, I’m coming to understand the use of pets as a subconscious substitute for children.”
I love Moose and Gus but am not sure that I am trying to transfer a need to “mother” from our kids to our dogs. I take care of the two pups with the same level of exercise, feeding, and attention that I have always given them. What I treasure, though, are the memories of our kids at younger years that often co-star the dogs. I remember when our daughter, then 10-years-old, first laid eyes on Moose, the puppy. My daughter turns 19 in two weeks. I recall when our son, playing football in college, came home for surgery on his knee four years ago. I love thinking about how Gus, then just several months old, was a great diversion and source of happiness while he recovered.
For Susan Morse, her Lilly "stays in the picture" and is a comfort during a time of family changes. Our dogs stay close at hand and also remind me of family times gone by. I am grateful for Lilly, Gus, Moose and all other pets that help keep our nests full.