Growing up, my family had a lot of pets. At any given time, we had at least three or four dogs, a couple of cats, and sometimes even some rabbits or hamsters.
I also had three siblings.
Imagine two adults, four children, and at least eight or ten animals under one roof. Needless to say, things could get quite hectic. And, with so many responsibilities, my parents didn't exactly have time to pamper us all, especially our pets. It's hard for me to imagine now, but in my childhood home, animals were treated as, well, animals. The dogs had doghouses outside and typically only came inside at night, except with extreme weather. The cats ran free outside, often surprising us with dead mice or birds on our doorstep. None of the animals were spayed or neutered.
As a pet parent now, this way of life is completely foreign to me--something from my past I've tried to suppress due to feelings of guilt and lack of control over the situation at the time. Although we lived in the country and it was the norm to let your animals roam around outside without leashes or collars, I can't even remember how many animals escaped our property and never returned. How many were hit by cars as they carelessly ran across the road? Or shot by ranchers as they chased their livestock? How many litters of kittens and puppies did I see born in our house? And how many of those animals ended up in happy homes with happy lives?
Today, I would call pet owners like my parents irresponsible. Perhaps it was a different generation, or the small-town way of life. Maybe it was a combination of the two. As an animal lover, memories from my childhood of the care our pets received still haunt me.
I'm now an adult with my own life. I have my own family and my own house. Our one pet, Jack the miniature schnauzer, is a member of the family. He hangs out inside most of the time, but has a doggie door leading to the fenced-in backyard where he likes to chase squirrels and lay in the sun. He always wears a collar, was neutered when he was a puppy, and sleeps in his ultra-posh doggie bed right next to my bed. Although the pets from my childhood were loved, Jack's life seems to be so much better. Why? Do I take the best care of Jack because of the industry I work in? Because of the friends I hang out with? Because times have changed since I was a kid? Are there still people out there who treat their pets the way my parents did?
Recently, Jack celebrated his sixth birthday. He came to the office with me that day, was showered with squeaky balls, chew toys, and baked goods from our favorite doggie bakery. He even had a birthday hat (which he absolutely loved for the two seconds he would keep it on). He seemed to have a great birthday, especially as he ran through the AAHA halls chasing after his new ball. It seems that in one generation things have changed significantly for pets in my family.
Is your attitude now toward animals different than when you were a child? What are some things, like elaborate birthday parties, that you do for your pet that others may feel is over-the-top treatment for an animal?