59: Helping More Animals by Having Less

59: Helping More Animals by Having Less

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Helping More Animals by Having Less

We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.

~Immanuel Kant

When my cousin and I were about ten, both our moms had babies. A few weeks later, my aunt told Mom, “Gordie keeps wanting to hold his new brother and give him his bottle. Is Susie excited about the baby?”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Maybe if he was a baby horse — or a dog — she’d want to hold him. But a human baby? Not a chance!” My dream was to grow up and have lots and lots of animals.

Eventually, I grew up and had babies of my own, but animals were still my passion. By the time my kids were grown, we still had a houseful. Of animals.

At the peak, we had four dogs, four cats, a rabbit, and two guinea pigs. When my youngest daughter needed to move home for a while, she also brought in her pets: a dog, three cats, and a tank of fish. We have a big old farmhouse, and my daughter took care of her own pets, but I still knew we’d exceeded our limit.

Every morning, I did what I called my “barn work.” I grew up in farm country and had a horse for many years. Cleaning out guinea pig cages and tossing them hay felt like a familiar, though tiresome, routine.

Unfortunately, between the cages and the litter boxes alone, an hour or more quickly passed. One of my cats, Chester, was pre-diabetic, and tended to “think outside the box.” That meant picking up soaked papers, washing the utility room floor around the litter area, disinfecting, and replacing fresh paper. Then, I had to go outside and scoop the yard, where the dogs did their thing. This was a little bit like hunting for Easter eggs, but a lot less fun.

The dogs all had different needs. Fourteen-year-old Sofi was a big, shaggy mixed breed with a tendency to itchy hot spots she bit and scratched till they were raw. She developed dementia in her last year of life, and it made her paranoid and mean-tempered. She growled at all of us — as well as the walls — and started attacking one of the other dogs at every opportunity. She still loved going for short walks, but became more and more arthritic and needed help with steps.

I was doing cattle dog rescue, and it’s a notoriously high-energy breed. My Elvis needed at least an hour walk every day or things got eaten. Things like my grandmother’s Bible, my mother’s childhood cradle, and the arms and legs of an antique doll.

Red was another cattle dog, but he was blind and needed eye drops three times a day. Spike, the tiny abused foster dog we’d ended up adopting after his recovery, wouldn’t stop yapping and also wasn’t house trained.

The cost of food and routine vet bills was staggering. And there were always emergencies on top of that. Emergency testing and hospitalization, insulin, syringes, and blood-glucose testing for Chester. Emergency testing and medications for Elvis, who contracted Lyme disease. Regular specialist appointments and high-priced eye drops for Red. Blood work and surgery to remove two massive tumors from my guinea pig, Tyrone.

My best friend called me an animal hoarder. “But I take care of them!” I protested.

She just smiled and shook her head. “I know you do, but…”

Despite my protests, I knew I’d exceeded my capacity to cope. Most of my pets were senior citizens at this point, so I made a tough decision. As they passed away, I would not replace them. No more taking in every abandoned dog or cat that melted my heart.

My oldest cat, Paw Paw, passed first. Then, one by one, all my guinea pigs but Tyrone passed on. Sofi could no longer struggle to her feet, so we made the trip to the vet’s office and I held her as she left us. My eleven-year-old rabbit, Henry, went next, and the vet was amazed at his extreme old age.

My daughter had moved out some time before, so her animals were already gone. My other daughter moved away and took little Spike. Red, who was not so old, passed suddenly of cancer.

At this point, I am down to my one cattle dog, three cats, and one guinea pig — from eleven animals to five in a matter of months.

I love my animals. More than one person has told me they wish they could come back as one of my pets, because they’re so well loved and cared for. They are a joy and a challenge to me, and the fulfillment of my childhood dream “to have lots and lots of animals.”

But there’s a new peace in the house, more time in my day and more money in my checking account. I have more time to focus on each of my animal companions and appreciate them.

And — ironically — having fewer animals of my own has freed me to help more animals. When the house was full, and I was struggling to keep up, my goal was survival.

Now I can provide temporary homes for animals. In the last three months, I’ve been able to foster and re-home two cattle dogs, and I have another on the way. The first was an active six-month-old boy, who stayed with us for just a few days. Then for a month, we had an eleven-year-old blind dog, Dingo, relinquished by his family to a high-kill shelter. My husband, daughter and her fiancé and I — and little Spike — drove him nine and a half hours to his new home, and got a road trip in the process.

My experience with old and special needs animals has perfectly equipped me to foster dogs like Dingo, who need a little something extra. My heart always went out to these critters, and I’d end up adopting them. Now, I realize I can help so many more, just by keeping my own home a lot more streamlined, and getting the neediest of creatures into someone else’s loving home instead!

~Susan Kimmel Wright

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