I am fully aware that this may make me sound a tad nuts, but every time I sign off a birthday or Christmas card I always include each member of our family – my name, my husband’s name, my two daughters’ names and then my non-human children, my two cats and two goats’ names. To me, they are important members of the family and I do truly believe that if they could, they would send these festive wishes to our friends and family too.
My absolute love, respect and adoration of animals has been a part of me for as long as I remember. I grew up in a house that apart from perhaps a year or two when I was first born, always had an animal. Birds, cats, fish, hermit crabs, a worm farm, there was always an animal to care for and love and each one taught me something unique and lasting, not just about animals, but about life. For me, having an animal was always really important for me as an individual and I knew one day when I had my own kids that I would want the same for them.
When my eldest child was born my husband and I had two cats that we had adopted from animal shelters (our first babies). They had been with us for about six years before the arrival of our human children. Having cats around our newborns sometimes got questioned by those unfamiliar with cats or with bad experiences.
“Don’t they scratch them? Won't they hop into their cot?” The answer is if you’re a responsible pet owner and parent you put precautions into place and the likelihood of anything bad happening is pretty minimal.
So no, in our case our children made it unscathed and instead built incredible relationships with Lego and Tonka (our two cats). They learnt how they should pat them, how to play with them safely and what happened if you didn’t, what cats didn’t like (water, their tails being pulled, loud noises, being woken up) and not only did they learn this, they then passed this information onto our visitors when they came around.
We discuss the very best age to bring a dog into the family, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after.
When they were old enough they started feeding them in the morning, putting their dry food into the two bowls and making sure the water was clean and filled. They became more responsible and took pride in doing these tasks.
Lego and Tonka were always around – birthdays, Christmas, Easter. Looking back at photos I always see at least one of them in the background (or foreground) as the kids unwrapped presents (sometimes with assistance), were blowing out candles on a birthday cake or trying to find eggs on an Easter egg hunt. The girls absolutely adored and loved our two cats and Lego and Tonka reciprocated this love, always finding their little laps to curl up on for a nap, or their legs to smooch when they wanted a pat.
Life, with the joy, as we know comes pain, life lessons are often hard, with animals it’s no different. Last year, my beloved Lego got sick and he had to be put to sleep. The girls came to the vet to say goodbye and waited outside while I stayed with him through the procedure. They were upset, they cried, they asked: “Why?”
At home we buried him under a beautiful tree on our property near where the girls play so as they said, “he could still hear them”. We shared our favourite memories of Lego and talked about what death means, how it is unfair, how it hurts. The experience was difficult but powerful and was something I wish we hadn’t had to experience at that point but it taught my girls so much about emotions, dealing with them and resilience.
Living with animals also teaches so much about appreciating the differing temperaments, behaviours, and needs of others – skills that are applicable to both animals and humans.
When we adopted our first goat, a three-year-old Doe (female goat), Petal she came from a farm where she had lived her entire life. She was fully grown, very timid, very big in size but the most gentle soul you have ever encountered. Owning a goat was new to everyone in our family and with that came the much learning.
We encountered the challenges of keeping a goat in a fence, protecting any plant you do not want to become a meal and the dedication of a goat to retrieve a particular plant (AKA jumping onto hind legs and leaning the two top ones on your shoulders), trimming hooves and that is not safe to eat any type of fruit, vegetable or grain in their presence.
We also learned that goats are herd animals and that Petal was lonely. So along came Clover, a female kid (a kid goat) who joined us when she was about four months old. Unlike Petal her horns hadn’t been removed which in her youth was not so much a problem but as she grew and her desire to become the more dominant member of the herd, her horns were often directed at those smaller than her, my daughters.
The girls were taught how to respect Clover’s behaviour, understand why she was doing it and if she did try to use her horns what to do. They knew that if Clover was outside her fenced area that it wasn’t safe without an adult but if she was inside that it was OK to play outside without having to worry.
Another amazing thing we’ve learned from our goats is that they love to have company. If outside their paddock they will always come and sit near the back door so they can see us through the glass. If we go outside they hear the door from wherever they are and come straight over. They adore being brushed and patted and if given the opportunity will try and come inside.
The amount adopting our animals have taught us is endless - from the practical skills required to look after another living thing to the life skills of being tolerant of different personalities, respecting difference, safety and the unpredictability of some animals, but most importantly the love, care and memories they bring to a family.
Have you ever adopted a pet? What has your experience been like? Tell us in the comments section below.