By Seth Dukes
I have spent my entire life around animals. My mother used to breed Schnauzers when I was younger. We had an entire separate building on our property for it. We were all animal lovers, so we had a host of other animals. From an African Grey Parrot that ruled the roost to hairless cats, we’ve had about every animal you can think of. The only animal I’ve never owned or helped raise is a snake, and I think I plan on keeping it that way. The very first dog I remember being around was a Schnauzer named Snuggles. She earned that name because she always wanted to be a close to you as possible. We also had two cats when I was very young: Sam and Taz. All three would live to be very old, and I’m glad I got to grow up right along with them. We also had some very interesting critters over the years. I remember being probably 5 years old or so and feeding our albino Oscar fish (who was appropriately named Oscar) worms. This fish was giant. I’m not exactly sure how long he lived, but he definitely lived longer than any of us expected. After I saw the movie Austin Powers, I simply had to have a hairless cat. So, rarely saying no to any kind of animal acquisition, my mother got me one. If you’ve never felt a hairless cat, they have a very, let’s say, unique feeling. Obviously, I named my new companion Mr. Bigglesworth, just like the movie. He was a sweetheart, and since he had no hair, he always wanted to sleep right on my neck where it was nice and warm. Technically, I have three cats and a dog, but only two cats are here with me in Brandenburg. My other cat Gandalf, who has been featured in these pages before, stays at home with my grandparents. I would be remissed if I didn’t mention Capone, my dog. He’s a mutt that I found on craigslist my sophomore year of college. To say that he and I have been through a lot together is an understatement. We’ve lived in four different homes and many roommates. One of the most terrifying nights of my life was one Capone was hit by a car. He escaped out the door as one of my roommates was leaving (he’s very sneaky, and he was very young at the time) and ran right out into the road in the path of a car. He was hit, not moving, and I thought for sure I had lost my best friend. Luckily, he’s tough as nails, and he turned out fine, which is more than I can say for the front of that car that hit him. Capone is also at my grandparents’ house, where he has essentially become my grandfather’s dog. My grandmother says that Capone has my grandfather trained much better than she could ever train him. He tells my grandfather when he’s ready for breakfast (usually oats and/or a couple of eggs) and when he’s ready for bed. His absolute favorite activity is going to take the trash to the dump. Afterwards, he goes by Dairy Queen to visit his “girlfriend” as my grandfather calls her, who gives him ice cream. Growing up with so many pets had a positive impact on the person I became. Not only did they provide comfort and fun for me, but they also taught me a lot. I didn’t have the kind of chores that most children have. Almost all of my chores revolved around helping take care of the animals, and they didn’t feel like chores at all to me; I loved every second of it. I learned at a very young age that no one but you is going to take care of your responsibilities for you. If I didn’t clean that kennel, a magical being wasn’t going to come along and do it for me. I also learned that skirting your responsibilities had real consequences. Unlike a child that forgets to do the dishes and has to deal with a disgruntled and frustrated parent, if I neglected my responsibilities, I felt very guilty. It was my responsibility to make sure that these critters were safe and comfortable, and if I failed, then I felt terrible. Of course, my mother did most of the work, but I still felt like I had very important jobs. As I got older, animals also taught me to look on the bright side. There’s never been a time in my life when an animal hasn’t been in the house with me, whether it was a dog, a cat, or something else entirely. I remember coming home from work on many occasions feeling like I was going to explode, but then my critters come running up to me as if it’s the first time they’ve seen me in a decade, and it all melts away. I’m not a doctor, but I’m sure that animals have helped me cope with untold amounts of anxiety through the years. Pets never ask you for money. They never complain about what they are eating for dinner. You never have to worry about your pet going out and getting arrested. They’re always there for you, and they’re always on your team. All they ask for in return is a little love and devotion. So, if you’ve got a fur baby nearby, reach over and give them a pet. They’ve earned it.