Sunday, May 1, 2011

How many pets is too many? Time for soul-searching

Bonnie contemplates a nap
For the past 20 years, pets have been my passion, sometimes to the exclusion of other equally important pursuits, like marriage and family. Over the past year, I have tried to find more balance in my life.

I tend to overdo things. When I fostered dogs, I had five or 6 at a time, rarely just one. When I started owning horses, I suddenly had four instead of one. Then I got a donkey. When I got a second dog, I soon had a third, a fourth and a fifth. Two cats became four cats. Two box turtles expanded with the addition of two sulcatta tortoises.

I had a serious, and traumatic, reality check about 8 years ago. My marriage imploded and I was on my own. My husband kept a horse, the donkey, our Lab Tank, and the sulcatta tortoises. Off I went with two dogs, one horse, two cats and the box turtles. I didn’t exactly travel light. I promptly bought another horse and adopted two more dogs.

I finally realized I didn’t have to save every homeless dog myself, and I can’t adopt them all either. I quit volunteering for rescue and started boarding dogs. Now I say to myself that I still get to know all these different breeds, but I don’t have to own them. I joke that I rent them until the feeling passes. I sometimes had as many as 12 guest dogs. I’ve cut the number back to 6 or 7, max.

As my own dogs pass away I do not plan on getting more. I’d like to stick with two of my own. My two female shelties, Bonnie and Lily are 13 now. Too many dogs equal too much stress, on the animals and me.

I went on a horse-acquiring spree last year, and adopted two more horses. One died (Honey) within six months. Now I am at a manageable number and plan to stick with three. Two and a half, actually, since Sherlock is a Shetland pony! I will not replace them when they die.

Ethel's new home
The box turtles
The big change (maybe not to you, but to me it was) is that I found a new home for my box turtles. After 20 years, they are in a place where they live in a dirt-and-bushes habitat instead of a terrarium. With all these dogs, I couldn’t safely keep them in the yard. Their new owner is a dedicated reptile expert, my friend Liz Palika. I couldn’t have found a better person. She wrote the book, Turtles and Tortoises for Dummies. Fred and Ethel should be very happy. I will post photos as soon as I get some.

I was pretty anxious about letting them go. Here I was, hovering and giving Liz feeding instructions, like she needed to be told. She reports that one of them is sleeping next to Pearl, her leopard tortoise, every night.   

Another issue
Lurking in the back of my mind is another issue: money. Like everyone else, I have been touched by economic woes, and I realize I cannot continue to spend so much money on the animals. As I inevitably age, my earning power will drop. Horses live 30 years or more, and Star is only 10. As pets age, they require more care for end of life issues.

My love for animals has not waned. But common sense has finally settled in. Whoever said “Everything in moderation,” gave good advice. It’s time I listened.  
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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

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