Ann, Phillip and Eric Huff with Russell the dog, Jeffrey the rabbit and Travis the tortoise
I recently adopted two Labrador puppies - a brother and sister. The black female and chocolate male came to my house after my youngest son started his second year of college. The adoption was made while my husband was out of town. I like to say I surprised him when he came home, and surprised he was. Aren't they cute, I asked? Of course, he said, all puppies are cute, but they grow up and they chew and they dig their way out of yards and weren't we going to do some traveling once the kids left home?
All that is true, but it didn't take long for these adorable siblings to wiggle their way into my husband's heart. We started obedience classes together, take turns in the pool with them and yes, we travel but we take the labs with us and in the process we have discovered gracious communities that throw out the welcome mat when it comes to dogs.
We are not alone when it comes to puppy love (or cat fascination or even turtle fixation). Pets, it seems, add a whole new dimension to one's life no matter what stage of life you happen to be in.
Pets can be a lot of work and may be with you for as many as 15 to 20 years. They need your time and attention and the costs of pet care can be quite high. So why are these little creatures so hard to resist?
"It's what you get back in return," said veterinarian and Saugus resident David Hinebaugh of the Granada Veterinary Clinic. Furry, feathery or hard-shelled, Hinebaugh said companionship and unconditional love are to two top reasons families and individuals bring pets into their lives.
"Pets accept you with all your faults," he said. "All they need is some attention from you and you have a friend for life."
A friend is exactly was Val Verde resident Ellen Chambers was looking for when her daughter Sage began asking for a dog. While waiting for little brother Will to reach the age of 5, Ellen and her husband began looking for that perfect pet. They settled on a Rat Terrier, a small but sturdy dog and one that is able to keep up when the family goes on trail rides.
Sharon Rendall with dogs Barkley and Sophie
"We picked the perfect little dog," Ellen said. "She has the strength of a big dog, but the tenderness needed when Sage is having a bad day. She can always rely on her unconditional love." The Chambers always take the dog and their cat on vacations with them. Sometimes it takes a little maneuvering, but the pets travel well and Ellen said she couldn't imagine leaving home without them.
When speaking with Valencia resident Ann Huff, you assume she has a family of boys to tend to: Phillip, Eric, Russell, Jeffrey and Travis. While husband Phillip and son Eric can usually fend for themselves, Russell, the Rat Terrier, Jeffrey the rabbit and Travis, a desert tortoise, need a little more attention.
"Over the years, we have had interesting pets," Huff said. "People who have pets know that there are great lifetime memories to be had. When people talk about their pets, their eyes light up and I wanted that for our son."
The Huffs initially brought home a rabbit after the family dog had passed away. They wanted something small and quiet. Eventually their son Eric talked them into getting another dog and the Huffs settled on the Rat Terrier. "It's an inside dog, which is something I never thought I'd do, but now I enjoy it," Huff said. Travis the turtle came after the family applied to the California Turtle and Tortoise Society. Now when Eric is doing his homework, the turtle, rabbit and dog are all nearby.
Huff says no more pets, but she leaves her options open. "Maybe in the future," Huff said. "You never know!"
The future could be as close as the nearest animal shelter. You may have heard about the new mix breed "designer" dogs that are so sought after by celebrities. You don't have to be rich and famous to have one of these animals. Just pop into any animal shelter and you will find plenty of adorable mix breeds at a fraction of the cost. You also get the added benefit of knowing you have saved a life.
For some families, animals can parlay into an entirely new career path. Consider Paco and Norma Vela. Both in the entertainment business (Paco as an actor, Norma as a television writer), they found their shared passion for horses expand when their youngest child graduated from high school and moved into her own place. Paco, who had been teaching horseback riding on and off for several years, took his experiences with horses a step further by enrolling in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program.
"It looks like a horse-training program, but it's actually a people-training program," says Paco. "Using communication, understanding and psychology with a horse, I've developed more patience. I communicate more clearly. It works pretty well with people, too."
Paco and Norma Vela with horses Lefty and Gordon
His wife and son, Frank, agree that Paco is happier and calmer than he's ever been. "He's like Zen Dad," Frank adds, "It takes a lot to get him bothered." This specialized "horse-whisperer" style has also captured Norma's interest during the years and now the two of them work side by side, expanding their business.
"Paco's always going to be ahead of me in most of the program, because he's just gifted as a teacher and an athlete. But we still get competitive with our horses and that keeps it fun." Paco and his horse Lefty spent several months in Colorado during the last four years and has advanced his horsemanship well past Norma's. "But Gordon and I have done more jumping than he has," she insists. Paco rolls his eyes. "Well, we have," she grins, "See how patient he is?" It's a great way to get older together without growing old.
A well-trained dog is just what Sharon Rendall has in Barkley, her Great Dane. Once a show dog, Barkley now spends his time as a therapy dog. Barkley is one of several dogs involved with Delta Pet Partners Therapy program along with Sophie, Rendall's Chihauhua. Rendall takes Barkley and Sophie to hospitals and schools where they interact with patients and children.
Studies have shown that people with borderline hypertension had lower blood pressure on days they took their dogs to work. Seniors who own dogs go to the doctor less than those who do not. Children who interact with pets have positive self-esteem and enhanced cognitive development. Rendall said most people just light up when Barkley enters the room.
"I love animals and when I retired I was looking for something to do in the community," she said. "The reward of just seeing one person smile makes my day."
Growing old or growing up, there is nothing like the feeling and companionship one gets from owning a pet; large, small, feathery or furry. Animal lovers seem to have endless patience with everyday life stresses. Experts agree that pets are a great comfort during emotional periods in your life and have the ability to sense when you are having a bad day.
Prolong your life and spread the love. With a little research you will find that perfect pet just waiting for you.