Family is Family.

Anyone with me in thinking that pets are more than playmates or something to feed? Here's a look at the animals—pigs, goats, and cows included—that have seasoned my life with love and joy

For whatever reason, God chose not to bless me with children. For a while there, back in my 20s and 30s, I was pretty sad about that. Instead of being surrounded by the two tow-headed sons I envisioned as a young girl, my entire life I've been surrounded with pets of all shapes and sizes. A pig named Malechy, a goat named Friday, a cow named Betsy, a Shetland pony named Honeybee, and a cat named Tigger, to name just a few.

Malechy rooted and snorted his way around his pen while my sister Heather and I watched in adoration, feeding him rotten apples and whatever else we could find and fancying him our own personal "Wilbur." Goat Friday used to chase Heather up the apple trees on our daily walks through the pasture from the school bus. We never understood why, but it always caused hilarious laughter, especially from me. Betsy lolled lazily most days, her dark brown eyes always reflecting quiet, peace, and gentleness. Honeybee took my friend Mary O'Brien and I on a wild chase through the orchard one windy fall day, ultimately upsetting the horse cart and our pride, and remained a feisty little friend throughout my childhood. And Tigger was my first cat love, a grey and white striped ball of a kitten we picked up at one of my brothers' little league games and who lived with us for 18 long, happy years.

And then there were the dogs. Many, many wonderful dogs. Nicki the beautiful black lab who shepherded the four of us safely through the many acres of our country backyard while Mom was busy doing something else. Fritzi, a fiercely loyal and smart Weimerarmer who loved us kids so much she had to die for protecting us when she bit the garbage man. It was achingly difficult to say goodbye to her, my first pet death. I cried just now thinking about it and that was over 40 years ago.

All of these lovely creatures are in God's arms now, but they live forever in my memories for the love they provided and the priceless lessons they taught, especially about enjoying life in the moment and sharing unconditional love. Lately, I've been thinking a lot about them, and my current pets, Tann Mann and Chutney Cat.

They are advancing in years, at (almost) 11 and 14 years old, respectively. I know that they, just like my aging parents and everyone I know, will not be with me forever. I will not always be able to enjoy Tann Mann's adorable sashay and swagger on our multiple daily walks, hear his paws tickle the wood floors as he pads about the house, listen to his soft, peaceful breathing on nights when I can't sleep, or watch him watch me while I'm cooking. I will not always be able to watch Chutney Cat frolicking and hunting merrily in the garden or stare into her soulful, pretty green eyes. She will not always be there to "knead" pretend dough as she plays at my side.

But, I have them both now. I have them both to love and hold and enjoy for as long as they are meant to be with me.  And, because I have watched them, and all the animals I have loved appreciate and enjoy every moment they are given, they have generously taught me how to do just that whenever possible.

God may have not have given me human children, but he has given me so many blessings, not the least of which are many beautiful pets—my fur babies. And, as my pets have taught me, I don't even have to know why. I only need to be and be grateful.



My best ever kitchen helper and friend, Tann Mann, and Chutney Cat at play in the garden.