Archive for the ‘Pets’ Category

Happy Birthday, Callie

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Pets
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Callie, 2 months old, 5 pounds, June 2010

Callie, 2 months old, 5 pounds, June 2010

Today my best canine friend, Callie, is four years old. Actually, we don’t really know when her birthday is. As a pup we adopted through the Kentucky Humane Society, her date of birth is more of a guess, so we say it’s April 1 just to easily remember it.

After losing my previous dog, Bonnie, to old age in 2008, I vowed to go a full year without a dog. I ended up going two full years. Meanwhile, I never missed a single week during those two years of going to the Humane Society or a pet store or some place where I could pet and hold dogs, eagerly awaiting the one that would eventually join our family.

She's never too far away from a tennis ball

She’s never too far away from a tennis ball

By the end of those two years I had set my heart on getting a Great Dane – a female, brindle-colored Dane that I wanted to name Tigger. But on one particular June day in 2010, my wife, Linda, joined me in my weekly trip to look at pups. It was that day that we saw Callie and her sibling together. A few moments of interaction convinced me that Callie was the gentler of the two pups, so we picked her up. When Linda held her, Callie quickly fell asleep in her arms. I knew right then that my plans for a Great Dane just changed to a Labrador/Border Collie mix – a Borador.

We put down a deposit to reserve the right to adopt her in the next 24 hours and left to ponder it. We didn’t have to ponder long, though. We immediately kicked into new puppy parent mode and decided to take the plunge, purchasing all the supplies we needed for our soon-to-be family member and then adopting her the next day.

I’ve always been a dog person. I’ve had dogs most of my 57 years from even before I remember them, evidenced only by family photos of young childhood before my memory of such things kicked in. I’ll always be a dog person. Those two years between Bonnie and Callie were woefully long for me and I have no intention of having such a dog-less gap again.

Callie and Jeff

She puts up with my Halloween costumes

However, even though I’ve had a dog most of my life, I can easily say I’ve never had a relationship with a dog like I do with Callie. We are inseparable. We completely understand each other. Each of us knows what the other is thinking. I regularly shake my head in amazement that two members of very different species can live in such harmony and with such a love for each other. It is no less than amazing.

We often point to our pets (especially dogs) as incredible examples of unconditional love. It’s sad that we have to point to animals instead of people for that at times, but it’s common to do so. The extreme greeting that awaits me at the front door when I get home from work (or even from a short trip to the store) – the constant presence by my side wherever I go – the nuzzling up against me – the eagerness to walk, jog, or go for a ride in the car – the joy of playing – the security of routines – the eagerness to please – the good morning, evening and any other time kisses – even crawling under my side of our bed to sleep as close as physically possible to me – this is a human/canine relationship that tops all others in my past. I cannot imagine one closer. When hugging her, I frequently refer to her as my little furry bundle of well-being.

Always eager to walk, jog or run

Always eager to walk, jog or run

I don’t know if there will be animals in heaven or not. I believe that this world will one day undergo a radical transformation and that God will re-create in its place a new heaven and a new earth. I believe His perfect original world certainly included all kinds of animals. He chose to save his animal kingdom via Noah during the Great Flood (the biblical one – not the Hollywood version). The birth of Jesus was likely witnessed in that Bethlehem stable by animals. I see no reason to think that a perfect re-creation won’t also include all kinds of species that show the handiwork of our Creator. If and when that day comes, I know which one non-human companion I would love to have with me for eternity, and that is Callie. I know it sounds weird to say that or to think about it, but that is how I feel. As a father who enjoys seeing his children get that which makes them happy, nothing will surprise me about what my heavenly Father might do for His children.

So happy birthday, Callie. I know you don’t read and you don’t know what a birthday is. But you know what love is – both to give and to receive it – and I thank you for being such an incredible friend and companion every day.

Callie Asleep

In her place by my side on the couch

Lessons From My Dog

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Pets
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Callie helping me form a dog beard

For years I’ve kept a tall poster hanging beside my favorite chair. The poster is titled “All I Need to Know About Life I Learned From my Dog.” It contains the following advice which makes perfect sense for dogs and to some extent for people, although I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of all the suggestions from a human standpoint:

  • If you stare at someone long enough, eventually you will get what you want.
  • Be direct with people; let them know exactly how you feel by piddling on their shoes.
  • When it comes to having sex, if at first you don’t succeed, beg.
  • Be aware of when to hold your tongue and when to use it.
  • Leave room in your schedule for a good nap.
  • Always give people a friendly greeting; a cold nose in the crotch is effective.
  • Don’t go out without I.D.
  • When you do something wrong, always take responsibility (as soon as you’re dragged out from under the bed).
  • If it’s not wet and sloppy, it’s not a real kiss.
  • When you go out into the world, remember: always take time to smell the roses…and the trees, the grass, the rocks, the street, the fire hydrants…

We learn a lot about life from the magnificent creatures and creation around us. I marvel every day at the simple fact that another species lives contentedly in our home as a member of the family. I’m amazed that we seem to understand each other perfectly. The joy the relationship brings is satisfying and consistent – a source of comfort every day. I shake my head in wonder at the depth of love we share, and the unlikeliness of how it all came to pass walking past a Humane Society location in a pet supply store over three years ago.

There is much more to life and this universe than what we humans sometimes imagine in our self-centered, human-centered perspective. This day and every day I am thankful to be part of a larger story – one that involves the mystery, joy, and unconditional love of a sweet little canine friend, Callie, who is such a big part of my world. I’m an even bigger part of her world. I don’t understand how it all works, but it does, and I am thankful.

Abby and Gorilla

Abby watching a gorilla at a distance

Apart from the observation that some children appear to be animals, this post is a commentary on how well children and animals go together.

I had the chance over the past few days to witness this fact again for the millionth time, first when my wife and I took our granddaughter to the zoo on Tuesday, and then in watching children around animals at the state fair on Wednesday.  Of course, every day’s walk with my dog to a nearby park also reinforces the attraction of kids to animals and vice versa.

On Tuesday’s trip to the Louisville Zoo, my granddaughter was most anxious to see the giraffes.  We headed in that general direction and soon saw the giraffes as part of our 2.5 hours of strolling around all kinds of animals.  Fortunately, we caught her before she crawled under a barrier that would’ve allowed her right next to an indoor stall where a baby giraffe was feeding.  (Shhhhh… don’t tell her parents.)  There is a natural curiosity of children toward animals as well as a lack of fear, even when a healthy dose of fear (or at least respect from a distance) is in order.

This was my first trip to the zoo with Abby, and as animal lovers, we felt right at home.  It won’t be our last.

Kids watching ducks at the state fair

Kids watching ducks at the state fair

Then Wednesday at the state fair we witnessed many, many animals.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the small children who were members of the families who owned the farm animals and cared for them.  They were right at home pulling up a chair and sitting next to their animals, walking them, grooming them, showing them, leading them, talking to them, etc.  It was just as natural to those children as could be.

We also sat and watched a little bit of a horse show while at the fair, the first competition being with riders who were eight years old on their huge show horses.  On a return trip later in the day, I noticed a small petting zoo area I had missed earlier.  Petting zoos are child magnets as little hands reach out to touch whichever animals they are allowed to pet.

Last night while walking my dog at the park near our home, two young boys chased me down to ask if they could pet Callie.  The answer to that question will always be, “Sure!”  Callie knows no strangers and will befriend anyone interested in her.

Younger Abby riding Callie

Younger Abby riding Callie

It didn’t take experiences from this week, though, to teach me about kids and animals.  I grew up with pets nearly all my life.  My parents and grandparents owned farms with horses and cattle.  I’ve almost always had a dog or two as well as a variety of other pets.  Life just doesn’t feel right for me unless I have a canine companion nearby.

I think it’s important for children to have pets.  So many life lessons can be taught through such a relationship.  It is through having a pet that many children first learn to take care of another creature who depends on them for food and drink.  The companionship of a loving pet provides joy, satisfaction and unconditional love that is not always felt in human relationships.  Some of life’s toughest lessons such as dealing with grief are taught through the tears of losing a beloved pet.  Respect for all of God’s creation is best taught through actual interaction with that creation rather than as a philosophical concept we hope carries over should the opportunity arise.

My son, Jason, at age 3 covered with cicadas

My son, Jason, at age 3 in 1987 covered with cicadas

So parents, I encourage you to endure the inconvenience of having pets when the children don’t keep their promise of taking care of them as they said they would when you got the pet.  Allow them the chance to have some strange creatures in your home that you’d be quite content to never have inside your walls (like the tarantula I had in high school).  Accept the added expense of pet food, cages, supplies and vet bills as a childhood rite of passage even though you have other things you’d rather spend your money on.  Don’t freak out when kids come in the door with a shoe box or a jar saying, “Look what we caught!”

By allowing and encouraging your children to live life harmoniously with animals, you are teaching your children about some of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of our world.  You are teaching them to respect life in all of its forms.  You are teaching them compassion that leads them to care for others who can’t always care for themselves.  You are teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, but that we are part of an amazing planet made richer through frequent interaction with other species.

We need our children to grow up with a healthy respect and love for nature and all forms of life.  That is most likely to happen through actual participation with nature in all its fantastic variety of plant and animal life.

Parents, grandparents, and guardians, please make sure that the children in your life have the chance to grow up with and interact with animals along the way.  It has the possibility of making them better people and contributing to a better world.

Dog Owners, Please Do This

Posted: August 15, 2013 in Pets
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Callie eager for our walk

From the very day we got our Border Collie/Lab mix Callie a little over three years ago at the age of two months, we socialized her.  I took her on walks and intentionally headed toward places where other people and dogs would be found.  She has a sweet disposition, anyway, but it was still important to give her as many opportunities as possible to be around other dogs and people so that she would be easy to get along with.  As a lifetime dog owner and lover, it bothers me when people allow their dogs to be unsocialized, always barking at other people and unfriendly toward other dogs.

With tonight being an unseasonably cool August night here in Louisville, Kentucky, there were far more people and dogs at the nearby park than normal.  Everyone had the same idea of taking advantage of the weather.  Unfortunately, Callie and I ran into more than our share of very unsocialized dogs along the way.  In one case, the owner had to pick up and hold her little yappy mutt as we walked past.  Another one allowed Callie to get close enough to sniff noses but then snapped at her in an instant.  The other owner and I both pulled the leashes quickly to separate them.  Such incidents always take Callie by surprise because she assumes other dogs are friends until they prove otherwise.  A few other owners made sure their dogs weren’t allowed to get close to Callie as we passed each other.

Unfortunately, having one episode after another like the above made the walk far less enjoyable than our normal 2.5-mile evening stroll.  Sadly, it is all very preventable if the owners do their job.

While dogs certainly have their own dispositions and personalities, I believe any can be trained if they are in the hands of good dog owners.  And, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, even if the “trick” is getting along with others.

Dog owners, please socialize your dogs.  The world will be a happier place for you, your dog, and others you meet along the way.

p.s. –  If you need some sound advice for dog training, I highly recommend the resources – some free, some available for purchase – from Eric Letendre at