Kate Plus My Eight ... And a Couple of Pets (PHOTO)

I've often wondered what life must be like for our pets: Shoka, our almost-5-year-old (half king) German Shepherd, our two beta fish, Fabio and Felicia, and our pair of tiny frogs, Leon and Neon.

I've been known to blog about Shoka's “thoughts” on specific events or happenings, but I would love to imagine what he thinks of our home life in general, as we rush around in the morning getting ready for school, and do our routine filled with tons of noise, some chaos, and (on a good day) a smoothly flowing schedule. He never seems nervous or bothered by our fast pace, but definitely pays attention when the schedule affects him. You know, meal time, grooming day, play time, and snack time!


Each day he is greeted with a warm bowl of (mostly) organic food presented by one of his favorite kids in the world. He is hugged tightly and then let outside to eat breakfast and explore the newest scents on “his” property. He watches us from his various favorite outdoor spots with love in his eyes. We go about our day, stopping to hug and kiss him or to give him a quick pat on the head -- or to simply play a quick game of “fetch” with him and his beloved (albeit “legless”) plastic chicken toy.

He's mainly very easy-going -- until a car starts up! Then his “guard dog” DNA comes to life and he's every bit the growling, barking, teeth-baring dog I know he'd be if we were ever in “real” danger. Although we have no idea what really upsets him about moving vehicles, the kids suspect he was “scarred for life” by their fleet of small battery-operated cars. When Shoka was a puppy and the kids were just 5 years old, they used to whiz around the driveway in these cars. They think he thought they were chasing him, but in actuality, he seemed to spur the chases as he “rabidly” tried to puncture their tires any chance he got with his strong jaw and teeth. It was his attempt to shut those cars down for good! It was a daily game of “car and mouse” around here. And, really, who WOULDN'T be unnerved by a fleet of crazy mini-sized cars on a driveway highway that resembled the Autobahn -- minus any traffic signs, road rules, or licensed drivers?

Regardless, that's his only “fault” and I can't honestly say I blame him for it! Bark away, boy! Oh, wait, did I mention his obvious dislike of riding INSIDE those same types of moving objects -- the real kind? I occasionally call to him to hop in the back of the BBB (the Big Black Bus) and go along with me to the bus stop. I don't have to wonder what he's thinking about cars. It's very obvious what he thinks when he plasters his ears flat against his head, tucks his tail, and slinks away, out of sight as quickly as possible. The poor guy! He looks at me like “whhhyy?” and although I can tell he WANTS to make me happy and hop in, most of the time, he just can't bring himself to join me! Oh well!

Having said that, every other week or so, our dog groomer, Rick, comes to pick him up to be groomed. For some reason, Shoka willingly rides in Rick’s vehicle. I think it's because he knows he's on his way to see his girlfriend, Inka (Rick’s dog). If I had to guess, I'd also think it’s a “guy thing” and that Shoka doesn't want to seem “wimpy” in front of Rick ... so he hops into Rick’s truck without even the slightest hesitation. In fact, his face lights up as if to say “I got this! Here I come Inka!”

Also one of his favorite “perks,” and most endearing habits, is that he knows our front door is a dog’s version of Starbucks. When he wants a “treat,” all he has to do is come to the front door (his version of the drive-through window) and someone will open up and slip him a treat. He's come to expect one each and every morning when I return from the bus stop. He ushers me to the front door, walks right inside, and sits and waits for a natural beef taffy, his favorite!

So, when I think about life through his eyes, I imagine he feels like one of the luckiest dogs alive. A great property to “rule,” delicious (and sometimes specially cooked, just for him) meals, and tons and tons of hugs and kisses from his favorite family daily -- almost more than he can handle!!!

While Shoka observes our lives primarily from outside, our fish and frog friends view our lives from inside their glass oasis on our kitchen table. Because of their glass barrier, I'd like to think they are spared the almost constant din of our ever busy household. Noise underwater is typically muffled, right? Whew, lucky for them! They are centrally located within our home and catch ALL the indoor action. As the kids sit at the table and eat, they often talk to them. Fabio, especially, has heard MANY stories over the years about school projects and events, silly jokes, and general table talk. He happily swims around the bowl looking and “waving” at each of the kids while they eat. Yes, he has a certain fin that when it moves, the kids swear he's waving to them! And he's doing his best to teach our “baby beta,” Felicia, all of his fish tricks we've come to love so much.

The most difficult part of having Fabio and friends on the table is when we have fish for dinner. Leah or Alexis will usually comment how “I feel bad for Fabio that we are eating fish in front of him.” That's usually followed by a round of low groans from everyone. Aw, what's a mom to say? That's a hard one! I try to save the day with something like, “Shhh. Maybe he didn't hear you, and he didn't ask me what we were having for dinner, so shhhh, let's keep it to ourselves!” The kids quickly realize the silliness and we all laugh and move on ... (Whew! Socially unacceptable situation number 287,942 avoided, this time with humor!)

Fabio further endears himself to us with his holiday wishes or notes of encouragement that he sometimes leaves on top of his bowl for my kids. He's got quite a vocabulary that I hope he passes on to Felicia as she grows up (wink!).

Leon and Neon are our two tiny water frogs who also dwell on our table, and to be very honest, they just plain gross me out. They technically belong to Mady and she cares for them, since she INSISTED she had to have them! But to me, they seem oblivious to our world as a whole and the only similarities I see between our family and our frogs are their fights. They seem to bicker and even have a few physical fights from time to time. I've had to knock on their habitat occasionally to break them up. Does my referee job never end here? Eventually, like our family, they make up and peace reigns again.

Between the frogs and the two fish that we've collected over time, we seem to have a small marine lab displayed right on our table. Oh how far I've come in my ability to “go with the flow” in allowing it!

A few years ago, the entire idea of fish and marine life was considered off-limits in ANY part of the house, and even the thought would have totally freaked me out. And on OUR TABLE where we EAT? Yeah, so I've really mellowed. I've got bigger fish to fry (not our pets -- I'm talking about the kind we eat in front of our pets, remember?) now.

Not that I love seeing the swimming and squirming during dinner, but from a practical standpoint, the table location helps to ensure that we won't forget to feed them, leading to their demise and the mass mourning that will no doubt bring with it. I must admit, we've become attached, and therefore, I have a major fear of our smallest pets “dying.” I've already made a mental plan to rush to our local pet store when no one is looking to find a “fishy body double” if need be -- to save the kids the sadness of losing their table top friends. I know death is part of life but I think it's in a mom’s DNA to keep our kids shielded from that unavoidable fact as long as possible -- even if it means a slight bit of this type of “trickery” here and there. Before you judge me (please refer to my last post here), if you're a mom, and you're being honest, you KNOW you'd do the SAME THING, or may have done it already!

Together, our pets enrich our lives. I've noticed that it's not totally about WHO and WHAT type of pet we choose, but more about what it means to extend ourselves to them; caring for them in order to ensure that they live happy lives and that when they are no longer with us, we know we gave them the best of everything in their little lives. It's the same principle I apply to raising my children and the same consideration I am teaching them to have for those around them -- people AND pets.

I believe that teaching children first how to care for pets -- living beings with feelings, but no voice -- will help make more responsible adults. But it will also help them to develop intuition and empathy for their family members, peers, and eventually their own children. At first glance, the enjoyment that pets bring to any family are obvious, but really, I'm thankful for each opportunity, no matter if it's a pet or some other life experience, because it's yet another chance to teach valuable lessons to my kids.

And, okay, so over time our pets have taught me stuff about myself too: I've confirmed I'm a soft-hearted animal lover who “mothers” our pets much like I mother my children. My pets benefit from it. My kids see it and emulate it. And they all adore my soft side. So there you have it!

What are your feelings on pets and "pet lovers"?

Image via Kate Gosselin

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