Cheryll's Writing Journal

Musings, rants and ravings, plus gems of insight nobody wants to hear now that I've finally got them. Also neat stuff I found on the 'Net when I should have been updating this blog....

Friday, January 01, 2010


I have never been without pets for any length of time until I moved to Michigan -- a place that does Winter, thus requiring that said animal would live indoors 24/7.

We spent several years in student housing, which is nominally a 'no pet' environment. In practice this meant that people who had critters took great care that the dog, cat, bird, lizard, snake, turtle, etc., did not bother anyone else, and thus hazard landlord wrath.

Having been raised in the moderate climes of Southern California, I can't imagine being able to live year round with dogs or cats indoors with me. We always had yards and fields and woods for them to play in, and my cats clearly felt that their 'very important cat business' was mostly outdoors.

In Michigan, the only place I've lived that 'does' winter, having a cat or dog means a lot of extra work. When I was a kid, we had dogs who lived in the yard or barns. Ditto cats, although one barn cat moved into the house with us after her first meal. (It was leftover spaghetti.) Even she went outdoors to do her business, however, and trained us when to open said door or window for her.

Dogs, especially big dogs, need to be 'walked' several times a day in order to be healthy and to prevent them from eating your couch in frustrated boredom. Even if people have a yard, it won't be big enough and the weather clement enough for the dog to have ready access. And picking up dog poop is NOT my fav activity, TYVM!

Cats don't need to be walked -- and I've only known a handful that would even consider it -- but they do need exercise and a litter box. They need playtime and entertainment. And that litter box smells, even when 'cleaned.'

Part of my problem is exactly that: I'm extremely (according to my family) sensitive to odors. I can detect a rotting grape under a coffee table two houses down the street (also according to my family).

Dogs smell, even before they have discovered that lusciously decomposing roadkill with which to perfume themselves. Cats don't smell, if they aren't spraying, but shed fur a much as dogs do. And their litter smells. A lot.

Further, I have too much biology background to tolerate the idea of kissing my pets, especially on the mouth. Or of letting them slather me, like, while I'm eating. Part of that probably results from having a mother in the first group of nursing students who learned about germs, all those years ago... Why, she never let her kids barefoot until our teens, and then only at the beach!

But I love animals and have always had them in my life. The first ten years were spent on a farm with cows, rabbits (3000), turkeys, chickens, ducks, banties, geese, pigs, dogs, cats and guinea fowl.
Only the dogs and one cat were pets, but all had lives separate from the human habitation. Even when my family moved into town, we had chickens and dogs, cats and birds.
While in college, I even had a fling at fancy mice -- mostly culls from the bio department's attempt to breed a triple recessive, chocolate mouse. (They succeeded, but only my cat thought the results tasted anything like their name...)

Actually, I can't imagine living without other species also in my space. That said, I've reached the age when reality is forcing me to wonder if I could reliably care for them, whether plants, animals or -- ahem -- people. (Yes, teenagers are a separate species, but that's for another post. And besides, I don't have any of those anymore.)

See, here's the main problem: I'm obsessively committed to providing the very best care for my pets, and my definition of 'best' is rigorous. So I'm afraid I won't be able to live up to that standard, these days.

For instance, I personally make pet food from scratch. Presently, my pets consist of 7 rescued budgerigars (budgies) who are my Birdie Soap Opera. So, buying fresh seeds and making my own birdseed mix isn't too demanding. I also provide a variety of organic greens, veggies, wild grasses, maple and apple and willow branches, and birdie breads that I bake for them. They have flight time out of the cage every day. Some days for several hours, some for only a few minutes until somebirdy goes for the houseplants or the light boxes or the tall clock and everybirdy is then shooed back into the cage. They know the routine.

I used to prepare food for my cats, cooking it myself. Commercial pet foods, especially the cheap ones, rely on a lot of food stuffs that aren't healthy for cats. Marketing departments know, however, that most cats will eat just about anything if enough tuna juice is poured over it!

The fact that most inexpensive dry pet foods are corn based, and most of the protein is from 'animal byproducts' -- plus domestic cats are not by nature water drinkers but rely on their prey to supply both water and greens -- means that kibble just isn't a good choice. Those 'meat byproducts' are used to increase the protein content, even though the proteins are not exactly digestible or high quality, which is a bad enough thing. But worse, the source is not natural prey species... (Neither is a cow, of course, but muscle and organ beef is better than hooves and hide.)

Most shocking however: Did you ever wonder what happens to the unwanted dogs and cats that are killed every year by various animal control agencies? Yep, collected by companies who also collect dead and diseased cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and other protein sources. These 'meats' are processed and turned into 'meat by-products' that are used to make pet foods and animal feeds. That dead dairy cow is ultimately fed back to her sisters!

But that soapbox rant digresses from my current delemma...

I hesitate to even consider a dog because not only do I feel inadequately informed or inclined to train and socialize it, but also, I doubt that I even want to take it outside and walk it 3-5 times a day in winter weather. It might actually be good for me to get that much exercise, too, but please! And then to clean it up afterwards? And deal with the smell of wet dog?

No, probably won't happen as long as I am in Michigan.

Cats might, if I could provide them with a safe way to be a cat, indoors and out. I couldn't confine a cat to an apartment any more than I can clip my birds wings to make them flightless unbirds. But in this part of the world, it would be unsafe and uncomfortable to allow cats the run of the barns and woods and snow and coyotes. Besides which, cat doors would invite in a whole army of unwanted critters!

Both cats and dogs need mental stimulation, human interaction, and exercise. Dogs, especially, need friends of their own kind. Do I have multiple critters, or do I spend a good deal of time arranging play dates? I don't really want to encourage foraging in my cupboards, garbage cans and counters, but hunting for snacks is great entertainment and helps prevent obesity and depression, especially in cats.
There is another issue, as well. Providing a safe environment with plenty of food turns the reproductive switch to the ON position. Preventing that natural process results in unnatural stresses, not to mention expense.

There is a long list of reasons for labeling my current pets, the Birdy Soap Opera! "Twin Beaks, As the Bird Turns," has a cast driven to make baby birds, and I am preventing this from happening, so all that reproductive energy gets focused in other ways: chewing, squabbling over perches, chewing, searching for suitable nesting spaces outside the cage, arguing over those spots, chewing, competing for mates, chewing..........

At one point, I had almost an open door policy for unwanted Budgies, but I am no longer replacing those lost to old age and fatty liver disease. The Birdy Soap Opera cast is down to 7, all but one being 6 or 7 years old.

We are retired and have more time to spend with pets, or so I always believed it would be. But everything from chores to fun seems to take much longer than I'm sure I remember it used to when I was still young and virile..... So, I'm trying to decide if and what pet should be introduced to my current lifestyle when the Birdy Soap is finished.

Maybe I should just join the latest urban fad and get chickens......

(Which fad, BTW, is causing most humane societies great anxiety, as they have never been set up to deal with anything more than cats and dogs, usually. They don't have a place to house stray and unwanted chickens. Just as the aftermath of those cute Taco Bell commercials was a flood of unwanted and unmanageable chihuahuas, so they expect a similar flood of chickens!)

Let's see: do I want to get up and thaw frozen water dishes and feed hens at 6am, noon, and 6pm daily? Do I want to be washing chicken poop off my boots, gloves, eggs, etc.......Not to mention dealing with dogs, coyotes, squirrels, weasels, snakes, mice, rats, flies and other critters bent on having chicken (or chicken feed) for lunch?!

Nope. Guess not.

Maybe I'll cultivate friends with pets, and go enjoy them till I'm tired of it, and come home refreshed without having to do the chores.

Yeah. That's the ticket!

Labels: , ,