Casper, the dog, predated our kids. She was our "we-need-to-learn-to-be-responsible-before-we-have-kids" acquisition. She is a Cuvac (pronounced "chew-vatch") - a huge white longish-haired dog bred to work in conjunction with sheep dogs, and guard the perimeter of a property - her job is to bark and alert sheep dogs to to the presence of predators. This particular skill would be invaluable in, say, the highlands of the Alps, but is misplaced in the relative security of suburbia. Any motion along our own perimeter - a jogger, cyclist, neighbor, UPS man, visiting friend - is subject to a torrent of barking that shakes the walls. Now she is a bit hard of hearing, and so she barks all the time just for good measure - certain there is a perimeter breech somewhere that needs to be addressed.
Our cat, Coalie, joined our family last year - a gift to our daughter for her 6th birthday. My husband isn't a big cat person, so he was skeptical, but Coalie has no idea he is a cat. He is the most loving creature I've ever seen. He is particularly attached to me, and he isn't content to just perch in my lap. He wraps himself around my neck, places both paws on my shoulders and presses his face into mine. I swear he would french kiss if I'd let him. He's completely insane. He fits right in.
Rhino the hamster came about because we were just too damn tired to say no. Greta's friend Abi got a hamster last year, and the kids asked to get one every other minute for a week straight before we broke down. Coalie spends hours gazing hungrily into Rhino's cage while he putters about, oblivious. Occasionally Rhino will get out of his cage - to this day I don't know how - and we'll spend a few terrified minutes chasing the cat, who is chasing Rhino, only to pluck Rhino from the claws of death with seconds to spare. This usually happens at 2am, which is fun.
Getting chickens was an obsession my husband nurtured for years. One day he came home from work and told the kids he had a surprise for them in the car. They went squealing outside, and I followed with a sense of mild dread. I didn't know he had gotten chickens, but feared the worst. Inside a shoe box were six tiny little fluffy chicks - the kids were smitten immediately. It took me a little longer, as I was concerned with little details like "where the hell are they going to live, HONEY?" Turns out they lived in a big box in the basement until my husband could build them what I refer to as the "Chicken Condo" - a beautifully crafted A frame structure that is nicer than my living room. Chickens are actually fairly easy to care for, and we get two or three eggs a day, which is nice. We have the occasional Chicken Revolt - they all get out somehow and wander into the neighbor's yard, which prompts a visit from the Chicken Police (yes, they exist) - but otherwise they are quite low maintenance.
We've had ant farms, butterfly farms, and countless injured insects and moths found in the backyard and brought inside to be nurtured back to health. The ant farm kept itself going for a couple of months, and one by one the ants died until what we essentially had was a mausoleum of dead ants.
My kids will bring any manner of creature inside to nurture as a pet. We've had "Sluggy Slug", who munched happily on leaves for two days before perishing. Several moths - who I think live for like ten seconds on a good day - were nevertheless given a little home in a jar to live out their brief lifespan. One baby toad with an injured leg actually made it for two days before I convinced the kids to let him hobble away.
I guess one of the advantages of all this wildlife is that it has taught my kids at an early age about the Circle of Life. When we lost their favorite chicken - Yellowy -to natural causes, we dug him a grave in the woods and the kids put colored rocks down for a headstone. This was over a year ago, and I still get questions about how Yellowy is doing in Heaven. Taily-tail was the beloved Leopard Gecko who somehow escaped in the night and disappeared. I spent several weeks expecting to find his mummified corpse in a shoe, or in a closet somewhere. His fate is unknown; I have convinced the kids he went home to find his family. So far, so good.
Greta is, thankfully, mostly done with her Vegetarian Experiment. Although she is a carnivore again, I have to assure her that each and every animal she consumes was treated humanely before becoming dinner.
"Mom, promise me! Was this animal treated really nicely before it died?"
"That's a pepperoni, Greta."
"I know! Was the pepperoni treated fairly, allowed to roam free?"
And because I'm getting old, I'm tired and I just can't be bothered... "Yes, it was," I reply.