Animals? You want to know what animals mean to us?
Well that question is an understatement on our hobby farm because we are surrounded by pets, farm and wild animals as well as nine kids all the time. Just try to even come in the front door without tripping over our huge, guard dog. Shadow is a humongous, drooling black lab mix, with overgrown feet and a clumsy personality. He was part of my children's lives for 13 years. This dog was the most quirky and annoying pet we have ever owned. He was also messy, bossy and slightly dense. His utterly hilarious behaviour would take an entire chapter in a book to really describe. After any visitor climbs over Shadow, he cannot sit for five minutes without Rebecca's cat jumping on his lap. He will certainly be distracted by Daniel's Guinea pig squeaking for veggies every time the fridge door opens and he might become dizzy watching Iggy, Mary's rabbit chase the dog around in circles. Oh, I almost forgot Katie's goldfish swimming lazily on the table.
Why so many pets? We believe that kids need to relate to animals to grow up into well balance, caring adults who can relate and feel connected to the natural world not just technological society. Just watching our children's delight in and love for pets and farm animals confirmed how important animals were to them.
Of course Michael and I love animals almost as much as we love kids. That love has been a powerful sources of energy that has transformed animals and children into confidant, intelligent beings with strong, unique personalities. Of course our livestock keep us entertained with their antics even more than our more traditional pets because well-loved farm animals want to part of the family, too.Take Daisy . This socialized goat had a charming personality. If she hadn't seen anyone in a long time, she'd bleat until one of the children at least poked their head out of the door and talked to her. She would have made more friends if she had quit eating my flowers or stealing little people's' hats and pulling on their scarves. Consequently, most of the time we tied Daisy to a post so she could see family life but not cause too many problems. However, a couple of times a week we let Daisy follow us around in the garden. As long as she mainly ate weeds, we let her hang out with us.
One afternoon, Moonlight, our ancient but regal Arabian stallion was plaintively looking through the window. He looked so forlorn that all the kids begged to let him step in for a cuddle. I finally relented, inviting the huge animal to step into the kitchen to eat a carrot and soak in a bit of love for a while. Moonlight then passively followed us out afterwards. Starlight wanted in the house all the time. As soon as he was in the yard, he always tried to open the door to the house by biting the door knob either before or after the kids had ridden him. Once he actually managed to turn the handle and open the door, much to everyone's' delight. However we made sure he didn't pull that stunt again because it was not easy dragging him out. That pony had a mind of his own.
Michael literally loves his intelligent pigs and developed an excellent working relationship with them.
One cold fall day, Michael slowly coaxed 4 huge pigs in from the pasture. Rather than turn into the dark, strange barn, they rushed past my stunned husband and ran down our long lane. Instead of tearing down the lane after 200 lb. hogs, Michael simply stayed put and yelled,
"Hey boys, come on back."
The pigs stopped in their tracks, turned around and came running straight home. Michael grabbed four apples, tossed them into the barn and his pets trotted right in. Obviously the way to train pigs is with food.
Michael's favourite pet is Mickey, a tom cat that follows him around while he does his chores. Their friendship was sealed the day Mickey stood his ground on top of a fence post as a long, thick, rough cow tongue stroked his whole front, lifting him into a standing position, Mickey simply sat back down, shook himself and stayed by Michael's side.
I can't forget to mention the local deer, groundhogs, raccoon, bears and mice have voracious appetites and seem to think our garden is grown specifically for their gourmet delight. When I also consider the sly fox who manages to steal chickens right under the nose of our beloved but dumb dog, I realize how much time is spent dealing with wildlife. It takes constant vigilance to keep at least a portion of our produce and livestock for our own enjoyment. Luckily we have team of young but enthusiastic undercover agents who act like combat spies. The kids sneak up to peak out windows, tip toe around barns and peer through bushes then run excitedly back to michael to keep him posted.
So to answer that innocent question if animals are part of our life, all of us would smile and yell, " Are you kidding?"