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Pets are Family Too by Mark Michniak

Our family consists of myself, my wife, our oldest who is 14, and our youngest who is 8. Our family also is made-up of two fury creatures: a Border Collie named Lucy who is 7 years old and Guinea Pig named Coco. When people say pets are part of the family, nothing could be more true in our family!

We adopted Lucy 6 years ago from a dog rescue. Our oldest had expressed an interest in getting involved with Agility (where dogs run an obstacle course) and friends who run their dogs through Agility said Border Collies are great for that. So it was of great surprise, and a little disappointment, that we took Lucy to our her first Obedience Class through the Park District and discovered that Lucy does not like or get along with other dogs!  She never stopped barking at the other dogs the entire class! With that behavior, we could never take her to an Agility event where she would spend the entire time barking at or going after other dogs. So Lucy became our home dog in which we have to be careful whenever we take her for a walk not to get her close to other dogs and it is even more work when we take her to the vet!

Coco came to our house after months of begging by our oldest to my wife. When my wife was young, she had a bad reaction to a Guinea Pig and has had a fear of being near one her entire life. Fast forward to January of 2017, our daughter, after doing a lot of research online, did a full 15 minute presentation on Guinea Pigs and convinced my wife that she would be ok, that she would not have a bad reaction again. In the beginning, my wife was very cautious insisting that we all wash our hands or use hand sanitizer after holding Coco and told our daughter to keep her bedroom door closed so that Guinea Pig smell did not affect my wife. After about a month, my wife warmed-up the idea of us taking Coco out of the bedroom once in awhile and my wife actually got brave enough one day to pet Coco. Over a short period of time, my wife went from deadly scared of Coco to petting her, holding her, going into our daughter’s room to feed her, and letting Coco lay on her! I have never seen such a transformation in someone and today my wife acts as if she never had that first scare in her life.

So these two fur-faces are part of our family. Just like we have to take care of our children, we have to make sure that our pets are fed and well-taken care of every day. Our daily ritual with Lucy entails fresh dog food every day, fresh water, being let-outside twice a day, treats throughout the day and being walked once a day with treats after the walk.  Coco gets fresh hay, vegetables, and water every day and gets held several times a day. Our daughter also makes sure her crate gets cleaned-out with fresh bedding once a week.

Outside of daily life, interesting events come up involving our pets. For example, if we know we are going to be gone for a long time in a day, we have to make sure we let Lucy out before we go and then make sure we are not gone more than 8 hours so she is not holding in her urine or feces for too long  If we go anywhere overnight, we have to make arrangements for our pets to be watched while we are gone. Usually for Lucy that means we board her at our vet and my brother-in-law’s family already has two Guinea Pigs, so we will leave Coco at their house. Lucy gets special medicine to fight fleas and ticks once a month from April through September and we give her a bath about twice a year. Coco has to have her nails clipped by the vet about every 3-4 months because Guinea Pigs have a vein that is near their nails and if you accidentally clip it, she could bleed profusely, meaning possible death!

Having them as pets is A LOT of work, but they bring so much joy to our family! I take Lucy for her walk every day and we walk anywhere from 15-45 minutes at a time. This has been great exercise for both of us and allows me some quiet time with my thoughts as well as the chance to get out of the house for a little while. Whenever we have company over, our daughter will bring Coco out and people flock to her asking to pet and hold her. I have read in a couple of places now that that physical act of petting an animal is both psychologically and physically good for the brain! I especially enjoy petting Lucy because she shows her appreciation by “smiling” as I do it and “asking for more”. While typing this blog she has walked up to me a couple of times and I have pet her head. It is also nice that anytime I am gone for awhile, when I walk in the door, Lucy is standing there, tail wagging, and happy to see me! Only a pet can show such devotion and appreciation every day!

I can’t imagine my life without our pets. Someday they will cross rainbow bridge and when that time comes, we will be very sad. Until then, we enjoy the time we have with them and don’t take for granted that they are such a big part of our lives!

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