“Exactly how many animals do you have?” asked a man who said he reads my column regularly.
I have to admit, I had to run a quick count.
And a couple weeks ago when a nasty funk developed in the garage, the smell of death led me to conduct a head-count to make sure the pets were all accounted for.
Luckily, or unluckily as it were, the funk turned out to be a bag of rotten boiled eggs that missed a couple trips to the landfill because my kids threw them inside a box they “thought” was trash.
But the reflex thought that one of the pets might have crawled off to die unnoticed was a reminder that there’s a lot of us — just one big, happy-funky-family.
The reptiles, and dogs and cats and horses and fish tally less than 10. But then there are the wild things, the reptiles and insects and birds and stray dogs and cats, that have chosen to cohabit our property with us. (Thank God teenagers don’t count in this equation because those I am definitely overrun with.)
But the critters I claim don’t even scratch the surface of the diversity I would have if I had infinite resources, time and the space.
Yet there has to be a point where enough is enough, even when you would rather have more.
I have a close friend who jokingly refers to she and I as “collectors,” and we enjoy ribbing each other about it, especially when a new critter is brought home.
We also have a pact that if we ever tip over the precipice into hoarding, the guilty party gets snatched bald and is made to do the right thing and give up the critters.
We discuss our animals every time we talk — working through health concerns, training issues, diet, when it’s right to end a life and the moral and physical limits to “animal collecting,” with both of us quick to say they are our lives and it’s a life with many rewards.
But we have seen the other side as well.
Really it appears to be a balance, which when maintained is a pleasant experience, but when tipped one way or another, it becomes unbearable or even critical for animals and humans.
The road to hell was paved with good intentions, as Karl Marx said.
So in order to protect the balance and make the intentions meaningful, you have to turn away a lot of kittens.
Essentially, the quality of life needs for the humans and the animals must be met.
In a home overrun by out of control pets, dangerous behavior issues surface toward the other animals and humans. The critters ruin the home and present health issues because they don’t care where they potty.
Animals need the space to exercise and do what they do, adequate food, shelter, medical care and some (not all, as in the case of some reptiles) need attention from their humans.
In all reality, the more you live with animals, the easier it gets to resist taking them home, because you know at the other side of loving them and hugging them and calling them “George” there are torn carpets and holes in the yard and bigger bags of food and vet bills that mean you’ll never retire.
And I personally take in an animal with the commitment to see it through its life-span, so that doesn’t leave a lot of vacancies at the inn.
Yet there’s that balance …
At any given time — as they age and die or someone new joins the pack — the specific answer changes to the question, “Exactly how many animals do you have?”
But the true and best answer is probably more like, “more than I should; but never enough.”
… Ahhh balance.