As I (Henri Bianucci) have mentioned before, our family is blessed with a pack of eight dogs. Their backgrounds are as varied as their genetics, and all but one came to be ours due to a failed fostering effort.
Initially, it’s like a game of hot potato, and we are ready to let just about anyone adopt a new foster. With time, we become more attached to them, and begin to really feel the weight of our decisions.
We understand that we alone are responsible for setting the trajectory of the rest of that animal’s life. It’s easier when it’s just “that dog,” but the longer we have them, the more their individual personalities, and thus identities, emerge, and the more discerning we become.
So, the excuses begin. At first, the concerns are reasonable — that they don’t have a fenced yard, so they might put the dog on a chain; or they work all day and the dog will be alone.
These give way to excuses such as “there is a history of alcoholism on the mother’s side, three generations back.”
Eventually, no one seems a qualified candidate, so we give up and welcome them to the family, probably after having passed on many homes that are actually far better than ours.
This is our explanation, or excuse, but the ones who are least likely to buy it, are my kids, now young adults. They do accept and even love the dogs, but they are clearly annoyed from time to time with the abundance of canine companions with which they have been forced to co-habitate. It may be a fear that they are actually related to hoarders.
In any event, it is at these times that my wife is quick to point out to them that their father is a veterinarian, and that all of the advantages that they have had in life are owed to the fact that their father, and mother, love animals.
Their home, clothes, education, trips, etc., are all due to our love of dogs and cats. This fact is not totally lost on them, although one daughter responded to this line of reasoning by saying that although our friend is a psychiatrist, and his kids owe their advantages to that, he does not keep eight insane people in his home.
It’s impossible to point to the one occurrence that is most responsible for anyone’s existence. In fact, it’s the merging chains of events that bring any of us into existence, and these chains span to the beginning of the universe. We can point to any one of these events and be relatively sure that we would not exist had it failed to occur.
I like to pick out certain events to reinforce a certain point. When my kids don’t seem to appreciate animals as much as I think they should, I explain that they actually owe their lives to a turtle.
I was a college freshman at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It was a Saturday in the spring and I was walking home from the library. As I passed the student union, I noticed a group of clearly intoxicated students engaged in a game of hockey. As I got closer, I could see that the puck was actually a turtle. Although this was borne more of ignorance and intoxication than cruelty, it was unacceptable. I stormed over and took the turtle. It was chipped, bruised and bloodied. I walked away with it to disapproving jeers and although I was furious that they would treat an animal like that, I also felt like a little bit of a nerd.
I had my books in one hand, and was holding the turtle in the other and was anxious not to be seen as I continued across campus.
The campus was practically deserted, but there was one person walking toward me. As we drew closer, I couldn’t believe it. It was a girl I had known in high school. She was a year ahead of me, and her boyfriend and I did not like each other. So, naturally she was not too fond of me. I knew she didn’t go to school here, but there she was, and although we never spoke back home, running into each other made it unavoidable. She explained that she was visiting a friend, but due to the friend’s drug problem, she was spending the visit largely on her own.
Then there was the turtle. It broke the tension, as she was equally appalled by what had been done to it. It was an immediate source of common ground.
Saving that turtle put me on that sidewalk at the only time that would have led to an encounter with that girl, who is now my wife.
So when my kids make fun of me stopping on the road to move a turtle or check to see if something is really dead, I remind them that a similar act of compassion was pivotal to their existence.
Fortunately, they have yet to point out that it was also someone’s drug problem that shares credit with the turtle.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.