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On Stanley and Family Commitments

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He’s 79 pounds of muscle, he sports a tuxedo, he’s got gorgeous teeth (a first for the hounds in our house) and he’s very shy. And afraid of men.

On the upside, he’s a mellow youngish guy (he turns four in March), he’s healthy, he loves to jog a couple of miles every morning and he’s great on the leash.

And he’s child friendly.

Violet Rays is not a kid dog. The neighborhood kids love her because she’s beautiful (“Where’s the tiger? We want to see the tiger!” they say when they come to the door on Halloween.) But we always tell them not to touch her unless she approaches them. Violet doesn’t want to be messed with, and if you mess with her she’ll growl. And if you keep messing with you she’ll bark and show you all eight of her teeth. No biting or scratching or even lunging, but still, it can be scary.

Violet’s a member of our family. So when we adopted a human baby we knew we’d have to teach that human to avoid Violet. And we’d have to be vigilant, as kids don’t always listen and do push boundaries. At no point would we consider having to rehome Violet. The growing little human in the house was basically taught to stay far away from dogs and respect their space. And she does.

Enter Stanley. We weren’t planning to adopt another . . . anyone . . . but a friend who volunteers for a rescue group told me of a greyhound event around the corner from my house. Maybe Violet wanted to say hi to those of her kind. If Violet can be said to love anyone, it’s other greyhounds. We went to the event and she was pretty indifferent after the first five minutes, but at one point she did rest her chin on Stanley’s back. There were 15 greyhounds in the small pet food store, and Violet and Stanley were equally uninterested in the event. Sky petted Stanley and he just stood there.

Stanley (not his racing name) was a successful racer who was fresh off the track. He had spent 3.5 years in a cage and knew nothing about a home and was never in a position to make a decision for himself. He’s since been making a lot of decisions and he’s enjoying himself and has even become a bit rowdy.

The best part about Stanley is that when he came to us he wouldn’t look us in the eye and his ears were pinned back (the above photo is from the day we met him). If you moved toward him, he’d move backward. Actually, if you did that today, he’s still move backward. But if I do it, he’s fine. At first, I’d have to chase him around the house with the leash and practically tackle him to get the collar over his head and then drag him through the house and outside. Now, once he hears “Let’s go!” or the leash and collar jingling, he comes running with his helicopter tail thwapping against the child’s face as she runs along side him.

Sky reads to Stanley. She sits next to him while he’s curled up on her bed and she “reads,” pointing things out to him and touching his paw or his head when she’s making important points. If he has one of her toys in his mouth and she doesn’t want him to, she takes it out of his mouth. That would not go over well with Violet, and Sky knows the difference. She knows that she must stay away from Violet but she can approach Stanley.

The child and the cat still have a special relationship. Emily isn’t tolerant of much. She swats first and asks questions later. But not with Sky. She’s patient and dare I say even loving. She’s almost cuddly when it comes to Sky and lets Sky hug her. Emily rubs her face on Sky’s.

Stanley, Emily, Violet and Sky are members of our family. When we adopted them we made a commitment to care for them for the rest of their lives. It’s not always easy and it can be pretty exhausting. I definitely don’t think adding any more creatures of any kind to the house would be a good idea. I have no idea how anyone has more than one human child.

This time of year, I worry about animals who are bought or adopted as gifts. Would you give someone the gift of a human baby for Christmas? Of course not; that’s serious business. It’s someone’s life (not to mention it wouldn’t be possible for oodles of reasons). Just the thought of it is appalling and insulting.

If all members of a family have agreed that adding a cat or dog to the family (through adoption, of course) is a good and timely idea, and everyone agrees about responsibilities regarding the care of the animal, having the timing of the adoption coincide with a birthday or holiday isn’t a problem. This assumes that everyone also agrees that the animal will be part of the family for life. But a puppy isn’t going to mend your relationship with your child any more than a child is going to mend your relationship with your partner. Adopting anyone isn’t about doing something for yourself or filling some kind of void; it’s about doing something for someone else. And it’s also not about making someone into who you want them to be; it’s about letting them be who they want to be (as long as no one is getting hurt!). We could have put Violet through training that would “break” her and make her into a better family dog. But she’s Violet because she’s an alpha dog who doesn’t need or want a lot of affection or fuss. She wants what she wants, and I see no reason why she can’t have her life as she wants it. It takes some work, but I committed to that work and I’m happy to do it.

If you want to give a life-long home to a homeless, domesticated animal and you are fully capable of doing so, fantastic! Please remember that puppies and kittens will likely live a lot longer than seniors, and they will likely cost more over their life time. Not to mention young animals are far more work than seniors. And if you’re likely to move or separate or some other dramatic change is going to occur, please consider that, as well. (Note to my neighbor who bought a bird who would live for 70 years – in a cage – when he was 40: You are unlikely to live to 110. Have you made arrangements for the bird?)

Nonhuman animals are very much like us, and that includes not wanting to be bumped from the home when a new creature arrives, and getting consistent love and care, and freedom from suffering, for the rest of their lives.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Absolutely perfect post! I know I said I couldn't pick out a favorite quote, but along with the rhetorical question about human babies as Christmas presents, I like this a LOT:

    "Adopting anyone isn't about doing something for yourself or filling some kind of void; it's about doing something for someone else. And it's also not about making someone into who you want them to be; it's about letting them be who they want to be (as long as no one is getting hurt!). We could have put Violet through training that would "break" her and make her into a better family dog. But she's Violet because she's an alpha dog who doesn't need or want a lot of affection or fuss. She wants what she wants, and I see no reason why she can't have her life as she wants it. It takes some work, but I committed to that work and I'm happy to do it."

    Amen! And such kudos to you for raising baby Sky to respect Violet, Emily, and Stanley's individual personalities; your descriptions of them interacting are precious.

    December 17, 2011
  2. This is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing his snippet of your life & your family with us.
    I will be sharing this with three Twitter accounts and two facebook account.

    December 18, 2011
  3. Thank you very much for this post. Very insightful to any pet owner, and would be pet-owners. Respecting the personalities of each pet is important because each pet is an individual. Just like us!

    December 18, 2011
  4. CQ #

    I love the same sentences that Nicole cited. And I love that Sky and Stanley are so close. Is Stanley showing any signs of warming up to your husband yet? (You said he was afraid of men, and I can't blame him, based on what he's been through.)

    Welcome to the the rest of your life, Stanley. It's going to be as bright as your former life was dark night.

    December 18, 2011
  5. Congrats to your whole family! How wonderful that this beautiful life will have a chance to be fully realized!

    What happy news for this time of year – Thanks for sharing this beautiful gift of kindness!

    December 21, 2011

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