I’ve always been a sucker for a fuzzy face. Okay, or a scaly, feathered, whiskered, hairless, you-name-it face. At five years old when we were living with a rat infestation of gigantic proportions, I would find the newborn baby ones, no bigger than the end of my pinkie finger, blind and pink and hairless, and try to save them by feeding them milk with an eyedropper.
My parents attracted a massive number of dogs and cats, the worst-looking, bumpy, itchy, torn up, unloved strays. Animals that others would have had put down upon first sight. We always had more love than money and probably common sense as well. I’m sure today they would be called animal hoarders but that is far from the truth. They merely couldn’t turn away the hard-luck cases and felt that any life was better than a cold table and a needle waiting at the end of a dark hallway.
We even took in a rooster once. When we found him, some boys had him tied to a lawnmower dragging him down the road. He never quite recovered, suffering from PTSD his whole life. He was convinced he was a dog and would crow at the moon instead of the sun.
My brother and I continued to rescue anything injured or lost that crossed our paths, birds that flew into windows, a baby owl lost and flightless on the highway, possums, moles, once a likely rabid racoon which we caught with a MacGyvered catchpole fashioned from nylon rope and the hollow leg of an antenna tower. When our huge pet fish jumped to his doom from a bowl of water to the floor, I held him and swam him around his tank in an effort to perform fishy CPR.
My approach to animals now is a little more sane. I have one indoor dog, the infamous Paw of Thunder and three outside dogs who have the entire forest as their playground. Mister Thunderpaw is my constant companion, following me faithfully around during the day. He naps on my feet while I fold laundry and cook, chases the sweeper while barking madly and never likes to be away from his people. He’s utterly spoiled with his spa days and his brushings and his cuddles, his sticky chews and his walkies.
The outside dogs hang out in their straw-filled manger when it’s cold or splash through the creeks and run around chasing squirrels in the summer. They clamber in at feeding time for their ear scritches and belly rubs.
I’m thankful that my life has been full of a constant cast of creatures. I think they’ve taught me empathy and compassion and that there isn’t some sort of limit on how much you can love. Your heart just keeps expanding to include more. And though there will always be cat and dog shaped holes there too, for the ones I’ve lost, there is always a new needy, fuzzy face demanding my attention and helping to fill the void.