A few years ago, my mother was dropping her car off to be serviced; and Buster, his head hanging out the window, and I were waiting in my car to give her a ride home. One of the salesmen walked by, greeting my dog with, “You waiting for Granny?” When I joyfully recounted the question for my mother, she responded, “I am not the dog’s Granny!” I think she was less insulted by the concept of the dog-human relationship than by the chosen moniker, as she was incredibly fond of my baby to the point of declaring her intention to adopt him should anything happen to me. Sadly, she didn’t make the same promise concerning my (then) four cats and nine foster cats!

I have many acquaintances without children or with empty nests who have upgraded their much-loved pets into pseudo-children; and I know more actual parents than mine who keep their “grandcats” and “granddogs” when their children travel or move away…to college, to an animal prohibiting apartment, or to a new life across the country. And while the situation always seems to be designated as temporary, the reality seems to frequently be quite different.

Many years ago, I had a temporary assignment in the Virgin Isles, expected to last three to six months; and my parents graciously agreed to take Muttikatz, my large, tortoise-shell calico cat while I was away. Fifteen months later, when the assignment actually ended, I collected my furry child from her “grandhumans,” who, I must say, were shamefully happy to see her go.

For the last few years, we’ve been hearing in the news about the social phenomenon of grown children moving back home with their parents; and many of those children bring their pets home with them. Two family friends have experienced this phenomenon, with no apparent end in sight. In addition to renewing their parental roles, they have assumed the responsibility for the pets that their children acquired while originally living at home or those acquired while briefly out of the nest. And if/when those children leave again, I daresay they will consider the permanent tenancy of the pets as a small price to pay for their children’s independence. In fact, they may find it difficult to separate from their fur babies. My nephew left his dog with his mother when he went away to college, and by the time he was in a position to reclaim Caesar, the dog’s bond with my sister was so great that it was decided to leave him where he was.

All of this confirms my belief that our pets can and should be furry members of our families; and while it is best for them and for us to remember that they are pets, as the human half of the relationship, we must provide everything they need for happy and healthy lives. As with our children, we must provide our pets with adequate shelter, food, water, and medical care, along with quality time and socialization. They’ll more than return the favor in love.

— Pets and the People Who Love Them is brought to you on behalf of your friends at the Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter. To adopt your best friend (cat or dog), come to the shelter at 1701 U.S. 72 (behind Limestone Veterinary Clinic), visit our Facebook page or call us at 256-771-7889.

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