good life with sarah innerst-peterson
Part of cultivating a good life is taking care of the critters.
At our home we have a lot of companion animals. One of the many lessons I have learned from the experience of caring for all of these furry, feathered, and scaled friends is that when I care for another living thing, my life, in turn, becomes richer. Deeper. More fulfilling.
Hamlet was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi from a rescue agency who stole my heart the very first time I saw him and he became one of my dearest friends. Everyone who knew him knows how close he and I were, but not many people are aware that we were that close from the moment we met. Instead of developing a closeness over time as many people do with their companion animals, Ham and I had an immediate and profound connection that was sustained over time. This connection was a source of great comfort and innumerable life lessons for me.
We met at a corgi rescue facility in Campbell, California. I was looking for a dog, and Debbie, the owner of the facility, had brought out many, many homeless corgis. We had all played and laughed for a long time. For some reason, I asked if there were any others and she said there was one, but I wouldn’t be interested in him because he was untrainable and incorrigible. This, of course, was my Hamlet.
When they released him from his pen, he raced out the door and stopped, striking a pose that I came to call his “high mountain corgi” look — back straight, feet square, head held high, in profile. He obviously expected to be the focus of great admiration. After he had held that pose for a moment, he charged down the hill, ran a circle around me three times, and did this little dance, all the while grinning ear to ear.
That day Hamlet taught me something about greetings. They can be joyous and big, even between strangers.
Not too long ago and kind of out of the blue, my family became enamored with the idea of raising chickens. I have some experience with this, so I guided my children’s research regarding different breeds and their various abilities and requirements. We decided we would raise a small flock of chickens and we began to plan.
We began by downloading plans for chicken coops, which we then presented to my husband, the architect, who kind of tossed them aside with his look that says, “I think we can do better.” What we ended up with is kind of a (possibly overdesigned) craftsman-style chicken condo that my beloved Erik designed and my children, Stori and Trumann, built with our assistance. We learned to measure and use tools and how to work together as a team. We built a home for our birds and they, in turn, give us delicious eggs and loads of companionship.
And how did we end up with a gecko?
I am not, by nature, a let’s-bring-reptiles-into-the-house-and-keep-them-as-pets kind of person. But my son is like a little Charles Darwin, so of course it was kind of inevitable. At first I said no, but he just kept reading and researching and sneaking little fun facts about reptiles into our conversations. “Did you know,” he’d casually mention over breakfast, “most reptiles lick their own eyeballs? But Leopard Geckos don’t have to. They have eyelids that moisten the eye.” (He was 10 at the time and 10 year olds can sometimes miss the mark when constructing sound arguments for new pets.)
Eventually he wore me down enough for us to take a trip to the local reptile store. “This is only to ask questions,” I stated emphatically, for absolute clarity. And so we met Ray at Amazon Reptiles and I started asking my questions. But poor Ray never got a word out. For every question I asked, Tru SHOUTED out the answer super fast, game show style. For me as a mom, I’ve learned that when my kids bring together passion and enthusiasm in a certain combination, it just hits my yes button. I simply cannot say no. And that is how we brought home Spots, the Leopard Gecko. I have to admit, for a cold-blooded creature, he has a pretty warm little smile, which makes my son smile, which makes me smile.
Sometimes they teach us difficult lessons. On May 6, 2000, Hamlet’s last day with me, I held him and told him how much I loved him. He relaxed in my arms and his eyes seemed to say that yes, it was time to say goodbye.
That day Hamlet taught me something about goodbyes. They can be gentle and peaceful, even between the dearest of friends.
Nowadays we hang out with 2 corgis (Tally and Arthur), 3 kitties (Josie, DJ, and Evie), 5 chickens (Lucy, Annie, Miss Julia, Aunt Jenny, and Juliet), a conure (Winter), a gecko (Spots), 3 fire-bellied toads (Jumpy, Spaz, and Lionel), and several tanks of fish (I won’t go there).
We take care of them. They take care of us.
We teach them things. They teach us things.
And our lives are better for knowing them.
Sarah Innerst-Peterson is the co-owner of Finders Keepers with Rachel Stelzer. You can find their paper-crafting blog and e-commerce site at Finders Keepers Crafting. She lives in Pomona, California, with her husband Erik, their 2 kids, Stori and Trumann, and a plethora of critters.