When I was a little girl growing up in Westchester County, we traded up pets. We started with a goldfish or two, upgraded to two gerbils, and eventually ended up with a green-hued parakeet named Ping who continually disappointed me with his stark refusal to ever sit on my finger. (Not once in four years did this pretty little bird indulge me.) When I was six, our neighbor’s cat had kittens and my mother suddenly announced that we could pick one to bring home. We named the tiny Calico kitten Tina and built a bed out of a cardboard box lined with old towels.
But the ultimate goal was always a puppy. My sister and I begged and begged, but my mother always laughed it off. It was, she seemed to indicate, as ridiculous as if we were insisting that we move to Buckingham Palace. It just wasn’t going to happen — end of discussion. But after my father died when I was nine, my mother reconsidered. Suddenly, we spent every Saturday morning visiting a different shelter; the search for the perfect puppy was on. One warm spring day, we found her: a tiny six-week-old black-and-white fluff ball with floppy ears. I could hold her in one of my pudgy hands and I still couldn’t quite believe my good fortune when we drove home with her in a box in the back seat of our Chevy.
Though apparently not a pure breed, Muffin was almost all Border Collie: a highly energetic (okay, some would say hyper) bundle of love. She would soon prove to be great with a tennis ball, and even better with a Frisbee. At the local park, she was a bit of a sports star; people would gather to watch her go out for a long catch. Extraordinarily affectionate, Muffin would whimper with joy every time one of us came through the front door. Every single time. And, although my mother proclaimed that Muffin would never be allowed to sleep upstairs, within weeks, she was bedding down with both me and my sister, and eventually with my mother, too.
I wept quietly at my desk at my first publishing job in New York City the day that Muffin, then 14, was scheduled to be put down. I write “scheduled” because when I called my mother later that evening to check in, I heard Muffin barking in the background. My mother, who had long ago dubbed Muffin her “favorite daughter” as she ticked off a long list of her positive attributes — loyal, loving, doesn’t talk back, doesn’t ask to borrow the car — had been unable to follow through on the plans. Muffin was put to sleep a few months later.
Of course, we were not the only family to be nursed through tough times by the presence of a pet. We all love our animals and millions of us consider our furry friends an integral part of the family. If you have a pet, are considering getting a pet, or, heck, just like cute photos of other people’s pets, click here to check out our Ultimate Pet Guide. From the latest homeopathic treatments to the hottest dog parks, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know to keep your furry (or prickly or slithery) friends happy.
My six-year-old daughter is crazy about our two cats: Frisco and Dallas, both nine years old. Sometimes I still can’t believe that our giant orange tabby, who was one tough kitty in his youth, allows my daughter to lug him all around the house. Still, her very vocal desire for a puppy has increased dramatically over the last year. Right now, I’m holding the line, but — who knows? — history may well repeat itself and I may allow a puppy to prance into our lives sooner rather than later.
There are lots of other great articles to read in this issue, too, including our annual list of the region’s Top Doctors, as chosen by their peers. Year after year, our readers tell us that this issue is a keeper that they refer to again and again. That coverage begins here.