Pet Lessons from the Little Red Hen: Image of young girl and seven baby bunnies.

Pet Lessons from the Little Red Hen (aka, Why you should “just say no” to a[nother] pet.)

For 20 years I never slept in. Not because of kids, though. Because of pets.

For two decades straight I woke up earlier than I wanted so my family could sleep in. Each morning, if I didn’t tiptoe downstairs before six or seven for doggy detail, one or both of our canines would howl—a very woeful, very loud sound. 

In later years, as our dogs became seniors, the stakes were higher: a terrible mess to clean up in the kitchen where we gated them at night. 

Remember the story of the little red hen? All the farm animals wanted to eat the delicious bread the industrious girl chicken baked, but no one wanted to help her with the tasks involved: planting, harvesting, and grinding the wheat, etc.. In my opinion, that story is a lot like owning a family pet.

When it comes to family pets, 90% of the care falls on the mother.

This includes feeding and watering, walking (or letting in and out), scooping litter boxes, grooming, sweeping up shed pet hair, purchasing pet supplies, and vet visits. Oh, and also, if your pet is prone to running away, its whereabouts.

In our house, dogs represented a mere tip of the pet iceberg. At one point we owned 12 pets: 2 dogs, 2 guinea pigs, and 8 rabbits (A week after we rescued a rabbit, she gave birth to seven “kits.” Read that story here.). That’s a lot of poop to scoop, mouths to feed, and vet bills to pay. With that said, the truth is:

Our plethora of pets was due to my inability to “just say no.”

For years, part of me thought if I refused the passionate pleas for a(nother) pet, the world would end. Or at the very least, one or all of our children would cease to adore me.

One day, though, I gripped the waistband of my big-girl britches and resisted the urge to immediately say yes when our middle child declared:

“If we don’t buy the black baby mouse at Petco, she’ll be sold for snake food. Please, Mommy, please!”

Willing my eyes not to well with tears, I said, “If she’s still there tomorrow, we’ll talk.” Glory to God, the next day the mouse was gone. What’s more, my daughter didn’t pitch a fit.

Since that day, remembering my Little Red Hen pet theory has strengthened my “just say no” muscles on multiple occasions. Namely when dogs and cats of all ages populate my Facebook feed with heartstring-plucking captions like, “Are you my forever mother?” 

Honestly, it’s not just our kids who love animals. 

If it were up to me, I’d take in ALL the animals.

In fact, now that two out of three children have left the house, now that we’re down to three pets—two cats and one bunny—I’ve had the thought: Perhaps we should consider another  pet. 

Maybe a dog. Good golly we love our cats and man, are they easy to care for. But dogs. They’re so fun. And bouncy. So eager to please. When they go for car rides and their ears blow back and their tongue hangs out? Gosh darn, that’s cute!

This spring, before I could broach the subject with Tony Bear, our middle child messaged us from the Southern Hemisphere where she was teaching English:

“I adopted a puppy with special needs in Peru and I’m bringing her home. Okay?”

How do you say no to that? Besides, it would only be until our daughter got her own place.

Now that Trinity the Peruvian pup’s digestive distress has calmed down, we love her a whole lot. However, our two cats, Bonnie Agnes and Boots Louise, do not share our affection for their new housemate. Attacked fiercely by a feline in Peru, Trinity returns the cats’ animosity with gusto. 

On an hourly basis, a child-gate, “noisy can,” and shrieks of “Stop that right now!” keep Tri from eating the cats.  All to say, Trinity has reminded Tony and me how much work a dog can be. She’s also taught us:

A new pet doesn’t just affect you. It also affects your existing pets. 

So, my friends, for the sake of your beauty sleep, stress level, family budget, and the wellbeing of your existing pets, I urge you to take to heart my Little Red Hen Pet Theory.

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