When I was in the sixth grade, I wrote an essay titled "When I Grow Up." In it, I said, "I want to live in a house full of dogs, cats, babies and books." Happily, that wish came true in spades.
I've always had pets. When my children came along, I worried about introducing them to the family dog and cats. I was afraid the animals would feel jealous or threatened. In the end, it went smoothly. I just made sure the baby was never left alone with the pets. As with most issues related to child (and pet) care, proper supervision is the answer.
I was horrified when I read about the Kentucky parents whose newborn baby, A.J., was taken from his crib by their Native American Indian dog. The frantic father discovered the dog had carried the infant some distance from the house.
The child suffered serious injuries. including a cracked skull and ribs, two collapsed lungs and lots of scratches and puncture wounds. A.J. was hospitalized in critical condition and the dog, Dakota, was turned over to authorities. Her ultimate fate has yet to be determined.
The news reports raised some questions. What's a Native American dog? I'd never heard of such a breed. A little research gave the answer. It's not really a dog; it's a wolf hybrid.
I asked Rick Aiken, director of the Hall County Humane Society, about hybrids and his response was an eye opener. I don't know about Kentucky, but wolf hybrids are illegal in Georgia. Rick told me that many of these animals are a mass of conflicted instincts, the domesticated dog struggling with the call of the wild, if you will. They are difficult to housebreak and train to a leash. They exhibit the worst of all animal traits: unpredictability.
All too often, we anthropomorphize our pets, assigning human feelings and motivations to our canine and feline companions.
This is both a disservice and an insult. Dogs will always be dogs, no matter how often you dress them up in designer dresses and paint their toenails.
Our Australian Shepherd, Lola, the Best Dog In the World (she received her title by unanimous vote of the Glazer family), is smart, loving, loyal and obedient. She lives in harmony with three contrary cats.
I'd never seen her display even a hint of aggressiveness until one day when we were standing in our yard. A boy on a skateboard came zipping down the hill in front of our house. Lola went berserk, barking, snarling, straining at her leash. If she hadn't been restrained, there's no telling what might have happened. Something about the skateboard just set her off. I would never have predicted that response. Which is precisely my point.
If dogs that have been domesticated for thousands of years still can, on occasion, revert to their feral natures, I can't help but think that owning a more exotic pet can be a ticking time bomb. A few weeks ago, there were reports of a Burmese python who escaped from its cage and strangled a 2-year-old Florida child. There's the Connecticut chimpanzee who ripped off a visitor's face.
It doesn't matter how much we love a pet — they still are going to ultimately be true to their nature.
I found out the hard way with Amadeus, a gorgeous Molluccan cockatoo. He was a magnificent bird with a coral-colored crest. We bought him at an Oakwood bird show on impulse after he leaned over from the top of his cage, looked my husband in the eye and said, "Are you my mama?"
As soon as we got him home, I started researching cockatoos and realized, too late, that we'd taken on an enormous responsibility. He was loving and smart but he was also demanding, ear-piercingly loud and messy.
We had Amadeus for more than 10 years. We loved him and he us, but there were problems. He was not aggressive to us but rather to himself. He began exhibiting self-mutilating behavior, chewing bloody holes in his chest. This is a frequent problem with captive cockatoos, a obsessive habit that's nearly impossible to break.
After two years of trying every imaginable treatment with little result, Amadeus went to live with a friend who was experienced with large birds. She was retired, so she was able to spend a great deal of time with him. It took months of hard work, but his chest has healed, at least for now.
So Amadeus survived. I can't help but think, though, that his life would have been much better and fuller if he'd lived it, as God intended, in a hollow tree in Indonesia. I once saw a bumper sticker that said it best: "God loved birds and created trees. Man loved birds and created cages."
Just because someone can afford to own an exotic pet, that doesn't mean they should. There are risks, both to the human owners and to the animal.
Dakota, that wolf hybrid in Kentucky, may well be destroyed because she acted on her instincts. Little A.J. may carry the scars of their encounter for the rest of his life. It never should have happened.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.