Portrait of a dog in a barn

Not everyone has one. And not everyone wants one.

But for those of us who are die-hard animal lovers, life without pets would be more lonely, more empty, less interesting, less entertaining, and, without a doubt, less enjoyable.

In all fairness, life without pets might also be less busy, less costly, less messy and, occasionally, less aggravating. Having pets is a lot like having kids (for some folks, pets are the kids): you love them to pieces but occasionally might consider handing them off at the first offer.

Well, maybe just for a little while.

There are “dog people” and there are “cat people,” and on farms we are often both. Dogs are usually purposely chosen, but cats often tend to just show up — too often “donated” by seemingly uncaring individuals (I’m being kind here) who figure that farms can always use more cats.

That’s exactly how some of our feline barn and porch pets arrived over the years, settled in and stayed on to have families. And, because our granddaughters are cat lovers, no pregnant mama-to-be or helpless abandoned kittens are turned away.

Hence, we have two half-grown kittens, offspring of The Granddaughters' favorite calico-cat mama, and one much younger little black-and-white fuzzball, all claiming a spot right outside the basement porch door. The fuzzy one has yet to be named, but dashes through the door, gleefully hunting the slightly warmed milk and bits of cooked chicken just added to its diet.

Meanwhile, the adult cats accusingly stare through the glass storm door, whiskered faces scowling because they don’t get special, inside meals, but have to wait for feeding at the barn.

Buck up, grownup cats, and go catch some mice.

After being dogless for several years, after unworkable experiences with rescue canines, we now have dog toys scattered around the living room floor and a chunk of beef bone under the kitchen table. Jax, The Grandson’s Red Heeler cattle pup, spends most mealtimes with us, plus occasional longer stays.

I’ve learned to avoid making doggie eye contact or uttering the words “play” or “ball” or “stick,” unless I’m ready to trot out the door for doggie recess. Jax doesn’t come to be petted, he overwhelms you with what our daughter has dubbed “love in a tornado.” Despite what he thinks when he lunges at you with a happy kiss and soulful big, brown eyes, a nearly full-grown Heeler pup doesn’t make a great lap dog.

If you could bottle the energy of a Red Heeler pup and market it to folks looking for a boost, you could become a millionaire overnight.

Not as fond of the pup are the backyard chickens. Jax does overlook them sometimes to go sniff out the new kitten, but he still finds moments to let them know he’s bigger than they are. My original intent of having a couple of chickens, mostly to eat garden bugs and maybe give us some eggs, morphed over the last couple of years into a crowd of 20, including too many roosters.

Along with keeping us in eggs, the feathered girls also contribute their jumbo, brown eggs to family, friends and neighbors. From the two bantam hens, come mini-eggs that often enhance the cats’ menu.

As much as they are egg suppliers and insect snatchers, the chickens have become family and neighborhood pets, roaming from the cattle feedlot to the soybean fields, from the shade of the backyard trees to policing a long stretch of road bank through the farm. They hang out with the cats, beg for snacks from the Farmer at the woodshed and peer through the front door hoping for their favorite treat: bread.

Closing up some tattered plastic lining in the greenhouse last week, I glanced down from my precarious perch — one foot on a stool, the other on the far side of the waist-high bench — to see three of the hens scouting for bugs around plants on the bench. Really, chickens? Is it necessary to be underfoot, even here?

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between being pets … and being pests.

Luckily for the hens, they’re pets, and we’ve never had any intentions of eating ’em.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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