We are animal lovers.  In fact, when animals are signing up for people, I’m pretty sure there is a waiting list to get into “The Scroggins House.”  Pets are not just animals to our family.  They are, indeed, part of our family unit.  They have stockings at Christmas, and a signature on the Christmas Cards. We plan doggie playgroup, and have established daily doggie daycare.  We take our animals to the lake, to the park, on vacation, and even to other family’s gatherings.  As I type, I’m researching how to train our newest family member to become a therapy dog, at which point I will be able to take her to school with me everyday.  I’ll admit that I’ve taken a cat on walks (on a leash, of course), and my husband has asked for extra donut holes for his dog.  Like I said, we are animal lovers, and our kids have had no choice but to follow in our paw prints.

Our daughter was greeted with Collie kisses the day she came home from the hospital, and when we brought our third baby home, that same Collie gave a few kisses, but I promise, when she looked up at us, she practically rolled her eyes.  She was so wise.  Our babies never had a fear of dogs because they learned to crawl over a sixty pound Lassie-want-to-be.  We taught them how to talk, pet, and “be sweet” to the animals. As toddlers, they knew what kind of cozy spot to make for the cat, and which kind of treat to feed the dogs after a walk.  I spent hours posing the kids with the animals in front of the Christmas tree, in the bluebonnets, on the beach, in the grass, asleep, in the backseat of the car, or decked out in Aggie Maroon.  The kids learned to search for the animals as soon as we came home—and were always greeted with exuberant barking, wagging, and wiggling.  As the kids have grown older, the animals have grown more understanding and affectionate—often choosing their rooms for nighttime snuggle.  I can’t help but snap a picture every time I see one of my kids with an arm draped over Man’s Best Friend, not even noticing their face is buried in dog hair—sometimes I promise the dog and kid are dreaming of the same thing. I know at times nonpet people look at us and think we’ve lost our minds.  And, to be fair, we might be extreme in our all inclusive pet/family dynamic.  We agree that there are definite downfalls to pet ownership.  Pets bring the outside to the inside, so it’s not unusual to find dirt, mud, leaves, branches, and the occasional sacrificial insect or small rodent in our living space (which was awesome when the kids were crawling).  The pets also have to go potty, which poses a problem when they are left inside for too long; therefore, when we make “away from the house” plans, arrangements are always considered for their potty needs.  Along the same lines, vacation plans include pet babysitting plans.  While we tend to acquire our pets as they wander into our life for free, their cost of living is not.  We cover the costs of vet visits, food, toys, and medicine.  We clean up their messes, and always consider their safety. But, because they are part of our family, it’s worth it.

Recently, my husband’s Grandmama passed away.  We anticipated the loss, but even knowing it was coming did not ease the heartache of saying goodbye.  It was a day of prayer, of holding hands and wiping tears.  It was a day of telling stories, and looking at pictures.  But mostly, it was day of family.  We ate together, sang together, and mourned together.  We spent the afternoon gathered at Grandmama’s house, just being in her presence.  My daughter spent time “riding around” with her teenage cousins—basking in the glory of being included with the teenagers.  My older son bonded with the younger cousins over electronic devices.  I’m not sure how much they actually talked, but their worlds managed peace, so I’m guessing there were fantastic digital discussions.  My youngest son spent most of the day looking for the exercise ball he knew Grandmama had kept, and explained to everyone the necessity of just such a ball (while eating candy corn—no Grandmotherly house would be complete without candy corn.)  As the day came to an end, my daughter returned to the house with a puppy in her arms.  It was a beautiful, chocolate brown lab with big blue eyes—eyes that begged for us to take her home.  We weren’t in the market for another dog; in fact, we’d just celebrated the ease of our one dog status.  I tried to say no, citing our crazy-hectic-no-good-for-a-puppy schedule, and the fact that a lab had never made our Bucket List of Future Pets.  But, as a person who believes in puppy love, and signs from above, I knew we’d just added a member to our family.  On a day of sorrow, Maggie the Aggie brought Joy into our lives, and helped mend our broken hearts–all it took was a few thousand puppy kisses as she looked at us with her head tipped to the side, seeming to tell us she understood.  The irony of training Maggie to become an Official Therapy Dog is not lost on me—and she’s just one in the long train of animals that has made our life complete.

I’d like to dedicate this article to Do-si-Do, Bonnie the first, Sambo, Tramp, Hopalong, Bonnie the second, Nicki, Gatito, Tiki, Pudding, Chelsea, Tabitha, Baby, Shiester Beau, Bogie, Storm, Ringo, Sahara, Windy, Sandy, Cleo, Louie, Chrissy, Marley, Beau, Beauty, and Maggie.  You taught us about life, love, loss, a