Strangers called me selfish and friends called me a mean mom, because I wouldn’t adopt a pet for our seven children.

But hear me out. We don’t need a cat; my neighbor’s kitty is always in our backyard and comes fed and without vet bills. I don’t want a dog either. Our full schedule leaves no time for daily walks, weekly trips to dog parks and monthly visits to the groomer. Besides, I already have little bundles of energy who bound into our bed on stormy nights, spill water all over the floor and run to the door to greet me when I walk in.

But time, and grandma, wore me down.

I came up with the perfect pets for us. Pets that would fit right in to our large family. You’ll appreciate the poetic justice. I bought my seven children rabbits.
We’ve had all the “normal pets” over the years and, upon reflection, I realize they’ve mirrored the stages of our lives.

Patches, the purebred terrier, was BC (before children) and loved long walks, designer haircuts and had her own doggy perfume. She knew her place in our family — the undisputed princess — it was wherever she wanted to be. Fast forward four years, we’re settling in to our first home in Fort Caroline, parents of a 3-year-old boy and a baby girl. We had our hands full as a young family. Patches, set in her ways, moved in with the grandparents and we chose pets that were beautiful but didn’t require baths, walks, or timely meals for that matter — we bought fish.

As the kids grew older, and more inquisitive, we moved the aquarium to the boys’ room. It taught them responsibility and made a great nightlight. Our budding naturalist loved hauling plants in from the pond to make the perfect habitat. One day, he added guppies. They ate the fins off our pretty fish. The boys got a life lesson: it’s a fish-eat-fish world.

When the girls begged for something soft, Lucy the hamster joined our family. We had a lot in common. She worked late at night, hoarded her favorite treats from the kids and didn’t like exercise no matter what wheel we put in her cage. Lucy met an untimely death as hamsters are known to do. Let’s just say if she had been in better shape, she may have made it. I learned the life lesson this time: I exercise now.

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It seemed we were only meant to raise children while being pet free—until last year. Freckles and Sophie, both female bunnies, needed a family and they picked our 14-year-old daughter, Lauren. They tolerate the rest of us.

At first, I thought rabbits were a hilarious addition to our brood. But the more I know the bunnies, the more I see them as teenagers. They’ve cleverly burrowed complex tunnels to escape any time 5-year-old Clara visits their cage, just like teens retreat to their rooms. Our bunnies are easily coaxed out by a gentle tone and a favorite treat. So are my teens. Ice creams after the little ones are in bed, a game of cards or movies on school nights seem to do the trick. Freckles and Sophie have their moments. They can kick and scratch with their strong hind legs when handled roughly, but once they’ve calmed down we can smooth things over. If you know teens, or ever were one, you can likely see the parallel there.

Our family has learned a lot from our pets. When I see Lauren patiently helping her 1-year-old brother learn to pet the bunnies gently or watch the boys save their favorite fruits for their sister’s pets, I see something bigger than cats and dogs and fish. I see love in action.

St. Augustine-based writer and blogger Allie Olsen and five of her seven beautiful children with their bunnies, Freckles ans Sophie.

St. Augustine-based writer and blogger Allie Olsen and five of her seven beautiful children with their bunnies, Freckles ans Sophie.