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Reeder: Living with a veterinarian and loving it

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 10:30 a.m. CDT

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LOMBARD – “We’re all hoarders, you know,” my wife Joan explained to me after attending the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association’s annual meeting.

The vets were practicing doing ultrasounds on dogs from the local animal shelter, and the doctors were quickly falling in love with the homeless canines.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only veterinary spouse to hear: “Can we adopt one?”

Animal doctors have such an intense love for creatures that their homes tend to become, well, menageries.

You see, I’ve been blessed with two veterinarians in my life – my father and my wife. Vets have an affinity for animals that most people don’t understand.

When I asked my wife for her hand in marriage, I made her promise: no animals would be added to our family – unless we both agreed. I asked for the promise with a childhood memory in the back of my mind.

When I was 8, my dad came home with a billy goat. Dad was vaccinating cattle at a sale barn and as a joke bid $5 on a lonely billy goat that didn’t have any ears.

We ended up owning the beast that devoured newspapers, cigarette butts and just about anything else. The ruminant had no respect for fences or screen doors. No sooner had the goat been put in the pasture than it jumped the fence, ran across our yard, peered through the screen door and baaed loudly.

My mother took to chasing Billy off the porch with a broom – until he ate the broom. Having no respect for fences, the animal took to sunning itself on the front porch, where more than a few drivers nearly swerved off the road after observing the goat.

Given this history, you’d think I’d have gone into marriage to a vet with my eyes wide open. Dream on.

My wife brought a cat into the marriage that hated all men. Within a week, the cat marked my suit and every freshly pressed white shirt of mine hanging in the closet. But marital adventures in felines didn’t end there.

A couple of years after we wed, my wife was more than eight months pregnant with our first daughter, and she came home with a kitten that was born without eyes.

Between sobs, Joan said, “They wanted me to put it to sleep just because it was born this way. I couldn’t do it, Scott. What happens if our child is born without any eyes?” As my pregnant wife stroked the blind kitten she added, “It’s just a foster cat. It will stay with us just until we find someone who will give it a home permanently.”

The foster cat is still with us eight years later.

It has the floor plan of the house memorized, avoids the kids’ toys on the floor with an eerie sixth sense and lounges on the window sill like a prince on a throne.

There have been other creatures.

There is the rabbit that suddenly appeared in our home after my wife discovered it needed a home. Our three daughters play with it along with their Barbies, My Little Ponies and costume jewelry.

In addition to four dogs, two cats, two parakeets and a rabbit, there are other creatures in our family: namely three goats.

Several nights a week, my two older daughters and I find ourselves scratching behind the ears of Blackie, Snowflake and Alfred.

They like to nibble on carrots and apples.

Goat slobber sticks to our fingers, and my girls giggle as they receive gentle butts from the top of their heads.

The time with these creatures brings us closer together.

It’s the legacy of the vets in our lives: loving animals and loving one another.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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