Matt Gagnon, Vergennes
Owner, Soap and Suds Cleaning service; Hazmat Technician, Vermont Air National Guard
Sons Riley, 8, Cole, 5, Bryce and Chase, 1
A few years ago, Riley and Cole wanted a puppy. I grew up with trained hunting dogs, and I knew having a dog was a big commitment, but I was out-voted.
We found our 2-year-old hound, Clover, at All Breed Rescue. The boys fell in love with her, and we brought her home. When the twins came along, we introduced them to Clover slowly because we wanted to be careful. Now that they're older, it's two against one — now we have to protect the dog.
Having a pet teaches responsibility. But it's still easy for them to get caught up in sports and Scouts and forget about her. We have to remind them, "Hey, guys, you need to go play with Clover. Why? Because she's your dog."
They're learning. They feed her, go out in the yard and play soccer with her. When we go for family walks, I'll let Riley hold her leash.
Dogs are great pets. When I get home from work, there she is, with a soccer ball in her mouth, ready to play. It's unconditional love.
Sam Krotinger, Warren
Teacher, Harwood Union High School
Daughters Sophie, 10, and Eliza, 6
Our family dog died prematurely, and we'd been pet-less for a while. It was close to Easter when my wife found our bunny, Steeley, on Craigslist. He was advertised as super-mellow, friendly and completely house-trained. That sealed the deal.
He has funny markings on his face that make him look like Frank Zappa. (I posted pictures of both on Facebook, and my friends thought the resemblance was uncanny.) He didn't come with any toys, so my wife bought him a Disney Princess ball, and he's absolutely in love with it. He pushes it and makes these little grunting sounds and lies down next to it. If you kick it, he'll run after it like a dog.
I think people want pets because animals are fascinating. The ones that really respond to you, like mammals, give you love with no strings attached. They can't talk back to you, they can't play mind games. They're never passive aggressive. It's just pure, unfiltered adoration. I think that feels good within the complexities of our human experience.
James Lockridge Burlington
Executive Director, Big Heavy World
Daughter Sophia, 13
I'm very much a dog person at heart, but as an adult I had a cat that was kind of a magical creature, so I like cats. We have four.
When it comes to cat acquisitions, I am not the cat curator. My daughter, Sophia, is, and I just make sure we have a happy, healthy, cat household.
Our cats came from different places. Our first was a Christmas gift from a professor's house in Starksboro, who had a sign by the road that said, "Free Kittens."
Another time we answered an ad for available kittens and discovered those cats were being offered from a barn full of cats that weren't especially healthy. One kitten ended up sleeping on my head every night; she's much healthier now.
Our cats are all indoor cats. They live upstairs and down. They all lick each other's heads and play patty-cake. Every one of them is a little person to us, so they're all family members. Cats are a way to jam more happiness and love into a tiny house.
Johnny Mendez, Essex
Co-Owner, Henhouse Media
Daughter Francesca (Frankie), 9
We had two house-trained bunnies before our daughter was born. By the time she was about 2, they had both passed away, and we gave it a little bit of time before we got another pet.
Frankie was a huge fan of cats — she liked the cats in her books and liked the idea of them. We had taken her to the humane society a few times, and she loved the cats there. She liked the puppies, too, but my wife and I have very busy schedules and a owning a dog wouldn't fit our current lifestyle.
Cats need love and care, but they're pretty self-sufficient, so it was a great fit. I watch my daughter with our cat and see that it teaches her responsibility and really gives her some structure. When she gets up she knows she has to feed the cat. There's dinner, there's playtime in the evening. Pets kind of become like our children. They teach us a lot of things if we're open to it. When you take care of another living being, there's learning that happens that can't be measured.