Publisher’s Note: Our Third Child

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Please pause to peruse the precious pets and people prodigiously profiled beginning on page 118. Independent research about the interests of Sacramento readers shows that a large majority of you own pets, which hastened our decision to focus on the subject this month.

It’s a brand-new world for pets today. They exist in a way wholly unlike the animals we had when we were children. The family dogs of my youth spent their entire lives in the backyard of our home, living on a diet of dinner scraps. Only when very young or very ill would they ever see a vet.

It’s different today. My wife, Jennifer, frets about leaving our dog, Lupine, outside in the cold or heat or wind or light rain, despite ample shade and shelter. I often refer to Lupine, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, as our unexpected third child; our youngest child was 14 when we got her. Both Lupine and our cat, Sarge, have regular veterinary checkups and follow-up visits, and require an array of vitamins, medicines, food bowls&emdash;even soaps and scented mists.

Special services and amenities available for pets today include sitters, walkers, masseuses, chiropractors, pet groomers and stylists. You can buy them clothing, booties, collars, travel gear and more. Even dog and cat whisperers exist to assist animals in conveying their innermost thoughts and desires as these trainers gently shape their behavior. One friend recently dropped off her young dog for the day at a puppy playcare program, which included an amazing variety of chaperoned activities&emdash;an agenda that reminded me of my childhood experiences at summer camp, but with more stuff to do and better food. Kennels have on-call vets and live webcams that enable the faraway owner to keep a close eye on Precious.

Although we don’t have all the latest accessories in our home, we do have big fluffy pet beds in three locations. And when selecting kennels for Lupine before we take a trip, Jennifer’s interview techniques are every bit as rigorous as those of the Secret Service when arranging a presidential visit.

Perhaps the proliferation of goods and services for pets today demonstrates the fact that they play an ever greater role in our lives. This is the case with Lupine. The dog stands proudly with my wife, Jennifer, our two children and me in our family portrait and in dozens of other photos&emdash;even in a Kathy Wronski painting that adorns the wall of our home. Whenever we leave Lupine on weekends, we apologize profusely.

Actually, Lupine was not supposed to be our dog. She is the second dog my wife adopted on what was to be a temporary basis to assist an organization called Canine Companions for Independence, a nationwide nonprofit organization that got its start in Santa Rosa in 1975. The CCI’s mission is to provide specially trained companion dogs to people with hearing, mobility or other physical impairments. Jennifer agreed to adopt Lupine and become a puppy raiser, training her according to strict guidelines for the first year. After that, Lupine was returned to CCI for ever-higher levels of rigorous training, which, if successful, would have resulted in her being paired with a person of need, who would have become her owner. Despite her many great qualities, Lupine would get spooked in certain situations, which disqualified her from the program. In these cases, the puppy raiser may claim the dog, which Jennifer opted to do.

Even though we thought we were done having children when Lupine arrived, we do consider her to be our third child. Seeing the joy she brings my wife makes life sweeter. That this child is always happy, never stays out late or talks back&emdash;and has zero interest in the computer&emdash;has made her easy to raise.

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