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Martha's Ark: A Look Back at the Animals She's Raised

Martha has cared for a menagerie of pets. She shares her time-tested advice on welcoming new dogs home and reminisces on the many creatures who have been part of her family.

For the past 40 years or so, I have been the proud and loving owner of dozens of animals. At least 20 cats, 25 dogs, 10 chinchillas, and scores of canaries and parakeets have lived happily in my homes. And two ponies, three donkeys, 10 horses, many sheep and goats, and hundreds of chickens, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, peacocks, and homing pigeons have populated my sheds, barns, and stables. Just thinking about this amazing group astonishes me, and I realize how much I’ve learned from caring for them all, and how much joy they’ve given me.

My first pet as a young, married woman and mother was an intelligent city cat we adopted named Chigi-Toto, who was known to answer the phone on occasion, often confusing callers. My first dog was a beautiful keeshond named Little Bear. She had pups of her own that we shared with our friends.

Then I discovered the chow chow, an ancient breed from China that I came to love for its proud, nonobsequious nature and its ingrained purpose of guarding the home. While I admired its independence, I was also drawn to another breed, French bulldogs, for the opposite reason: They are needy and love to cuddle. Chows prefer to observe and choose. Frenchies beg to learn, and learn they do. I now have two Frenchies and two chow chows.

Raising animals is serious business, and I try very hard to be a good owner to each and every one. Some respond in friendly ways, some are more aloof, and others don’t make a show of knowing me at all. But I think they all understand that I care about their needs and recognize their problems.

When I first got Little Bear, I wanted to learn more about dogs and read voraciously about them, discovering several habits that I still practice today to ensure that my pets live full, healthy, active lives. For instance, when I get a new puppy or kitten (no older than eight weeks), I’ll bite it on its outer upper lip to identify with it as its mother. This method has worked well for me with each of my puppies; less so with my kittens. It’s also important to be consistent with rules and routines. You might consider taking dogs to obedience class, so they can socialize with other pups, or hiring a trainer. Lastly, I raise them with clear physical boundaries. (I admit that chow chows and Frenchies are not very fond of chickens or geese, and do not mix with them successfully. But that’s what fences are for.)

Each of my pets takes a great deal of attention, and some require more training than others. But the rewards far outweigh the effort. I always look forward to seeing them when I return home from a busy day and they eagerly greet me at the door.


Sitting Pretty and On the Move

Martha holds Bête Noire’s leash and commands her to sit. The pup will get a treat to reward her good behavior (left). Dogs need daily exercise, preferably outdoors. Martha gives her puppies plenty of time to play and explore (right)

Loyal Companions

For Martha, it was love at first dog: Since Little Bear, she has always had a furry friend (or two, or four) by her side. Ghenghis Khan, the chow chow below, won best of breed at the Westminster Kennel Club’s dog show in 2012.

  • My first dog, Little Bear
    My first dog, Little Bear
  • Blue Maximillian Chow Chow
    Blue Maximillian Chow Chow
  • Paw Paw and Zuleika Dobson
    Paw Paw and Zuleika Dobson
  • Emperor Chin Chin and Paw Paw
    Emperor Chin Chin and Paw Paw
  • My newest addition, Emperor Han
    My newest addition, Emperor Han
  • Bête Noire, Crème Brûlée, and Ghenghis Khan
    Bête Noire, Crème Brûlée, and Ghenghis Khan
  • Frenchies Francesca Blackbird and Sharkey
    Frenchies Francesca Blackbird and Sharkey
  • Paw Paw was Ghenghis Khan’s great-grandfather
    Paw Paw was Ghenghis Khan’s great-grandfather