I answered an email the other day that I thought might be helpful to share with all. What do you think? How do you decide what too many is?
What is a good retort to when people say, “You just have too many animals; you need to get rid of them.” The best retort I have is, “You just have too many kids; you need to get rid of them.” And no, I don’t believe that parrots are the same as children (though they do act like them), but well-meaning friends believe any bickering between the husband and myself or ANY day-to-day problem comes as a result of having so many animals.
Thank you so much for any advice–this is really driving me crazy!
Dear Just Right,
I’m sorry it has taken me so long to answer. I read your email and honestly did not know how to answer. I tried to think of what I would say, but the honest truth is that no one has ever said these words to me… “You have too many animals, you should get rid of them.” And then when I asked myself why no one has ever said this to me, I wasn’t sure why they hadn’t. For one single female my menagerie is pretty immense—1 dog, 3 parrots, 2 falcons, 1 hawk, 3 pheasant and 10 pigeons. Oh, and there are the six goldfish I just bought… Is this too many animals? And if not, how many more would be too many? And what do people think of me? And if someone did suggest I had a problem, what would I say? I slept on it and my answer still isn’t a simple one.
The first thing I suggest is to take a deep breath and save your retort. Forgive your friends. Humans by nature want to “fix” things. We want to produce solutions that save our friends in speedy ways that both rid them of their heartache and also make it easier for ourselves. It is very hard listening to a friend in pain and not be able to help, especially if that friend is in a bout of troubles. Your friends are compassionate, generous and they love you. –They are also self-centered and uncomfortable having to listen to your woes. I know this because I’m like that as well; it is called being human. And being a good friend can be pretty damn exhausting.
When a friend suggests your animals are too much for you, thank them for their suggestion. Then take their hand and tell them that you weren’t looking for a solution, you were looking for a friend and that you deeply appreciate their willingness to just listen.
Reward the good. Ignore the bad. That’s the animal trainer in me, speaking, but it’s also the only code that has never failed me, a practice that reminds me which lens I should be looking through.
Be grateful that you have friends wonderful enough to listen to your day-to-day hiccups and domestic shake-ups. There are people who are unable to engage with others and are too ill to figure out how to fix it. There are people who barricade themselves against the world surrounded by so many animals they can barely take care of them, but expect these animals to fill that sucking wind of silence which only another human being can fill. They collect more and more animals trying to fix something and yet have no idea what is broken. Having too many animals is the symptom, not the disease. Obviously you are not ill. You are probably not a hoarder. So you can also laugh at this image of yourself, embrace your sense of humor and tell your friend that perhaps they watch too much television or that maybe they should watch more, because removing the clutter in a hoarder’s house does not suddenly fix the problem.
Is it possible all the animals are a symptom of some issues in your life? Perhaps. I am certain that the amount of feathered and furred bodies in my home is very much in correlation with the difficulties I have committing to people, the ridiculous expectations I have of the significant others who come into my life and my fear of being hurt. The animals don’t disappoint me and they give me a safe direction for my nurturing and love. But would ridding my home of the animals fix my issues? No. Again, it is a symptom not a solution. I know this about myself and I work on it and perhaps this is why no one suggests I have gone overboard with my menagerie. Or perhaps it’s just that they are too afraid of me and my trained predators to even make such a suggestion. –I’d like to think it is actually because I seem balanced.
So if people are suggesting you have too many animals, perhaps you should start asking yourself if there is something else in your life that needs adjusting. Western society is so good at trying to fix symptoms that we rarely ask one another, “What’s REALLY going on with you? I know there is more to it than what you are saying. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” So finding what is actually bruised, bumped and perhaps not working as well as it should is a thing that you mainly have to do for yourself. Maybe if whatever is off kilter is put upright in your life, the number of critters you have now will be just right in everybody’s eyes. Or at least, it won’t bother you when people suggest there are too many.
Some of us could never be sane without the touch of fur, the brush of feathers and simplicity of animal adoration. But all of us need other people. The question of whether or not you have too many animals is irrelevant. So you don’t have to answer it. If you really are in over your head or you know someone who is, be compassionate enough to try to figure out the real reason why. I guess my answer boils down to being kind, to your friends and to yourself. What you should say is something patient and kind. That is the answer. In fact, I think kindness is almost always the answer to everything. It shouldn’t just extend to the animals in our lives.