John and Amy Hunter are pictured with their dogs, Apollo, left, and Rubi, a black Labrador retriever, in Brown County State Park south of their home in Indianapolis, Ind. The couple is childless by choice and Amy is a stay-at-home pet mom.
By Leanne Italie
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — It's easy to jump directly to “crazy cat lady” or poke fun at “stay-at-home dog moms” when describing intense relationships between humans and their pets.
But for some who spend the bulk of each day with their animals, it's more like a two-way healing labor of love.
Amy Hunter, 51, stayed home in Indiana with her three kids when they were little. Years later, she took a work-from-home job after the death of her son, Jake, piled on the loss of another son who had earlier drowned.
Now her daughter is about to graduate from college and Hunter is home full time with two dogs, a brown mix rescue named Apollo, who weighs in at about 90 pounds, and a black Labrador retriever, Rubi.
“I've become very, very, very in tune with them,” said Hunter, who lives in Indianapolis. “We got Rubi as a puppy after my first son died. She's been my emotional savior.”
Her husband works outside the home, as a plant manager, so it's just mom and dogs during the day.
“After my second son died I cried a lot. I was anxiety ridden,” Hunter explained. “What I found was how much I could communicate with my dogs.”
Coleen Balent, 43, understands.
She stays home with her two kids, ages 10 and 8, as her husband works as a computer network engineer for U.S. Navy hospitals outside their home. They've been stationed around the world and have been in the U.S. island territory of Guam, in the western Pacific, for nearly a year.
Rounding out the family are three rescue dogs, including one, 13-year-old Paolo, who has serious health issues. She and her husband found him years ago in Sicily, in a boat yard with his mouth taped shut. He had been hit by a car.
“The vet told me he wouldn't make it through the night. I took him home with antibiotics and a nebulizer and he survived,” Balent recalled. “Several years later, Paolo broke his back while we were living in Charleston, South Carolina.”
The accident left him paralyzed, but after $6,000 in surgery and three months of rehabilitation, he can hobble along, requiring help going up and down stairs and on and off beds. Three years ago, Paolo was diagnosed with diabetes so Balent injects him with insulin twice a day, checking his glucose levels often.
“We can barely afford it, and it's a pain,” she said. “I can never go anywhere for the day. I'm quite sure everyone thinks I'm crazy. Some people have flat out told me, but Paolo has seen me through two pregnancies, two severe postpartum depressions, an autoimmune disease and three moves to three different countries and continents.”
For Hunter, each pet enriches her in different ways. Her black lab got her off the coach. “She gets me moving, she gets me going. There's no sitting anymore.” She even feels her long hours alone with the two have heightened their ability to communicate.
It's Apollo who tells her when it's time for breakfast. He's the vocal one. Both dogs comprehend about 250 of her words. Apollo can differentiate between ball, stick and his favorite toy, a Teddy bear.
“And they know what shoes I wear. If I put on running shoes, they're staying home. They don't move. If I put on just normal tennis shoes, we're walking and they go find their leashes. If I put on boots or dress shoes or something, they're not going. They know this. It's so funny,” Hunter said. “I'm not the crazy dog lady. I know they're not my children, but I just feel very close to them.”
Stay-at-home writer Kat Faitour, who lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is not a “crazy” dog mom. She's a “crazy” cat mom.
Faitour worked in the health care industry for more than 20 years, including her last five in a complaint department.
“It was draining. The negativity finally got to me,” she said. “In the midst of that, my mom became ill and passed away from ovarian cancer in 2013. I didn't have much to give after my mother died and my husband was super encouraging me to stay home and write.”
With her all day, every day, Faitour said, are “my boys,” two nearly 8-year-old cats, including one with “100 health problems.”
He's a shaggy, white-haired looker with blue eyes, and he's deaf. The product of an amateur breeder, Conan (named for Conan O'Brien) also suffers from knee and hip dislocations and two herniated discs in his back. Conan requires pain medication in the morning and steroids at night.
Higgins, her large gray Norwegian forest cat, is “healthy as a horse,” said Faitour, who with her husband is childless by choice.
“I've got my boys,” she laughed. “They're always with me, always in the room with me. That's how we roll.”