We have always had pets. My kids have never known a time when we didn’t have a pet. We are particularly fond of German Shepherds.

Our first one was white. Our second was all black with the exception of a white chevron on her chest. Our last one was the traditional black and tan. We still have pets now, two dogs. A medium mixed-breed and a Japanese Chin.

Pets help teach children responsibility. They give unconditional love, are never in a bad mood and always very happy to see you.

The only downside for me is when your pet becomes ill and passes away. This usually hit us all pretty hard. Our first shep died at home. Suddenly. We suspect she had a heart attack.

My husband was away. It was late when she passed away in our front yard during her last potty before bed. She had been panting a little but nothing prepared me for her keeling over. Thank goodness for my neighbors, Mike and Diana. They helped me move her that night and keep her body safe until I could take her to the vet the next morning.

It was so weird to not have a dog. I found an ad in the newspaper for shepherd puppies. My husband and daughter went to look. They came home with our second shep. This one was a true gem. Don’t get me wrong, all of them had been great dogs. There was something special about this one. When we discovered she had lymphoma at only 7 years old, we were heartbroken. We did not want her to suffer and with the help of our vet, said our goodbyes.

Our son, the middle child, was away at summer camp. It really hit him hard.

To make matters worse, when it was family day, we introduced him to our third shep. The black and tan one. The one we got the day after our black shep crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was not happy with us but eventually opened his heart to her. She was 11 when she got sick. We suspect cancer. Again, with the help of our vet here, we said our goodbyes.

We’ve had a cat and four rats. We also have the ashes of two of our three sheps. I forgot to mention we also have a Chilean rose hair tarantula. She stays in her habitat.

Having said all of that, I have a confession to make. We have a new dog in the house, a beautiful 8-year-old German Shepherd. We adopted her from the Leavenworth County Humane Society on Monday. She had been there a few days, mourning the passing of her previous owner. We are slowly assimilating her into our pack. She’s a very well-behaved girl and we are happy to have her.

April Pedersen is the mother of three children and grandmother of two. She lives in Lansing.