For all you animal-lovers out there, this is for you.

About a year ago my family decided it was time for a new member to join our family. Up until then we as a family had only kept two guinea pigs, Lizard and Oreo, and a string of hermit crabs. By the way, did you know that hermit crabs shed their exoskeletons? Well, I didnít. My daughter owned a sweet precious hermit crab that had a delicately painted shell, and unfortunately it died, or so we thought. We had a solemn burial for her crab and gently buried it underneath the lone pine tree in our backyard. We said a prayer and then sadly came inside the house. That was not to be the last of our hermit crab, though.

At the time my daughter invited a friend to spend the night, and Lori Campbell, her intelligent and knowledgeable mother, came to drop her off. I explained the dour hermit crab situation and Lori said, ďUm, you know they molt, right?Ē By the shocked look on my face she realized that no, I didnít know. As she was trying to withhold a grin, she suggested that maybe our precious hermit crab was simply molting. I ran outside and started digging up where I thought the crab was buried, and after a few bouts of frantic hole digging, I found the crab. Of all things, that crab was still alive. Lori then mentioned that the the crab needed to eat the exoskeleton for nutrients, so my daughter and I dug it out of the trash.

Well, our sweet pampered little hermit crab didnít make it, thanks to my loving kindness and early burial. I mean, we buried that poor little sucker alive, took away his nutrition, and then tried to resurrect him! Needless to say, it was a bit much for our little crabby to take, so it ended up having a second burial. This time we didnít dig it up again...

Thus began an extended period of no pets, except for the occasional bull frog or lizard caught at my parentsí home. As most children do, however, my son and daughter started begging for a dog. A dog? I have always enjoyed animals, but I have two kiddos to care for! Do I really want an eternal toddler, AKA Dog, to care for as well? Why not? Iíve raised chickens and guineas in my garage, Iíve tried to save countless birds, and I have bottle-fed a couple of baby squirrels who lost their momma.

Dog it is. Now I must say I have three children - a boy, a girl, and a hairy child who weighs almost as much as my children put together. The hairy child is named Ginger, and sheís a rescue from Great Dane Rescue of North Texas. Sheís a 100 lb ball of energy who thinks sheís a lap dog and has claimed both of our couches as her own. Pets - they complete a family.

Sharla Shaffer is a member of the E-T's community columnists.