black lab mix at park

Call me a romantic, but I can easily fall in love about 20 times as I walk down a busy city sidewalk. Every time I make meaningful eye contact with a pair of dark brown, soulful eyes, I can feel myself falling head over heels. Or should I say "head over paws," seeing as how all these love interests have fur, four legs and a leash?

Dogs, cats, horses, hamsters — I love them all. But I don’t necessarily love them all the same way.

Yuki was my first dog as an adult, and she was, by all accounts, a really good girl. She was a roly-poly 3-month-old Lab mix puppy when my husband and I first brought her home, and she grew into a funny, intelligent, beautiful, athletic dog. She was easy to train, too — a fact I didn’t realize until five years later, when we brought home Rudi, our second black bundle of fur. (I’d assumed I was just a naturally talented dog trainer, but the challenges I faced in teaching Rudi to do anything made it clear that Yuki had simply been a quick study, and her good manners had more to do with her own eagerness to please than with any teaching ability I had.)

Sadly, Yuki passed away when she was just 7 years old, and she took a part of me with her when she left. I’ve long referred to her as my "heart dog," and, if I had to choose a favorite pet, well… I love all of my animals a tremendous amount, but the answer would be easy. Yuki was — and still is — my favorite.

But I don’t think that this means I loved her more than any of my other pets. I just loved her differently. To be honest, I love each of the animals in my life differently. And when I started asking around, I found that this is actually quite common. 

Why We Play Favorites

A quick, entirely unscientific survey among my friends revealed that lots of pet owners admit to playing favorites, and two reasons seemed to come up over and over: different pet personalities and first pet vs. later pets.

Even if you profess to never play favorites, you would be hard pressed to argue that some animals are simply easier to love than others. It’s not hard for a charming, affectionate, well-behaved dog to earn your heart. A skittish, defensive cat who won’t come out from under the bed (or use the litterbox) is a somewhat tougher sell (even though, as we know, there are lots of ways to help a kitty like this become more confident and comfortable in her surroundings, so if you have such a cat, have patience!)

dogs at beach

Sometimes, the less ideal qualities in one of our pets can make us especially appreciative of the good qualities in the other. For example, our younger dog, Hollie, is quite vocal. She’s quick to bark and rarely hesitates to let loose with a howl. I doubt I would appreciate just how quiet Rudi is if we’d never brought home Hollie the hound, just as I didn’t understand just how easy it was to train Yuki until Rudi joined our family. 

And in some cases, that can change from one day to the next depending on which animal is behaving better, or perhaps based on which pet is more in need of an owner’s care — as can be the case with a sick, injured or aging pet. 

When it comes to first pets being the favorite, that’s not a hard concept to understand. There’s a special bond between an owner and the first pet who gives him or her that title. There’s a learning curve involved — a journey that the two of you are on together, and that’s an experience that you’ll never quite replicate with another pet. No wonder so many owners admit that their very first pets hold a special place in their hearts.

Whether or not you admit to preferring one pet over another, there’s one thing you should remember. It’s fine to play favorites (to an extent), but it’s important to make sure each pet in your family receives a share of your love and attention (not to mention proper vet care). Because if I’ve learned anything through the years (and the cats and the dogs), it’s that even when one animal seems to be taking up my whole heart, there’s always plenty of room in there for another animal. Always. 

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