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They listen to our problems without interrupting. They amuse us with their playful exuberance. Some of them even share a bed with us, nuzzling next to us on these cold winter nights. They are our pets. What would we do without them? Some of our pets are extraordinary. Wilderwood Service Dogs is a non-profit organization that trains working dogs to aid people with neurological issues, including children with autism and adults with dementia. Some of our pets are extreme. Slithering snakes, scaly lizards and rare birds populate many homes throughout Southern Illinois. “Snakes and lizards make good pets,” said Ron Kodie, owner of Ark Aquatics in Mount Vernon.“They like to be handled and they’re easy to clean up after. You’re not chasing after a snake with a pooper-scooper.” Most of our pets can be classified somewhere between extraordinary and extreme. We will all classify our pets as the best in Southern Illinois, if not the world – even if they misbehave from time to time. “People really do enjoy their pets more when they are well-trained,” said longtime De Soto dog trainer Carol Ely. “Any animal can be trained.” Ely knows from experience. She trains dogs through John A. Logan College’s continuing education program and has trained more than 200 birds and a rooster. Feathers or fur, good owners can’t imagine neglecting their pets or leaving them behind in ditches, garbage cans or on the side of the road. But workers at local animal shelters know that those incidents occur all too often. “There are a lot of sad things that happen, but we have a lot of happy stories, too,” said Penny South, manager of PAWS Place in Anna. Inside this special section, you will find out how to help your local shelter, what to do in a pet emergency and how to make your dog an upstanding citizen of the canine community. So grab your dog, cat or your bearded lizard, curl up on the couch and enjoy. — Joe Szynkowski A SPECIAL SECTION FROM THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN  FEBRUARY 21, 2012

Our Pets

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