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The best pets belong to someone else

I have the best kind of pet — somebody else's.

There's Lulu, Amber and Theo. Wonderful dogs that belong to my neighbors. And Sugar, Elmo and Roxy, dogs that belong to out-of-town relatives.

My pets are wildly happy to see me when I arrive, but I leave without them.

I live the carefree life of someone who enjoys the unconditional love of an animal, but without any of the vet bills or the dog hair.

It is a kind of pet lend/lease program.

I have permission to enter the locked homes of my neighbors for a collar and a leash so I can enjoy a springtime walk with their dogs.

But I don't have to walk the dog in the rain, or at 6 a.m., or if I don't want to.

I am welcome to stop by for a dose of canine affection. But if that same dog gets loose and enters a neighbor's kitchen and eats all the cat food, it isn't me who looks bad.

We can't have pets in our family. Really, really bad allergies.

But when I thought about finding a hypoallergenic dog like the one the Obama family owns, my friend Betsy said she wouldn't be my friend anymore if I got a dog.

"Your life is chaos," she said. "I won't stand by and watch you add to it."

That's true enough. So when I start feeling blue, I head out into the neighborhood and see which of my dogs will drag their rightful owners to the ground, excitedly trying to get to me.

Then I undo hundreds of dollars in obedience lessons by allowing the dog to jump up on me and lick me in the face.

I am kind of like the Auntie Mame of the animal kingdom in my neighborhood.

Life was particularly grand for my pets and me during the winter snowstorms. Their owners couldn't think of anything less fun than playing in 4 feet of snow with a couple of dogs. So I did.

After I had worn everyone out, I sent the dogs home, where their snow-covered coats melted all over someone else's living room rug. It was like having kids, but without the bother of snowsuits.

Visiting Theo is particularly rewarding.

Theo is a help dog, trained by Fidos for Freedom to assist his master, Geoff. But when he is not wearing his red vest, he is free to pay attention to me. Theo's training never really leaves him, so he will bring me an assortment of shoes and socks during a visit and place them at my feet.

Lulu is a year-old Lab-golden mix the size of a pony, and a total love sponge. She actually shuts her eyes and gives up a low moan when you pet her. Tender as a mother with her corgi neighbor, Lulu doesn't know her own strength. If she decides to roll in the grass at your feet, she might hyperextend both of your knees or break the bones in your feet.

Sugar had a scarring experience in her childhood so she can act odd sometimes. When she visits, she and my husband fight over the couch and Sugar's spot right in the middle of it. My husband grouses at Sugar but she just stares dumbly. It is like a Ralph Kramden-Ed Norton moment out of "The Honeymooners."

My daughter shares in our community's community pets as well. She will take one for a run or play ball with another, all the while passing out an assortment of coos and kisses.

"I can't have a pet," she declared in a moment of introspection. "I'm too self-involved."

The other good thing about other people's pets? If they know that about you, they never bring it up.

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