By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
When most families decide to get a pet, it’s usually a dog or a cat or some combination of the two. If they’re feeling a little exotic, they might get a pig or a rabbit.
But most families aren’t the Banes; when it came time for the Banes to select a pet or two from the list of possibilities, they checked the box that read “all of the above.” On their modest family farm in Fulton, Michelle Banes and her brood have amassed a small army of creatures. And these aren’t just the kind of feed-and-forget types of animals, either; no, these are pets. Each and every one of them.
“We’ve always had lots of dogs and cats,” Banes said, surveying the land behind her house. In the immediate vicinity, a small pack of dogs mingles with a couple of pot-bellied pigs. There are rabbits caged among several small enclosures. A cat stretches its back on a bench. One of Banes’ daughters, Elizabeth, plays with a tiny turtle she recently rescued.
The space stretches out beyond the backyard into a pasture where several horses can be spotted grazing. Banes looks on all of this with a flat expression that hints at a smile.
“I used to bring home animals all the time as a kid,” she said. “Growing up, I always wanted horses. So, that’s what we started with here.”
She stops to momentarily scratch one of her pot-bellied pigs — it was either Willow or Charlotte (it’s hard for a layman to tell them apart) — on the back. Slowly, the pig flops over in the dirt to expose its belly for petting.
“Now, we’ll bring home anything and everything,” she said. Bemusedly, she adds, “All of our money goes toward feeding at this point.”
Here’s a quick list of the pets:
• eight horses; two mini horses
• three pot-bellied pigs
• one hog
• dozens of chickens
• six ducks
• nine guineas
• 13 dogs
• 15 cats
• eight rabbits
• three goats
• “Snappy,” the turtle
“You’re never lacking something to do out here,” she said needlessly.
Banes said her love for animals came naturally. Growing up, she intended to become a veterinarian. But after a few college courses leading in that direction, her life took another course.
“I got married and had kids,” she said.
Still, that’s never stopped her from acting as the Banes Family vet when the occasion called for it.
“We have to do a lot of our own doctoring around here,” she said, adding with a chuckle that family vet Dr. Doug Thrash refers to her as “Dr. Banes.”
Amazingly, even with all creatures great and small under her care, Banes is always willing to take on more critters. As she makes her away across the grounds, an old, graying dog approaches. It nuzzles against her as she explains that she adopted it from the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, for which she frequently fosters animals, just weeks ago. Whereas most people don’t adopt older dogs, Banes welcomed the aging animal.
“I just couldn’t stand the thought of an old dog living in an animal shelter,” she said. “You can’t go up there without feeling terrible for them.”
When it was suggested that most people who felt that way would probably just avoid going up there altogether, Banes shrugged.
“These are all adopted,” she said, waving her hand above the pile of half-a-dozen dogs at her feet.“We like them all.”
It was a sentiment that could have represented each and every one of the dozens of creatures within eyesight.