The Westropp Zoo in 2019

We added a lot of new pets to our family this year! We started the year with four dogs, two cats, and two mice, and ended the year with 14 animals.

In January we adopted our puppy, Roscoe. He was the absolute worst puppy I have ever had, although Lila was a close second. (Smart dogs, it seems, are more challenging as puppies!) He is now about 14 months old, and finally to the point where I would consider him potty trained. He still chews things he’s not supposed to semi-regularly, but not as often as before, and he is still very bad about stealing food left on the table. But overall, he’s not the worst dog in the world. ? On the plus side, he is very smart and sweet and he is the cuddliest dog I’ve ever had. He’s also a good rollerblading companion.

Also in January, we bought two parakeets who we named Oliver and Oakley. They pretty much hate me, and do not like being handled whatsoever. However, their sounds are pleasant to listen to, and I have allowed their flight feathers to grow out so they can fly around the room when I open their cage, which is fun to watch.

In February, we sadly had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, Marley. He was 14 years old (or possibly even older), and beginning to decline with symptoms of congestive heart failure. I knew that I didn’t want him to suffer, so I chose to have him put to sleep gently at home after he began to lose interest in eating. Even though he started eating again on the day he was put to sleep, and he was still in many ways happy and energetic, I knew that it was an upswing that wouldn’t last. His last day with us was a very happy day for him, and he went to heaven without having to suffer through a long decline. It was a hard decision for me, but I have to believe I made the right one. And yes, I do believe he went to heaven! The Bible describes animals in heaven, and I can only hope that we will be reunited with loved ones, including our beloved pets, in paradise. ?

I adopted Marley when he was about a year old, and I was 13 years old. He had been with me through so much, and he was really the best-behaved dog of our pack by miles. He was also just special in so many ways. He was sweet, quirky, gentle, and goofy. I love and miss him very much, and I know I will never have another dog like him.

In April, one of our mice, Hazel, also passed away. We decided not to get another companion for her sister, Harriet, since mice don’t typically live past one or two years old and they were both already about one and a half at the time. Surprisingly, Harriet is still with us and just passed her second birthday!

After that, we adopted our three guinea pigs, Piper, Annie, and Calla. Piper and Annie were adopted together from a family who no longer wanted them. (Fun fact, they came in a cage so small that we now use it as a litter box). Calla was adopted from a teenager who no longer wanted her, even though she is incredibly friendly and sweet! (Fun fact number two, she previously lived alone in a tiny glass aquarium with no hay… which is not appropriate care for a guinea pig.) Our three pigs are now living in a luxurious 10 square foot enclosure with the unlimited hay they deserve. Not to mention the fresh veggies! It is one of my greatest joys of pet ownership to be able to provide excellent homes for my animals. ?

Not long after that, we found a bunny just hanging out in a neighbor’s yard, and took her home. She didn’t belong to the home we found her at, and I was hopeful she was abandoned simply for the fact that I very much wanted to keep her. We named her Cinder and she was the most friendly, sweet, and fun bunny I’d ever seen. Sadly, soon a neighbor from down the street came around handing out flyers for their lost bunny, and we very reluctantly returned her. That family was not caring for her properly, so it was particularly saddening.

At that point, we decided we wanted a bunny of our own and we adopted Ellie from a local rescue. She is a big, bold girl who will tolerate being petted more than most bunnies I’ve seen, but she still isn’t exactly what I’d call cuddly. Most bunnies are, by nature, timid creatures and won’t sit and be petted by people for long. We thought we could get a baby bunny, and if he was handled by us from a young age, he would be more cuddly—enter, Chester. Sadly, Chester has grown up to be a more standoffish bunny than Ellie, and he runs away without fail anytime I try to touch him.

We were about to give up on the idea of having a bunny anything like Cinder, but we decided to give it one more try and went to see if any of the bunnies at our local rescue were particularly friendly. Lo and behold, we met little Kit. He is very cuddly and doesn’t just tolerate being petted, but actually solicits attention. As a result of our search for the perfect bunny, we now have three!

Chester and Ellie are very well-bonded, but Kit has not been accepted into the herd. So, in our pet room where all of the small animals live, Kit has his own large enclosure, which takes up a little less than half of the room. The rest of the open space is for Chester and Ellie. All of the bunnies live cage-free, since they are litter-trained. Even though they don’t have total access to each other, Kit is able to easily see, smell, hear, and even lay next to the other buns on the other side of the fence, which I feel helps fulfill his social needs.

We are definitely at capacity with our small animals, and moving forward my plan is to allow all of them to live out their natural lives and not adopt any more. I’d actually love to eventually have one dog, one cat, one horse (boarded), and maybe one small animal (or at most one per child, if they want their own pet). Of course, that is at least a decade away from happening, so for now we are going to have a full house of animals!

In September, we made the tough decision to rehome Lila. For months, her and Macy had been fighting and Lila had been injured. Despite our concerted efforts to work with both dogs on training, and many alternative ideas we considered such as keeping our house divided using baby gates or keeping one dog crated at all times, we eventually came to the decision that all involved would be better off by rehoming Lila. She is better suited to be a single dog, and when it came down to it, the thought of rehoming Macy was unbearable. (Not to mention the increased difficulty of rehoming a bully breed dog with a history of aggression towards other dogs). For the record, Macy gets along just fine with other dogs at the dog park and with Sky and Roscoe. It was really a personal thing between her and Lila.

We did find a great home for Lila and noticed an immediate difference in our pack at home after she was rehomed. We know we made the right decision, and even though we miss Lila, we are happy that she is safe and happy now.

So with that, we are now at three dogs, two cats, three guinea pigs, three bunnies, two birds, and one mouse—a total of fourteen pets!

How do I manage it, you may ask? It’s actually not as hard as it may seem. It takes me under an hour a day to take care of all of the pet care responsibilities! Time spent petting animals and walking the dogs is not included in that, because a) I don’t walk my dogs every day, but when I do walk them I consider it fun, not a chore, and b) petting animals is also fun, not a chore.

Honestly, Cory and I often find ourselves at the end of the workday with all of the chores done and nothing to do! Despite what appears to be a full plate, we have a lot of spare time and we definitely have the capacity add more to our lives. That’s a big reason we know for sure that we are ready to have another baby.

I love having a lot of pets and it gives me something positive to do with my time and energy. I also love that my kids get to experience living with animals and learn how to care for them. I wouldn’t mind downsizing over time, as I mentioned before, and in fact I feel it would be quite nice to have only a few pets for a change. Nevertheless, I like things the way they are now and I’m glad that the Westropp Zoo is so interesting and fun.


2020 Update:

In late January, as of the time of this posting, we also have now added two betta fish to our zoo. While I truly didn’t want any more pets, I couldn’t resist a little “homeschool” lesson setting up a habitat for the fish with the kids. The fish are the kids’ first pets that belong to them, but of course as the adult I am the one responsible for taking care of them. The kids help feed them twice a day, which is fun for them, and they love to watch them swim around their aquariums. They even named them—Biscuit is Cody’s fish and Baby is Abigail’s.  

Our Experiences as a Host Family with Safe Families for Children Ministry

Last year, our family started a new adventure by caring for children in need. We became involved in a ministry called Safe Families for Children in late 2018 and continued throughout 2019. In our just-over-a-year time as a Safe Families host family, we took in eight children in total and cared for them for almost four months cumulatively.

What is Safe Families for Children? I’ve had to answer that question a lot this past year! First of all, it is a ministry, meaning it is supported by local churches and it is completely voluntary (unpaid). It is a program administrated through Olive Crest, which is an organization that also does foster care and adoptions. Safe Families for Children, however, is not foster care. It is a program to provide housing and care to children temporarily during times of crisis for families who have no other source of support.

Legally speaking, the organization links families in need with families who are able to help, and acts as a middle-man to set up a temporary caregiver authorization. The parents of the children who are being “hosted” retain full custody and are able to take their children back at any time. The host families are essentially long-term babysitters, and hostings typically last anywhere from a couple of days to a few months.

The most common reasons for parents to have their children hosted in Safe Families for Children are homelessness, health-related issues, and substance abuse. Families usually are referred to this organization through schools, hospitals, police officers, or CPS.

Our family chose to volunteer with Safe Families for Children because we were interested in becoming foster parents, but not sure we were quite ready to commit to such a big endeavor. We also knew we could not meet the qualifications for a foster care license because our children do not have separate bedrooms, and opposite gender kids are required to in foster homes. Up until the summer of 2019, our kids didn’t even have their own bedroom, as we’d chosen to co-sleep (and share our room) with both of them. Co-sleeping, even with your own children, is also not allowed for foster parents, so we knew we weren’t a good fit at that time.

Anyhow, we were happy to be a part of Safe Families and we gained so much from the experience. The children we took in were all between the ages of ten months and five years old, and four of them were babies. Twice we took in a pair of brothers, and we only ever hosted one girl. The parents of the kids we hosted were homeless, recovering from addiction, and/or struggling with mental illness. Not only did we get to help these eight children stay out of foster care by allowing their parents the time they needed to get back on their feet, but we also grew in many ways.

Caring for children who are not your own, especially when you already have young kids at home, is challenging! It was overwhelming at times, exhausting, and just plain hard. We dealt with disciplinary issues, sleep issues, and feeding issues. Many of the kids came to us with very little of their own clothing or belongings, and we spent a lot of money providing things that were needed for them. Our church also helped a ton, and so many people donated clothes and gift cards, brought us dinners, encouraged us, and prayed for us.

What I found most amazing was how even though it was hard, we could do it. We did do it. We kept all of the kids safe, fed, clothed, and cared-for, and we didn’t completely lose our minds in the process. I attribute this to God’s grace more than anything else. He gave us the strength to manage the chaos and he held everything together.

We also received an incredible gift as a result of our service—an increase in our capabilities as a family. Through all of the stretching, we came out on the other side stronger. In terms of how capable I feel to meet all of my responsibilities in life and manage everything well, I have found an increased capacity. I can handle so much more now than I could at the end of 2018!

Every time we sent one of our Safe Families children back to their parents, we had an amazing sense of relief. Going back to just two kids felt almost like going on vacation! Then, after a couple of weeks of rest, we were always ready to go back into the fray and start another hosting.

At this time, however, we have decided not to continue with the program.


Here is the story behind that decision…

Our last hosting started in November. That hosting was with two brothers, a 12-month-old and a 22-month-old. For privacy, I will use fake names for them, Tyler and Caiden.

Tyler was 22 months old at the beginning of our hosting, and I believe he is autistic. He is developmentally delayed, and doesn’t walk or talk beyond saying a few words on occasion. He also did not eat solid food at all for us, until the last week we had him, but he did still drink formula. Tyler wanted to be held, but only by me, nearly 24/7 and would cry any time he was put down.

Caiden was a much easier baby. He was born premature so he was also small for his age and not yet walking. He also had severe eczema and cradle cap that had not been treated. Both boys came to us extremely dirty, and did not seem used to being bathed. They did not sleep well at night, so we had to do sleep training. That is not something I typically agree with, but since I didn’t have my usual baby-sleep-encouragement tools—breastfeeding and co-sleeping—it was necessary for us to let them cry it out so that we could all get enough sleep to function.

Because of the boys’ special needs and how close in age they are, it was our most challenging hosting. We ended up asking for Safe Families to find another host family to host Tyler after our first week with him. But after only a few days with his new host family, he ended up in the hospital with signs of abuse. My heart was shattered, knowing that I’d handed him over to an abuser. All I could do at that point was continue caring for Caiden, and bring him to visit his parents in the hospital a couple of times.

After those distressing events, I developed a stronger and closer relationship with the boys’ parents. When he was released from the hospital, they wanted my family to keep both boys for a little while, and we agreed. But for some reason, Safe Families decided to end our hosting of Caiden at that point and even insisted on transferring him back to his parents themselves.

Within a week, we heard from the boys’ parents and they were once again in a bad situation with nowhere to go. We decided to take Tyler and Caiden in again, this time without involving Safe Families for Children. We all signed a temporary caregiver authorization form, which gave us some legal security and the ability to secure medical care for the boys if needed. Then we kept them for another two weeks before their parents were ready to take them back again.

During that time, we considered the possibility of adopting the boys, knowing that their parents were facing so many challenges. But when we gently asked questions about their thoughts on adoption, it was clear that although they appreciated our help very much, they weren’t willing to consider giving up the kids.

With that possibility closed, we decided to move forward with our own plans to have our third baby. Emotionally, we had moved on, especially after we gave the boys back to their parents. Sadly, it was less than a week after that before once again, they called us asking for more help.

We knew that the situation wasn’t sustainable, and we weren’t willing to care for the boys for the months that they were asking for, knowing that we would never be able to adopt them. At that point, we could also see that they weren’t taking the steps they needed to take or making any progress for securing long-term stability. The only option left for them was to allow Child Protective Services to step in and release the boys to foster care. That is the situation as it is now.


The reason I share this sad story is in part to explain why we no longer plan to be a part of Safe Families for Children, and in part to explain why we want even more now to become licensed foster parents in the future. While I believe in this ministry and their mission wholeheartedly, and I hope they will continue to help families in need, I also disagree with how the situation with this family was handled. I have deep concerns with how host families are screened, and how the parents they serve are treated.

But those issues aside, I can also see that there is a huge need for good, loving foster parents. There are so many terrible stories out there about abuses in the foster care system, and I want to be a part of the solution. Knowing that those boys who I cared for and came to love are now in foster care, I can only hope and pray that they are with a good family. I have no illusions about how foster children are often treated, and the possibilities of what they could be going through right now are distressing. Truly, all I can do to have peace is to trust God and his plan. He loves those boys, and I know he will use everything for the good.

For the time being, we are not planning on becoming foster parents just yet. We’ve decided that during my pregnancy (hopefully soon!) and postpartum we want to focus on our family of four-soon-to-be-five, especially knowing that there is a possibility I will not have the energy or feel well enough to care for extra children during my first trimester, and especially after the baby is born. It is also very important to us to co-sleep with our next baby, as we did with Cody and Abigail. Knowing that co-sleeping is not allowed for foster families, we will need to wait until we’re ready for baby #3 to sleep on his/her own before becoming foster parents.

We are also planning on adopting our fourth child through the foster care system. Knowing that, we will likely wait until our third child is about three or four years old, so that we can preserve our birth order and child spacing. During those few years, we may become emergency or respite foster parents, since we won’t be ready to adopt yet but we do want to help kids in need in some way.

So anyway! Those were my family’s experiences with Safe Families for Children, and it has been a huge blessing for us to be able to help others and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how God wants to use us to love and care for some of the most vulnerable people in our world—children in need—in the future.