Animals draw me in. The softness of their fur lures me; they can be patient listeners. I know pets aren’t for everyone, I mean those with allergies or phobias definitely won’t like this post.
Pre-memory, back when I was probably about four, we had a dog named Snoopy. Apparently I was petting him nicely annoyingly fawning over him when he bit me on the nose. According to my memory of the ‘family legend,’ that was the origin of my hard-to-see scar. Also early in my time on earth, we had a variety of fish, hamsters, gerbils, and my brother kept a succession of turtles - some who lasted very short times, some much longer.
At an age closer to eight, I visited the family farm, family being my great-grandparents’ original farm near Hamilton. An aunt lived there, with her sons not far away. It was farmed by others – huge fields of corn hair wafting in the breeze. In the yard, past the windmill pulling water from the well and the driveshed with its gaping doors was a huge red barn – a treasure trove for an imaginative girl from the city. It had mysterious rooms with closed doors, stalls in the bottom and a hay loft above that still had a few piles of dried grasses. And dust, lots of dust, but no animals. While the old folks visited, I gamboled in the barn, dreaming and wishing I lived in the hay with horses.
As if in answer to my wish, a small black kitten emerged from the straw, mewing quietly. Of course I had to pet him. Of course he latched onto me as if knowing he belong at home with me. Of course, I begged, swearing I’d look after him and clean the litter box faithfully. Of course my parents finally acquiesced.
We had a few cats after that, including a stray my sister found who lived 17+ years with us. When I left home for university, a roommate and I adopted a cat in our first week there, an orange tabby named Bowie. After marrying and starting a career, I lived in an apartment and we bought a rabbit, who nibbled our carpet and pooped under the dining room table. Then home ownership gave us a back yard for both the rabbit (Phieffer) and a Cocker Spaniel puppy (CJ).
We lost the rabbit when, bored of nibbling in our backyard, he figured out how to slink under the fence just like Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s story. He feasted on dandelions and frolicked with the wild rabbits in the yards around our house until he mysteriously disappeared.
CJ – who I’m sure didn’t chase Phieffer away, moved west with us and lived a long life helping the kids grow up and hiking in the mountains.
After that dog left us and our hearts mended, we stopped in at a pet shop where were two rescue puppies were ‘housed’ together. We couldn’t agree on which one to take home, so we adopted them both. Kipper and Kida were opposites, one eager to please and slightly neurotic; and the other aloof, and smart enough to cause neuroses.
Kida was still with us when Odie arrived. She lived a life much longer than we expected (14 years with hip dysplasia) through her stubborn determination to not let that puppy rule the roost. She was still stubborn after suffering some sort of stroke and we had to put her down.
Not long after that, we moved back east with Odie. Hubby had (unwisely in my opinion) said to Odie as we all climbed into the overly packed station wagon for the trip across four provinces: “Do you want to go to the cottage?” The pup made the 3 day car ride staring out the front window of a jam-packed car. Every time we passed a body of water, he perked up. I’m sure his thoughts were an endless loop of ‘are we there yet?’ Previously, he had arrived at the cottage after a loooooong flight confined in a kennel (the indignity) in the body of a plane. One day, I’ll write about how Air Canada sent him to the wrong city and how many consecutive hours he spent in that kennel (and didn’t pee!)….
After a year in Ontario, my son declared he wanted a puppy for his birthday (a girl to even the gender ratio). After a search, we brought home a puppy who seemed to be afraid of everything. When my son walked in with Pharrah in his arms, Odie had the excited look that said, “YOU BROUGHT ME A PUPPY!!!!!” Of course she was fearful of this big guy but he lay as small as he could possibly make himself and licked her reassuringly until she decided this place was safe. They have been best friends since then.
Odie is going strong; he’s mostly deaf, limps from a bum back leg, but acts like a puppy at thirteen. He doesn’t stroll sedately like an old man, but bounces his long black fur with each step. Pharrah now looks after him. When Odie wanders off in the wrong direction, we tell Pharrah, ‘Go get Odie’ and she bounds toward him, runs past him, which makes him turns and then returns to us.
I don’t know if I’d survive without being able to rub furry backs or bellies. But pets – animals in general – bring out the best and the worst in us. Their semi-silent watchfulness can keep us honest and trigger us to laugh at ourselves. They often reveal our truest natures, whether we want that to be shown them or not.
Pets are many things that I’m not: patient, always happy, empathetic, and always loving. Many mornings I wake up and decide to be as good as my pets have been over the years. I’m still working on it….
What kind of pets do you have? What's the best name for a pet you've ever heard?