I have always loved animals of all kinds, and felt a kinship with them. From the four legged furry type, to the scaly cold blooded, they have all left rooms in my heart, and each one holds their own private key.
Four legged friends I have known: A short sentence for such a lifetime of joy. Companions, protectors, jesters, and teachers, I found all these things in my smorgasbord of pets. To me, a home without pets will always be missing something. Pets bring with them that “ other “. That which is basic and free. That which has no judgements or predetermined clauses. That which is given expecting nothing in return. Joy, friendship, protection, sorrow, heartache, sadness. The same things we share with our humans, we also share with them. I feel they give us something special, a connection that makes us complete within the natural world. Us, animals, Mother Earth, truly a Circle of Life. I shall start at the beginning:
Cricket – When I was in fourth grade my mother brought her home to us. A mixed breed hound/something who had a mind of her own. She had the wonderful bay bark that only hounds do, as well as the desire to follow her nose, and as there were no leash laws in effect back then, that she did. She roamed the streets with her pal Happy, a beautiful, though sadly neglected English Setter belonging to a neighbor before she was taken from us at the ripe old age of barely two due to an untreatable case of demodectic mange that my parents simply could not afford to treat.
Kirby – He was a family pet, from a neighborhood litter of collie, spaniel and possibly basset hound mix which accounted for his short stature. A spirited but loyal dog, we had a good relationship, he had a tendency to bite if you crossed him, I guess I never did. He lived a long though somewhat sheltered life. When he left us at 18, I like to think he finally got to run and roam those meadows he missed out on in his mortal form.
Sam – In my early years I was extremely allergic to cats, it still shows up in any allergy bloodwork I have though symptoms disappeared many years ago, the day Sam came into my life. A solid grey take no prisoners Russian Blue guy that came from a family friend, he was my first strong connection with an animal. Though he was a family pet, we quickly formed a strong bond. He slept with me at night, growled from my lap when he heard the doorbell ring, and soothed my teenaged nerves. He also left us at two years old, he had no longer wished to go outside, which previously was his domain to rule, when one day he collapsed and died in my arms as I in a panic rushed him to the vet. I’ll never forget how he gathered the last bit if strength he must have had, to climb into my lap from the car seat seconds before he died, a stubborn fearless King to the end. He opened a door for me as stated in my first post, that never closed.
Toby – He was Sam’s offspring, a result of a pairing of Sam with my girlfriends cat. When she told me of a litter of kittens that Sam had sired, I immediately went over to see them, and Toby entered my life. His were the the most vivid green eyes I had ever seen. I was blessed with him for 15 years, until FELV claimed his life, along with two other pets that were my husbands, Mike and Bugs. He had been very healthy all of his life except for an occasional cold that quickly passed. Toby was an aristocat. He would sit on the edge of the shelf looking out the window like an unmoving sphinx. He loved sitting on the farthest corner of the garage roof, whilst the bluejays swept down at him as they tried to guard their nests. How he fell off I will never know. He loved to swat at the birdhouses my parents had under the eave of the roof, I would tell him to get down, he would promptly go to the tree and climb down to my feet. Elegant, beautiful, extremely smart, like his Dad, wary enough to survive so many years spending much of it outside. He played games with the squirrels and was an extremely skilled bird hunter, though he never lowered himself to actually eat them. He preferred his dinner served on a glass plate from a shiny new can. He listened and obeyed me as if he understood every word, because of course, he did. At eleven he was moved to his new home when I married. He showed me he was not happy, using my shoes as a litter box, though he spent so much time in his beloved out of doors , he never needed one. He was always the Prince you see, and was not happy sharing a home with other cats. He stubbornly adjusted and lived happily for four years, until they all crossed the Rainbow Bridge together. The afternoon he was quietly sent over the bridge, I suddenly turned as I saw him out of the corner of my eye, in his usual spot where I knew he could not be, my heart told me he had came to say goodbye on his way. My daughter told me one morning, as her bedroom was years before we had children, ” Toby’s Room”, that when she woke up she had seen a grey and white cat on the bed, I guess he had come to visit one last time.
There was a space of close to two years before another pet appeared as our grief from losing three companions all at once needed time to lessen. The next pet came bounding into our lives in the grand form of :
Zeke – all my pets I have loved and grieved equally for, but Zeke, well, though all were loved and cherished, he certainly had his own pedestal on which to pose. Zeke was the only purebred dog I ever had. He came from a local man who was a cruelty officer I got talking to while at the local SPCA looking for a puppy. He said he had a litter of golden retrievers, to which we promptly went out and picked the biggest puppy. This was to be my first dog of my own, I wanted a special one, he fit the bill. He became the fourth wheel of our family who at that time consisted of myself, my husband and our three year old daughter. His life and what he brought to us, which three years later became one larger when our son came into this world, encompassed twelve beautiful years in which we shared love, protection ( he once made a six foot 250 pound rubbish collector dive straight into the back of the garbage laden truck, when he felt they came too close to my children and I in the driveway), and joy, he was simply a fun dog. He and I often played soccer in the front yard, of course he with four legs, me with two, he always won. He loved our lake front camp, he would swim across the lake following our boat if we did not take him with us. He would catch fish in his mouth at the shoreline and bark ferociously at any boat that wandered into our bay, warning them away from his territory and my children who played nearby. He learned to obey me just through gestures, no words were needed, so strong was our bond. He had started having fits at three, something not uncommon in goldens, he was on medication for years. When suddenly he didn’t respond to me at camp, we rushed him to the vet to learn he most likely had a brain lesion causing him to start having fits not controlled by medication. We were told he would not improve but to up his medication to lessen them. He improved for a few days, then became much worse. I knew as I stood by him one night as his frequent fits attacked him and he refused to walk, and had most likely gone blind, that he was suffering and the next day led him over the rainbow bridge. The buckets of tears we cried over him drenched his fur like rain. We as a family mourned him greatly, he was indeed special. We still had his feline companion that I had brought into our lives when Zeke was about three, which leads me to her:
Lucy – rescued from the SPCA for my birthday, a gorgeous tabby calico, she was with us for 15 years, during which time she, being declawed in the front nonetheless, was the undisputed Queen of the neighborhood and she ruled it with an iron paw. She reminded me much of Toby, same intelligence and wary nature, but she was much more brutal. She hunted mice, moles, birds and rabbits, and ate them all like her wild cousins. No neighborhood cat would pass her as she lay in the yard, she chased off a pitbull, and fought off foxes. She detested other cats, though loved dogs. She often slept next to Zeke and played with our neighbors husky. She was a loving cat, but would give a gentle bite if you tried to pet her for too long. She had a close bond with my son, who I would sometimes find sleeping with Lucy on the same pillow. She would be gazing at him, inches from his face, as if guarding him while he slept from any unseen monsters under the bed or creatures lurking in his closet. In the Winter when her coat grew thick, she appeared as a glorious snow leopard, pouncing about the backyard drifts. She left us one evening when after being let out, we believe she knew it was her time and like the Queen Lioness that she was, found a quiet place and gently padded over the Rainbow Bridge.
After Zeke had left us, we went a few months but the house had become so accustomed to a dog, I felt a piece was missing so one day in the paper, I found:
Jake – a fearless black rottweiler/chow/lab and due to events that unfolded, behaviors, the wilds I had purchased him in, we believe coyote as well. He was very smart, but trusted no one except us, his wild genes surfacing we later realized. He never had any fear when we took him camping in the Adirondacks, even as a young pup. He slept outside our tent with wild sounds all around him. We know now that he had felt at home. He was the best behaved dog in the house and though always dominant, learned manners and for three and a half years he was a good dog. I always felt safe with him there, as no one would ever get past him. When he was about one and a half, we rescued Buddy, a lovely collie/hound who I will speak of next. Sadly as Jake matured, his dominance turned to aggression, for no reason other than I felt, a volatile mix if breeds, including a wild cousin. He had shown aggression to myself and my husband for a time that we managed, but it became worse and we could no longer trust him with our family, or anyone. He was 90 pounds of muscle and extremely strong. Heartbroken but resigned, we had no recourse but to end his short though action packed life with us.
It was this sad event that gave me the resolve to understand , and led me to delve into dogs and what really makes them tick. I was so heartbroken and confused as to what would make a dog you raised from a puppy, with love, care, and gentle discipline , turn so viciously against someone he should totally trust? I became a student of Cesar Milans teachings because I would not let Jakes early death be in vain, I would honor his memory by learning all I could to help me truly know a dogs nature, which I did and that led me to having the confidence to save more lives and enlarge our pack.
Buddy – one of our prettiest pets, I rescued Buddy at four months old. Cute as a button but stubborn and aloof as hounds can be, he pranced around our hearts for eight years. Of course upon first sight, Jake wanted to kill him, but with time and patience, they became like rough and tumble brothers and Buddy mourned Jake when he was gone. He once almost jumped off our boat when he spotted a big black lookalike onshore and thought he at last had found his long lost brother. I watched him with great admiration as he would track porcupines in our woods, his nose in the air, he found anything and everything. His hound genetics were strong, he was an amazing camp dog. He loved the woods, as all of our dogs did, his true nature felt at home there. For a time when he was our only dog, deer would wander closer into our bay no longer kept away by Jakes fierceness, Buddy would bound through the long grass after them wanting to play, his long legs and talented nose helping him to keep up, but not quite. I brought our next pet:
Mocha – into our world when having only one dog didn’t seem right. She was a thin mangy stray that blossomed into having the most magnificent seal like coat. She was smart as a whip, sassy, and a true escape artist. Within two minutes of bringing her home, she had already figured out the dog run latch and out she was. She loved camp as well, she rode on the back of our pontoon boat poised like a statue, taking everything in. We had Buddy, Mocha, my pack leader skills were such that I figured its time for one more. We had a large fenced in yard and a dog run in the garage so room was aplenty. I found a wonderful rescue that brought dogs up from the south at a cost less than local shelters. Pennsylvania was the pick up point which was no problem for me.
Alabama – named for his home state, was an absolute dollbaby pup. A cattledog/pitbull mix, he is certainly one of the most well behaved and devoted to me of all. We call him our “gentleman dog” as he is calm and steady, with impeccable manners. I started his training the day I brought him home, and it shows. He to this day will stay by my side whenever we are together. He has tangled with porcupines at our former lake home, as all our dogs have, but his pitbull gameness made him a “ in it to win it” type who simply will never back down from a fight that he decides he wants to enter. So, he had the worst case of “ porcupine face” we ever saw, though the tenacity of his breed made him still able to wag his tail during the ordeal. At this time we had Lucy and Chief. Chief, who we lost just recently, a big beautiful furball, that I fell instantly in love with while innocently petting the cats at a rescue site. He was a devoted laid back warm wonderful addition to our family. He and Lucy were our resident cats at the time I decided, since my husband had always wanted a Maine Coon cat, I felt he should have one. I searched until I found our perfect fit in New Hampshire in the form of the regal:
Barron – hence his name. What an amazing animal he turned out to be, big, gorgeous, great nature and intuitive to a degree you don’t often see in cats. When he looks at you with his huge yellow/ green eyes, you just know he is gazing straight into your soul and sees things even you do not. He will demand attention by butting with his huge head, “talking” or meowing for you to turn the faucet on as he prefers that to a water bowl. He likes watching tv or following my sons video games, he truly is a magnificent animal.
So at this same time, we had Buddy, Mocha, Alabama on the dog side of things. All big dogs who spent much of the time outside. So I felt it was time to bring:
Gem – into the mix as a housedog. Little did we realize she would be one of our best scout dogs. She trapsed our woods fearlessly, many times in the lead. She is a Papillion mix who came from the same wonderful rescue Alabama did. She’s smart as a whip, a great watchdog. Our thought with pets is to have as many as we have room for and can afford, we always had room, big yards and a lakefront cabin, and I am a master at finding good pet care at a good price, our pet combo that blessed us to save many lives. We then added the one and only:
Dexter – a black beauty of a cat from the SPCA, who was the most loving animal I have ever met. He would often share Gems crate, only his amber eyes peering out of the blackness told me he was there. He tragically got outside and not being the wary type, but trustful that no one and nothing in this world would hurt him, was struck by a car and killed. I believe I heard his plantiff goodbye as he lept quickly over the Rainbow Bridge as I was woken up from sleep by a cats cry, and found him on my way to work. We buried him in our back yard with tears and regret of his short time with us.
We all so loved Barrons uniqueness, one Christmas I decided we deserved another, I then found:
Zelda – our true Warrior Queen. She was the opposite of Barron though. Where he was regal and dignified, she came bursting into any room she pleased, latched doors meant nothing to her as she easily opened them with her giant skilled paws. Barron seemed to recognize immediately that they were different yet the same, as he was instantly in love. Their favorite spot to sleep was on the top bunk in my sons room. What had attracted me to her was the wild untamed look in her eyes that came through even in a photograph. Her look was that of a creature that has one paw in our world, the others in one much more mysterious. She represented Wild Mother Nature to me, a big fluffball of fearless grey dynamite. She left us most tragically at the age of two we learned later from a practice called linebreeding that made her become deathly ill and we lost her. I was totally and absolutely heartbroken. It was so sudden, so tragic, I thought she was so tough and would be with us for many years. To this day her pictures always bring tears. My legacy to her is to educate people about greedy breeders and the heartache and suffering they cause just to make a buck. We had a tragic run of losing a few of our furbabies. We lost Zelda, not long after, Buddy, who though Alabama and he lived respectfully together, they had a few fights if the spirit moved them. Buddy was very tough but Bama was too strong for him. One day Buddy ran off when I was bringing him in for the night and despite intense searches, we never found him. It was another very confusing event to me, we loved him, I know he trusted me, I guess he just grew tired of living in fear of Bama, though he didnt show it. I like to think he found some kind old man to live a quiet rest of his life. We then lost Lucy, and later that year, Mocha developed a cancer in her leg that was inoperable. I had learned even though always a hard lesson, to somewhat roll with the life and death of pets, being through it many times, but so many in a short time span was tough. I had brought home:
Claudia – a five week old black panther when she was dumped on the side of the road with her littermates. She was the youngest animal we had ever rescued, hardly able to walk and having to be given milk supplements. I believe she will always look upon me as her mother. All our pets come to their names, yes even our cats. I’m not sure how I taught them, food sometimes is a part of training, I think they just trust us. She is the only cat that will come bounding into the room from wherever she is when I call. She is elegant and classy, loving to people but not a big fan of other cats unless its on her terms.
I had come to realize four was our perfect pack size for dogs, we were short one when we lost Buddy, so, into the picture, from the same lovely rescue that brought us Bama and Gem, strode the glorious:
Jetta – Another jet black beauty, hence her name. A magnificent-coated princess with the longest coat if left to grow, that I have ever seen, it will hit the ground in its length. A border collie/ chow mix, another smart as a whip, very strong willed but sweet addition, and a great watchdog. She fell into line as to what I expected of her very quickly. She rules as Alpha of the dog pack, which I knew she would. Since she’s a female, Bama allows it. We still had Mocha when her six month self came to our home, as she matured they had some dominance tussles that I quickly broke up, sometimes Bama joined in. Mocha trusted me to keep her safe in our home and I would never let her down. I made sure they all knew their place and felt safe within it. Jetta would often sit on the hill at camp, alert and looking out, as if guarding her ” herd” , true to her collie nature.
Our unconventional pet side started with the sleek green form of Dina, our inherited from our daughter due to moving , 11 year old iguana. She and my sweet Chinchilla Pikachu who I was blessed with for five years, were our out of the ordinary pets. Dina came to us on our daughters 16th birthday, a gift from her boyfriend after I refused to allow her to keep his original gift, a handsized rose tarantula that my neighbors from five doors down heard me scream “get it out” when I saw it creepily crouched, as only spiders can, in a too small glass container in her room. Dina was its welcome replacement. When our daughter was on the move for her career, knowing that iguanas need dedicated owners to survive, I decided our home is where she would stay. She shared our living room with Pikachu, my 50th birthday present to myself. They both had huge cages, each one in their own corner.
To some our living room looked like a zoo, to me, it was wonderfully exotic.
Pikachu was an adorable gorgeous Chinchilla that I took many hours of many days of many weeks to get him tamed to trust me, he and Dina were wild animals after all. You have to build trust at a much slower pace and make it a strong bond as no matter how tame a wild animal is, in times of fear or stress, they will always follow their instinct over all else. I learned this after Dina gave me a foot long deep scratch down my arm when she got spooked when I was taking her out of her cage. Pikachu was always gentle with me once he was tamed, though he did bite a visiting guest. He lived to five years, he was always very healthy and I read up on his care diligently. He developed a gastrointestinal problem and despite a visit to Cornell, where I was not impressed, given their supposed reputation, he went downhill. I took him to a local vet next day who tried very hard to save him, to no avail. I missed his sweet face, little paws that held onto the cage rail, and the way he’d jump, wild with delight in his dust bath, which is how they keep themselves clean. Dina is still with us today at the age of 15. We brought her from the brink of death a couple times due to infections, with injections, syringe feeding and warm baths, she’s a tough scaly bitch, and we love her.
In October of 2014 we left New York State for the balmy skies of Florida. We had sold our camp, Splendid Isolation, in her honor, I had adopted a tiny half feral tabby kitten:
Theresa – named after the town our camp was in. She still today is tiny, and always has a wild not quite tamed look in her eye, and is the only pet of mine that will not come when called, only her wild crossed over sister Zelda had done the same. She yowled like a crazy cat when I picked her up from the back porch she called home, but quickly realized she liked the warm soft blanket in her carrier and quieted down. In tow when we left for our new life in Florida Bama, Jetta, Gem, Chief, Barron, Theresa, Claudia, and Dina. I would shortly add:
Dash – as mentioned how four was our perfect dog pack number. Another rescue, the only type of pet we will welcome now. A weimaraner/dachshund/ black mouth cur, he looks like a short Scooby Doo. Loyal, funny, fierce when needed, he survived a rattlesnake bite with treatment, his tough genes and his youth bringing him through. He is our only dog who is not too fond of the cats, his hunting cur background no doubt. He is not overly fond of strangers and has a mean bark, bigger than he is actually. He is a total baby with me, but walks down the street like a boxer, waiting for any other dog that dare take him on, 54 pounds of sass.
Of course, my thinking with cats is, once you have the set up, litter box, toys, food, various cat trees, what’s one more. So we added our Florida cats:
Simon – a stunning all white blue eyed Siamese mix. He is a ladies man all the way. He is also our biggest troublemaker of the feline type.
Sheba – a gorgeous kaleidoscope coated beauty, the most “ girly” of all our female cats, my son put so accurately. A sweet addition to our feline pride. Lastly:
Zakk – who I was offered as a kitten when I donated food to a local shelter. They had literally hundreds but his stunning orange eyes against his grey suit of a coat made him the one. He leaps across the tops of our couches in agile bounds when you least expect it but is one of our gentlest pets. We now share our home with four dogs, six cats, an iguana and two aquariums. Alot of work, yes. Messy house, no, I am quite the neat freak. Holes in the yard, no, my dogs are content. They spend much of their days chasing squirrels, and lounging in the warm sun.
Some people cannot take care of even one pet, them I pity as to me, they are missing out on a truly great connection and learning experience. Some can care for many pets, who when the world is dark and dreary, can be the calming spirit that soothes. Animals don’t want rewards. They only know how to be real. They live in the moment, but learn from the past. They have given me comfort, joy, loyalty, and lessons. All that have passed through my life left something special and unique to each one of them. I loved them all and each one added another facet to my life.
They all walk with me, in spirit or in the now, the power of pawprints, plus one.