When our nest emptied, it emptied it not only of kids, but of pets too. We have nothing against pets. We’ve had both dogs and cats and loved them, but the GypsyNester lifestyle of no-plans and go-anywhere isn’t very conducive to taking an animal along. So, for now at least, we are finished with being pet parents.
But pets are often a part of parenting and I got to thinking about some of the colorful characters that were a part of my family through the years.
When I was a little kid, our first pet configuration was a dog, a cat and a bird. Needless to say, the bird and the cat were best of friends. Their relationship went like this: cat sits and stares with hungry look at bird; bird sits in cage on the brink of heart failure. That went on until the bird mercifully died, probably of heart failure.
Our dog, Holly, was an incredibly high strung English Setter that spent her every waking moment frantically trying to escape from the backyard. Unfortunately, she finally did and it led to her demise. I remember it well, when my brother and I came home from watching “Yellow Submarine” we discovered that she had busted free and came up on the short end of an encounter with a car.
It’s too bad, because the next year we moved out to the boonies of southern Colorado where Holly would have had all the room in the world to work off all of that high strungliness. This was pet Shangri-la.
Our new dogs, Pogo and Connie, were truly in hog heaven. In fact, Pogo began to emulate a hog. It became his one true life’s mission to smell as bad as any living thing on the planet. He could kick up a stink that shamed a dead carcass rotting in the Death Valley sun. Vultures would circle and then think better of it and move on. He smelled so bad that his fur would curl.
Washing him was futile — his only thought after a bath was to find some fresh, wet, stinky cow manure. He had a method. Wallow in the wet manure until well covered then find some dry dirt to roll around in, to really set the mixture. Repeat as needed. It was like breading chicken for frying.
Sometimes we’d try throwing him in the pond, but that just aggravated the stink. Then we’d have to run for our lives before he’d shake. Pogo loved the pond, it had many opportunities for adding to his arsenal. Seriously, wet dog, plus pond scum, plus caked on two day old cow manure equals an olfactory assault of epic proportions.
One summer’s day, Pogo was hanging out (upwind of course) while I was fishing. He suddenly lunged at the water’s edge, snapping something up. Turned out he swallowed a frog, whole. I could practically see the poor amphibian kicking all the way down Pogo’s ingestion passages. The crazy mutt had a very disturbed look when he began to contort into a full body wretch, a disgusting spectacle, even by Pogo standards. The culmination of this contortion was — Jonah the Frog — slightly worse for wear and seriously freaked out, wretched up, before hopping back into the pond and swimming to safety. Pogo simply went on about his usual business, in search of his next vile pile of revolting refuse to roll in.
Connie, was our beloved, tragic clown. The runt of her litter, she was a complete physical wreck from the get-go. It took several surgeries just to get her past puppyhood. The last of these was an experimental eye surgery performed at the Kansas State University Veterinary Medicine School. The results were only temporarily successful.
By the time Connie was two or three years old she was blind as a bat and stone deaf. She didn’t seem to care in the least. She went on about life as if running full speed at a dead run square into walls, fences, trees, horses, creeks, ponds — pretty much any stationary object — was completely normal. Her nose was one big callous.
In spite of this, her sense of smell survived. That was all she needed to find us and follow whenever we rode off on our horses. She did fairly well unless we stopped. Then she would either run into hind legs or right past us. The hind legs usually resulted in a Connie-launching-kick, and the ever present “yipe,” that signaled another collision.
She was so good-natured about the situation that it became ridiculously humorous. We could hear her “yipes” carrying through the woods as she bounced off of the trees, fences and rocks. Nothing slowed her down.
One day my brother and I were riding along the dirt road into town and, as always, Connie was charging along beside us. A rare car approached so we pull our mounts over to the side to let it pass, but Connie kept right on going. Oh no! She was headed right for the car’s front tire! Tragedy seemed eminent.
We yelled and waved and luckily the driver saw us and tried to stop, the car skidding on the loose gravel. Just as the vehicle slowed to a halt, Connie plowed full speed, headlong into the tire, letting out a louder than usual “YIPE!”
The driver was horrified — mostly at the sight of my brother and I nearly falling off our horses laughing — he thought he had killed our dog. As we regained our breath, we explained our pinball wizard mutt to him. He drove off, unamused. Connie simply charged ahead with plenty of new obstacles to encounter… head on.
I realize that our finding humor in Connie’s shenanigans sounds uncaring, but just think Mr. Magoo, on steroids, and about 10,000 times funnier.
One winter, when we came down the mountain to stay in the city, Connie wandered off. The weather took a turn for the horrendous, below zero with snow, sleet and icy winds. After a couple days of searching, we began to give up hope. Naturally we figured our little blind, deaf, short-haired mutt was a goner and we lamented her loss.
Ten days later, Connie, completely encrusted in ice, came bouncing up the driveway. I kid you not! I guess she sniffed us out.
After our initial joy, and caring for Connie, we started thinking about this miracle and ended up in hysterics visualizing her adventure. How many car wrecks had she caused by blindly wandering right into traffic on the icy roads? Picturing the swath of destruction left in her wake as she ambled around town had us in tears. Doh-de-doh-de-doh… screeeeeech, crash. Phone poles down, store fronts driven through, multi-vehicle pile ups, a real reign of terror. That’s hilarious! We were sick puppies.
The news media completely missed the story by incorrectly assuming that the town’s recent wave of destruction was caused solely by the weather.
As adults and parents, we have had a few memorable four legged members of the family. Our kid’s first pet came right before the birth of our second child, Decibel. We allowed our oldest, The Piglet, to name the new dog. She named him Bubba, guess she was hoping for a boy.
Bubba was a pound puppy and grew up with the girls. He thought of them as littermates and would tolerate absolutely anything from them without the slightest protest. Tail tugging, fur grabbing, rope harnesses for sled or big-wheel pulling, clothes wearing or just general love mauling was all in a days work to Bubba. I think it helped that he was anything but the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was more like that one butter knife that’s been back there unused for several decades because it won’t even cut butter. Actually, he defined the saying ignorance is bliss. It made him all the more lovable.
He did have one trait that was far from lovable — the propensity to dig. A fur covered jackhammer. A backhoe with a tail. Moles don’t take to digging like Bubba did. The backyard looked like a minefield, where the mines had been placed way too close together and then detonated.
He dug a basement under his doghouse. The usual view from the kitchen window was Bubba’s butt sticking up out of a large hole with a rooster tail of dirt flying out behind it while two little girls tried to tie something onto him. One day I walked outside and he had dug up the water line and was chewing on it. What the hell? He was an unstoppable excavation machine. We really should have started a swimming pool installation company. Opportunities missed.
One opportunity never missed with our furry companions is the chance for kids to learn valuable realities of life. Love and caring for a dependent creature, being responsible for something other than yourself and the loss of a loved one — all of these are usually first experienced through a pet.
As well as gut-wrenching laughter.
Your Turn: Is/was there a pet in your life that made a difference in your family? Have you owned any lovably weird pets? Please share!