Heavy Petting: How many strange pets can one family have?

When our nest emptied, it emptied not only of kids, but of pets too. Don’t get the wrong idea, 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.

That got me 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 was all in a days work to Bubba.

We are aware of how most dogs hate being dressed up and that it might cause stress to them, but Bubba was absolutely into it.

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.

David, GypsyNester.com

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!

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19 thoughts on “Heavy Petting: How many strange pets can one family have?”

  1. We are now empty nesters. No longer pet parents. Each pet was able to move with each kid as they, one by one left the house. I do miss having a dog. We have discussed it a few times. However, the thoughts of vet bills, food, and just plain committing to another 10+ yrs of owning an animal just isn’t for us at this moment. No more gerbils, cats or dogs or fish. We’re done. Enjoying the freedom.

  2. Funny and warm. We had a pet blue tongue lizard named “Bluey”. He would do follow my son everywhere and sleep in his bed. My son took him for walks in the garden but one day I had put snail bait out and we found Bluey ….

  3. Thanks for sharing your crazy pet stories; I especially enjoyed your tales about Connie. We do miss having animals around, but like you we don’t think pets and our traveling lifestyle are the best combination. Maybe someday….

  4. I love animals whether they crawl, walk, fly or swim. I’ve had so many weird pets I cannot begin to describe them all. I tend to attract animals with “issues”, usually involving being hyper or high strung. We have 3 rescues right now, Luke, a big golden retriever who leaps and “mouths” your arm when you walk in the door, even if you’ve only been gone 15 minutes; Lucy, a golden retriever who is scared of EVERYTHING. She also believes that all people and things in the house belong to her, so woe to the dog who tries to get a pet or a toy…she will go after the dog. She also enjoys stealing our stuff and then bringing it to us like she found it out of place or something. She is some kind of psycho. Then there is Remy, a half Shepherd/half Husky mix our daughter brought home to us when she boomeranged. His energy is 24 hours a day, and he is regularly attacked by the other dogs for being too hyper. One good thing about our boomerang daughter…she is old enough to watch the house and dogs (and cats) when we travel! We are off to Cozumel on Monday so will be posting pictures of our wonderful, wild sea creatures on my blog. I can’t wait to see what’s below the sea.

  5. Kids and animals go together so well. Our kids are responsible for looking after the dog (even clearing dog poo)so they learn those life lessons and understand what caring for someone/something means. Dogs are also loving without the emotional baggage that us humans bring so for my boys, who are adopted, he gives them unconditional love. A match made in heaven!

  6. We lost our beloved dog of 12 years in April before our only son graduated HS in May. It was heartbreaking for many reasons, not the least of which being that he was supposed to be my replacement (furry) child when Elijah moved out!

    After much searching, we finally found our new baby in July. We adopted (saved) a 4-month puppy from our city’s (kill) shelter. Sadly, having a puppy in the house only serves to make me feel REALLY OLD AND TIRED OMG SHE HAS SO MUCH ENERGY.

    1. Yay to you for saving a puppy! But, yes! A lot of work. We understand about losing a pet right before the nest emptied – it’s really hard. Glad you found the right little guy to be your “replacement kid” – did you name him Elijah Two?

  7. Stories worthy of Mark Twain! As a child I found comfort in our pets, well maybe not in all as at one point we had a couple of hamsters and they were horrible: on their first day they dove into a bowl of Birchermuesli (ok, who says that hamsters have their rightful place on a dinner table?), cannot remember whether we finished our meal. As a result of their frequent couplings they had a litter of about 20 which the mother got rid of one by one by eating them. She died of overweight shortly after polishing them all off. The male lived on and died of pneumonia or a lack of female company. But we loved our dogs, we had a boxer, Babette, who loved to eat (only) fresh pig manure and proceeded to give a wet kisses to my aunt, Henry, a Shetland sheep dog, who would try to keep the flock (our family and anyone on two legs) together by biting us in the ankle, Bobby, a huge Calgo my mother found in Spain, who hated to ride in a car and would spend most of the yearly ride to Switzerland (roughly 2’500 km) standing, practically leaning on our shoulders and foul smelling breath wafting in our noses. But he taught my daughter to walk by standing close to her and watching every step.
    Do you not miss having a pet around you?

  8. Wonderfully funny!! Love your ability to find humor where it would otherwise be sad. Pets add a layer of joy to life that is infectious and healing. Your story parallels the story in a book I worked on with my friend and colleague, Robin: www(dot)lifetomax(dot)com. I did it because of the way our pets can leave a lasting imprint on our hearts, and Robin's story helped to heal mine. Obviously, pets play an important role in our lives–or they wouldn't here.

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