On Writing

"Every fine story must leave in the mind of the sensitive reader an intangible residuum of pleasure, a cadence, a quality of voice that is exclusively the writer's own, individual, unique."
Willa Cather

Monday, June 13, 2016

On Loving and Losing Pets



Growing up, nothing seemed more important than trying to convince my mother I needed a pet.  She had been a farm girl before her marriage, and now that she lived in the city, she believed animals were out of place in houses or tied up outside.  Once, a friend’s cat had kittens and I brought one home, playing with it by dangling a strand of yarn.  I thought my mother couldn’t resist how cute the little thing looked, but resist she did and the kitten went back to my friend.

My only choice in pets was two goldfish named Minnie the Moocher and Winnie the Pooh, named for obvious reasons.  They were improperly housed in a little bowl of tap water and didn’t survive long, though I had no idea I caused their demise.  I was so desperate to have something of my own, that I took charge of a live chicken given to my parents by my uncle Fred, a farmer.  It was intended to have its head cut off the following day, but I thought I might tame it.  I somehow managed to tie a string around its neck, but it almost pecked it off, so I had to lock it up in the garage.  Altogether, it was an unsatisfactory pet, and I neither shed tears nor hesitated to eat it when it appeared on the dinner table.

One Sunday, my father agreed to take me to the pound to pick out a dog, and I was beside myself with joy.  I could hardly believe he and Mother were allowing this.  I still can’t believe he knew the pound was closed, but it was, and that trip was never to be repeated.  I actually think I caught them both in a weak moment, for my mother came flying to the door, rather excited, when I pretended I had a dog by giving out little yips and barks.

All this frustrating background with attempts to have a pet resulted, quite naturally, in my husband and I acquiring two Siamese kittens within six months of our marriage.  It only took a month for us to return one of them since it became clear our furniture and curtains couldn’t survive the siblings tearing around the apartment in rambunctious play.  We kept the big male, Chula, named for the prince in Anna and the King of Siam.  He quickly became my own cat and he also quickly became a source of a severe allergy.  I wouldn’t admit it, of course, denying the cause of my coughing and wheezing.  Eventually, we were to move from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Richardson, Texas, because of my husband getting a transfer, and though we made preparations for taking Chula by getting him some tranquilizers, we gave up after a hundred miles of his yowling and pacing in the car.  We dropped him off at an animal clinic and for months I had bad dreams about that cat following us to Texas on bloody paws.  

But that was not the end of our pet story.  Several moves later, we ended up in Tennessee, and after a couple of years there, a friend’s poodle had pups. She asked me if I’d like one, and I couldn’t resist, and so we got Sophie, a chocolate miniature.  We loved Sophie, who was smart and sweet and obedient.  Again, she became my dog, much to my husband’s chagrin, as he always thought of himself as the animal lover par excellance.  Sophie was tended to like a princess, and through the years she went everywhere possible with us.  Our older boys babysat her when Max and I took trips, and finally when she was in her dotage at the age of seventeen, Max called our friend, Dr. Jim Hale, a vet, who came to the house and put her to final rest.  As it happened I was at my sister’s in Virginia, and missed the sad event, a kindness on Max’s part.

We swore never again to have another pet as we got too attached and their care was burdensome, but fate took over and we ended up with Louie, a ten-pound papillon.  We had been without a pet for twenty years and now retired, we had decided to move to the Houston area to be nearer our son Brad.  There we met the little guy, and after a year went by, circumstances placed Louie in our care.  So at the age of three and a half, he became Max’s dog, sleeping at his feet for the next fifteen years.  Because Louie had a difficult upbringing with many disappointments and in some cases, cruelties, his personality was affected.  He didn’t wag his tail until he was fourteen, and he never licked anyone even when he felt great affection.  Obviously, he’d been punished for that and also for jumping up when greeting people.  His method of relieving excitement was to run madly around the room in figure eights.  He, too, went everywhere possible with us or we had our pastor’s daughter dog sit.  Louie never had to stay in a kennel, and when his health became a serious problem at the age of eighteen, we called in the vet to put him to sleep in his little bed.  Only pet lovers know the pain of that kind of loss.  We’re too old now to get back into taking care of an animal but we both realize how much our pets added to the richness of our lives and we remain ever grateful.

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