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My Life in Pets

December 4, 2011

I find it fascinating how we measure our lives by different things – sometimes it’s an age or a ‘stage’, sometimes it’s the clothes we wore, or the friends we had, or the music we listened to.  After mentioning, in last week’s post, one of the stranger pets I’ve had in my life (a screech owl), I got to thinking about my life in terms of the pets I’ve had, and how they’ve provided me with friendship, entertainment, love, and solace over the years.

Patches and Me (far right) 1954

Patches on the left, me on the right, my sister in the middle (1954)

When I was born, there were two pets in the household – a shorthaired white female cat named Daisy Mae (who was deaf and therefore prone to wandering out onto the street because she couldn’t hear the traffic), and an English Springer spaniel named Patches.  Patches died when I was about two; he was replaced (briefly) by a black cocker spaniel who (apparently) nipped at me, and then by another one (from the same breeder) who was more even-tempered, that we called Tommy (his full name was Thomas G. McGillicuddy III – my mother liked to pick names from the horse racing listings in the newspaper).  Both Daisy and Tommy were with us for many years – they spent summers with us at the cottage and adjusted to our ‘big move’ in 1963 (four blocks up the street).  I can’t recall exactly when they went to ‘kitty and doggie heaven’, but they were a fundamental part of my early life and taught me a little something about love and responsibility (the kids were required to feed, walk, brush, and otherwise care for the pets!)

During the first ten years of my life we had several other memorable pets:

  • Hootnanny (me on the right) 1962

    Hootnanny the owl (me on the right, sister on the left), 1962

    Hootnanny:  a baby screech owl we rescued after his mother was killed near our cottage. We took care of him over the winter and released him back into the woods at the college the following spring.

  • Ducky:  a parakeet who was also rescued at our cottage and christened when my two-year old nephew thought the blue, green and yellow bird flying around was a ‘baby ducky’.  She laid an egg once and my sister and I waited (im)patiently for it to hatch, not knowing that wouldn’t happen because Ducky didn’t have a boyfriend.
  • Sweetie-Pie: my mother’s canary, who unfortunately passed away while my parents were on a trip to Venezuela in 1962.  I remember clearly my sister and I rehearsing exactly what we’d say when they got home and my mother asked the inevitable question: “How is everything?” We said “Everything’s just fine but Sweetie Pie’s dead.”  She took it rather well, I think!
  • Daisy, Snowball,Tommy - May1964

    Daisy, Snowball, and Tommy eating cake (with chocolate icing); Daisy's 14th birthday, May 1964

    Snowball: a large white rabbit that was given to us by a friend of my eldest sister. He was allowed the run of our basement ‘rec room’ (we put a board across the door) and for some strange reason was always fed a bowl of Rice Krispies (with milk) at bedtime each night.

  • Trigger: a chicken my father caught when – on his way to the cottage one night – he came across an overturned truck full of live poultry (some of which had escaped).  He put it in the trunk of his car and proudly presented it to my mother – thinking she would actually COOK IT! He hadn’t considered that his two little girls would adopt it, name it (after Roy Rogers’ horse – they were the same colour), and turn it into a pet.  We used to laugh when the chicken would fight with Snowball over who got to sleep in the holes the rabbit dug in the dirt under a table in the yard.  Since you weren’t allowed to keep chickens in town, at the end of the summer we gave it to a friend of my Dad’s who had a pig farm (with the promise that it wouldn’t end up on their dinner table).
Brier and Thumper (1968)

Brier and Thumper (summer of 1968)

Somewhere around 1966, we got another dog – this time a golden cocker spaniel with crooked teeth (he was also the runt of the litter) named Bobby’s Brier (another name from the racing section of the paper, but appropriate because my little brother’s name was Bobby).  He was with us throughout my teen years.  I don’t think I ever went to the variety store to pick up bread or milk for my mother (or pop or candy for myself) without Brier coming with me.  He also quickly learned that a trip with my father to pick me at the store where I worked the summer I was 15 meant he’d get the last of the soft ice cream out of the (gross) machine I had to clean at the end of my shift.  After that, he always wanted to go for rides in the car because he thought there’d be an ice cream cone waiting for him!

During the sixties, we had two more rabbits – one a rather sickly white one (Thumper) who was born to a mother who’d undergone medical experiments (on birth control pills) in a lab where the daughter of my mother’s best friend worked; she didn’t live terribly long, but at least we gave her a good home for the duration.  My mother declared ‘no more rabbits’ after that, but my sister and I saw an adorable little black bunny in Woolworth’s (back when Woolworth’s sold animals) and bought it with our allowance.  We tried sneaking it into the house (heaven only knows why we thought that would work) and got about twenty feet before my mother said, “I smell rabbit.”  She let us keep it, though; we named it Charcoal.

Guinea Hen Chicks

The guinea hen twins (1970/71?)

Years later, the rabbit cage was used for a pair of young guinea hens my father brought home (from where? beats me!)  Apparently he’d raised guinea fowl when he was a young boy and so these birds had special meaning to him.  There’s a gap here as to what happened to them (I think I’d moved out of the house by the time he either let them go, or they died!)

Muffy - 1977

Muffy in 1977

The first pet I was solely responsible for was a long-haired cat named Muffy.  A woman I worked with at the time had bought a kitten for her daughter, who turned out to be allergic; I offered to take it off her hands.  Muffy was six months old when she came into my life and she quickly took ‘ownership’ of the household (I was newly married).  She was allowed outside on the deck but never strayed out of the yard; she did, however, chase the German hunting dog and the Beagle who lived next door off our property if they dared to venture into the yard (and they went!) She tolerated one move, two children, and lots of changes over the 17 years she was with me.  The weekend she passed away, I sent the boys to stay with their grandmother while I sat with her. It was the first time I’d witnessed firsthand the agonizingly slow (though, thankfully, not painful) death of a loved one. I’m glad I was there for her at the end, but I took her death hard and didn’t think I could ever go through something like that again so I declared, “No more pets.”

I changed my mind a year and a half later when a neighbour put up a ‘Free Kittens’ sign beside one that read ‘Garage Sale’. Bandit was a little ball of black and white fluff who was – without a shadow of a doubt – the best cat in the world.  She had personality to spare, including specific ‘looks’ for happy, sad, disgruntled, ‘how-dare-you-go-on-vacation-and-leave-me-behind’, and impatient. She was a lap cat (and ‘my’ cat from the get-go); this made it easy for me to avoid jumping up whenever one of the kids ‘needed’ something (that they could easily get for themselves), and for me to beg someone else (i.e., my husband) to bring me a cup of tea or a magazine or whatever – I simply said, “I have a cat on my lap.” It worked every time.

Bandit - 1992

Bandit wearing her 'please-go-away-and-leave-me-alone' face

Bandit was very skilled at picking out the round heads of Lego people from the boys’ massive bins of blocks, and we used to play a little game on housecleaning days called ‘How many Lego heads are under the couch?’ (ten being the highest number recorded!)  She also knew the minute I took a shrimp ring out of the freezer (how she could smell shrimp when it was frozen solid was beyond me), and she’d sit patiently in the kitchen for hours until it was thawed and she could have her share (three shrimps plus the odd leftover tail).  She tolerated the influx of several other cats (and one hamster – Valentine) into the household without so much as flinching (well, we did get the odd dirty look once in a while, but she was basically unflappable):

  • my mother would bring her various Siamese cats (over the years: Mandy, Danny, Amie, Andee) for visits at Christmastime and in the summer; Bandit also travelled to her house with us for several years (where she’d ‘dust’ behind the plants in Mom’s sunroom with her mile-long whiskers!)
  • we took in two older cats when our elderly neighbour passed away and her nephew couldn’t take them back to Calgary with him: Mew was a deaf 16 year old tortoiseshell the neighbour had taken in, pregnant, 15 years earlier; Puff was her 15 year old black long-haired offspring who spent the first three months at our house hiding under the couch (my oldest finally coaxed him out by lying on the floor for hours each night with a cat brush in his hand; they bonded after that). Mew only lived for six more months; Puff was with us for almost three years.
  • in 1996 I met Sally (one of the most anti-social cats in the world) at the animal shelter where my eldest son volunteered; we bumped into each other again at an adoption event and our fate was sealed. She moved into son #2’s bedroom and became his cat; she and Bandit eventually became fairly good friends (and she and Luckee would play a daily game of ‘I’m-at-the-top-of-the-stairs-and-I’m-not-letting-you-past’ that lasted for hours).
  • for my oldest son’s 16th birthday, his girlfriend convinced me to split the adoption fee for another long haired black cat (Puff had died the year before); it became something of a long standing joke that my son ‘got Luckee on his 16th birthday’.
Luckee - 2006

Luckee in 2006 (Christmas-time)

The boys moved out but the cats stayed. Luckee died of cancer in early 2007 and Bandit succumbed to old age in the fall of 2008. The passing of each and every pet I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing has left a whole in my life, and in my heart (and some, like Bandit, more than others).

It took Sally a little time to adapt to the idea of being the only cat in the house, but she’s become much more sociable and I suspect she was always meant to be an ‘only’ cat.  She still doesn’t like being picked up and, while she seems to feel the need to be in the same room as me (and often right beside me on the chaise or the bed) she has never been a lap cat. However, on the day my father died, she climbed up on the couch and lay down on top of me. Clearly she sensed how deeply upset I was and was trying her best to comfort me; she’s never done that again. 

Sally - 2010

Sally (Fall of 2010)

When Sally is gone (she’ll be 16 in the spring) I’ll miss her terribly and I know I’ll wait a while before I think about getting any more pets.  But I have no doubt there will be more cats (and perhaps other animals) down the road.  Pets bring such joy, companionship, amusement, and love to life – I couldn’t imagine not sharing my home with them.

In re-reading this passage, I realize I’m probably indulging myself here just a little by rambling on about all the animals who’ve touched me over the years.  But reminiscing is just one of those things I figure I’m entitled to do – now that I’ve reached… the other side of 55.

Loved An Animal Quote

  1. Cathy permalink
    December 5, 2011 11:16 am

    Your blog brought back memories of my pets, Margo, although I had not nearly as many as you. It warms the heart to remember all the animals that have brought love and affection into our lives. Boy, Sally really looks a lot like Tabby in the photo! Tabby, for some unknown reason, has suddenly become quite affectionate. For years she’d never stand to be touched or picked up. Now she seeks out the pats and will plunk herself down on my lap (or walk in front of my lap top and sniff my face while I’m on the computer. Including the two present four-legged friends, I’ve had 8 pets in my life. (only one dog). Anyway, I could go on. Loved the blog

    • December 5, 2011 6:04 pm

      Each animal has their own personality and it amazes me how they sometimes change as they age (just as we do, I suppose). Thanks for the comment.


  2. Colleen permalink
    December 5, 2011 8:51 am

    Margo, I can see you with a farm full of donkeys in a few years!

    • December 5, 2011 6:05 pm

      I can only dream (although I think I’ll stick with just two!)


  3. December 4, 2011 7:48 pm

    Pets were an integral part of my growing up too. German Shepherds one after the other – all called Nikki and allowed one litter each. Such fun playing with 13 puppies! Rabbits galore – as my father bred them for a while but we always had ‘one’ special one at the end of the rabbit shed – it never got old!! Ummm… Guinea pigs, drawf rabbits, cats – tortoiseshells and a special seal point persian – called Rajah. I was given a chiquahua – didn’t last long (my youngest brother was in his walker & swung the poor thing around by its back leg & then let go!) So back it went. Budgies for my grandmother – fun for the cat! Several had heart attacks – oops! I saw a Rottwiller at a show & fell in love – bought my first one several years later – called him Bru – (bruin bear) as he looked like a big black & tan bear.
    Now I have a gentle mongrel called Twinkle who is my shadow & my daughter follows in my footsteps with all manner of animals – mostly geckos! It is fun to remember our furry (or scaly) friends.

  4. December 4, 2011 4:05 pm

    I love this post! Haven’t had a pet in years, but reading about all of yours was fun.

    • December 4, 2011 4:43 pm

      I couldn’t imagine my life without a pet of some type in it!



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