Our pets teach us so much about love, companionship, patience and, ultimately, coming to grips with mortality. I think God blessed us with these creatures to test our humanity.
I’ve had an assorted pack of beasts as pets over the decades. The ones my family mastered in my childhood exist today as mere blurred and fading reflections. Their names are lost on me. All I remember of them are the way they made me feel. So much love and so much loss.
Fresh in my mind are the dogs my ex-wife and I had throughout most of our marriage. There was Eddie, the adorable-looking but easily provoked beagle mix who could jump over our backyard fence and held every stranger in paranoid suspicion. Chewie resembled his cinematic inspiration, albeit with snow white fur. And my sweet, sweet Sandy, our yellow lab who almost seemed to regard my then-wife as her rival for my affection. I adored Sandy. Few things were as poignant as her leaping on the couch and using my leg as a pillow as she let out a sign of contentment.
It hurt like hell when we realized that Sandy, old and gray, had developed kidney failure. I’d had many pets come and go. Some, like the one my father accidentally backed over with his truck in the driveway generations before, had passed in terribly painful ways. But deliberately gifting a beloved friend a peaceful passing, that stays with you. We put her to sleep 10 years ago, but I still remember how terrible that felt.
I had several dogs after Sandy, Eddie and Chewie. There were the twin Labs that we kept from puppyhood to early “manhood” for friends who wanted to find out which one would be the best hunting dog. Of course, we grew attached to the lesser hunter and were shattered when he had to go in place of the better hunter who accidentally got out in the street and struck by a speeding car that just kept on going. I can’t remember their names. I just remember being so angry at my wife for letting them out so casually to pee after I’d spent 6 months safeguarding them for fear that something might happen to both and we’d have to pay for a replacement hunting dog for our friends. I guess the experience ended up being an apt metaphor for the troubles in my marriage, personifying the resentments that were, by then, at toxic levels. I used to be an angrier man.
Our last dog as a couple ended up having a litter. My singular experience with anyone giving birth on my living room floor. I think my ex gave her to some guy she knew and kept the runt of the litter, “Short Stuff” (named by our daughter). I remember using my photographic and marketing prowess to find homes for the rest of the batch in record time. But not before using those cute little beasts in photo shoots. I was working from home at the time and recall the chaos of trying to contain nine puppies.
After my divorce, I was all alone half of the time. It was very lonely. I got a couple of Border Collies from a friend. It’s a mistake to get dogs that are smarter than yourself. The combination of super intelligent and easily bored in a small fenced-in backyard proved to be too much for me. Partners in crime, those two were! Plus, I realized that I was going through a selfish phase in life after seeing 15 years of being a family man crumble before my eyes. They ended up finding a better home than I could give them.
My daughter and I have experimented with other kinds of pets. We had an iguana she named “Green” for a while. That thing would always scare me when it jolted away. Not a big fan of reptiles, but this was one I could actually sort of hold. Miranda won it at the fair, of all places. I thought they only gave away goldfish to die after a couple of days. We once got some little tiny turtles in Florida. I figured those things would last a couple of weeks, but they kept going and going like Duracell batteries in a shell.
Today, at my house in Fort Payne, I enjoy the companionship of my sister and daughter’s pets: the Alpha Pip, the elder Moose, the photogenic Trixie, the moronic but sweet Sy (named after a Duck Dynasty guy), and last but not least, Isabelle. Sy and Isabelle were gifts to my daughter on her birthday from my ex-wife’s new fiancé.
I also have the privilege of being around a dog at work named Bernie Sanders. The apartment building I’m in has lots of pets. We brush paths in the elevator as their owners tell them not to bother me; I don’t mind. The dogs seem to like me a lot more than my neighbors. One girl down the hall likes to let her cats loose in the hallway when she gets home. That’s safe, I guess. Not like kitty can press the elevator button. Sometimes I’ll pet her pussy (get your mind out of the gutter) and we exchange smiles. I call her the “cat lady”, even though she’s maybe all of 25 instead of an old woman.
Occasionally, I see one of the two cats that my ex-wife and I used to have around our house, Tiger. He lives with her.
Not really a cat person, but Tiger has always thought he is a dog, I suspect. My cats never had much to do with me unless it was nagging me to fill their bowls with food or knocking my glass of water off the nightstand because they can get away with that kind of shit. I think Tiger still recognizes me, which feels good. Or maybe I’m just another pair of convenient hands to pet him. Cats are harder to read than dogs. Dogs will bear their souls.
Pets test our patience and our capacity for compassion. I can’t imagine life without these four-legged friends.