A lifetime of pets

Her name was Boo.

Boo was the first pet I remember in my life. She was a big, beautiful Maine Coon Cat, her fur a combination of Gold and Brown and Black and Yellow. She was not weird like a lot of cats can be. She didn’t scurry away from people when they tried to interact with her. She wasn’t arrogant and independent like so many cats are. She just lived. When inside, she was a lap cat, curled up with whoever would welcome her. When outside, she was a vicious hunter who would leave mice and chipmunks and birds and rabbits on our doorsteps… or at least the parts that hadn’t been consumed.

I don’t remember where the name Boo came from. I think the story goes that my brothers chose the name.  Our family adopted Boo from my grandmother’s home, either shortly before I was born or shortly after, I don’t really know. I imagine the naming was one of those stories that ends with the conclusion “don’t let your toddler children choose your pet’s name… you’ll have to live with it a long time!”

Boo was a family cat, but mostly she was my father’s cat. That he was so attached to her is notable because it is a side of him that growing up I really never knew existed, that sensitive, animal loving side.  He fed her and made sure she was let in and out of the house, and begrudgingly went into the basement and cleaned the litter boxes.  He cared for her in that way that fathers often show love for something… more as a responsibility than a joy.  But still he did it, day after day after day.

Boo died when I was in college when she was likely approaching about twenty years of age. She didn’t have to be euthanized, she just went down into the basement and quietly passed away.  Okay, it wasn’t really quietly, according to my older brother and my father, who were home at the time, she spent awhile making this horrible sound they described as “leedle, leedle, leedle”… and then she died.  I could never imagine a cat making that sound and suspect in cat speak she was saying “why in the hell don’t you people put me down!” But it’s hard to make that decision to put an animal down and I suspect, as is so often the case, denial was involved.  Immediately after she died, being the type of family who would rather celebrate life than mourn death, my brother and father cracked open a very old bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch that had been aging in the basement and proceeded to drink most of it. The wooden box that held the bottle became Boo’s casket and she was buried in the back yard.

I’ve had pets around my entire life, dogs, cats, fish… and now goats and a horse. I’ll admit I’m not an animal person like my wife is and like my mother was before she passed away.  It’s not that I don’t get attached to the animals that end up in our home, how can you not? If I didn’t have pet people in my life, though, I’m not sure I would ever take the initiative on my own to go out and get a pet. That’s not an anti-animal stance, just perhaps an innate laziness that pervades my life. But in a democratic family situation, the lazy traditionally get outvoted.

I tried writing down the names of all the animals that have been pets in my life and came up with the following list… not necessarily in the proper order.

Boo (cat); Smokey (dog); Tiger (dog); Little (cat); Sam (cat); Cadie, real name Acadia (Cat); Camden (cat); Hanna (dog); Gypsy (cat); Clio (dog); Mama Kitty (cat); Ashley (cat); Sarge (dog); Shadow (cat); Naughty and Heath (goats); and Jack (horse).

There are stories behind each and every one of these animals that will stay with me through the rest of my life. Tiger, the dog I grew up with, a grayish black cockapoo, in the throes of old age went outside and fell in our swimming pool. My grandmother who was visiting and the only one home at the time called 911 who responded, pulled the dog from the water and asked “do you want us to try to revive him?”

“No, I’m pretty sure he’s gone” my grandmother replied.

Gypsy was an outdoor black cat who showed up on our property shortly after we bought our house here on Brown Road. Upon initial veterinary inspection she was diagnosed with Feline Leukemia, a mostly lethal condition in cats. Then, upon a second veterinary inspection she had miraculously been cured! Although this didn’t change my beliefs in “miracles” we did get a few years out of her until she was hit by a car during one of our vacations. A few days after returning home and not finding her around, we called our neighbor down the street and asked if perhaps he had seen our black cat. In true country-bumpkin fashion he told us “yep, she’s dead, just down the road from your house.”  Thanks… ummm… were you planning on sharing that with us?

Of course, my regular readers have read a story or two about our goats, Naughty and Heath, two animals that I could never have imagined growing attached to, but who have now earned just as much respect in my family’s lineage of pets as all of their predecessors. The stories could go on and on.

About a month ago we had to put down our dog Sarge, the 2nd St. Bernard my wife and I have owned. Both of these dogs died early, as large dogs have a tendency to do. Although he was messy and often in the way, Sarge was a gentle beast, a 200 lb. animal with slobbery, dripping jowls, a head the size of an oversize football helmet and soulful eyes that allowed you to look inside his very being and see an animal that wanted only to be a part of our family. One day, he stopped eating, and eventually reached the point where he could no longer get up. Sarge was my wife’s baby and she, being the amazing, caring person she is, with the help of our veterinarian, managed to get him to the office where they discovered his heart was failing and he was euthanized.

In our younger days, perhaps we would have cracked open a bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch and drained the bottle and maybe we should have. We are still a family that would much rather celebrate life than mourn death, but these days our lives are so hectic that sometimes we even forget to spend a moment to memorialize a lost pet.  We now have the ashes of both St. Bernards in decorative boxes in our house along with a small canister of ashes from my mother who died in 2002. One of these days we’ll get around to spreading all of these ashes somewhere on our property. I’m reasonably confident my mother wouldn’t mind being buried with a couple of slobbery St. Bernards.  Not that Sarge, or any of our previous pets will be forgotten. They all, in their own way, have become memories in this script that we call our lives. A script that takes us through highs and lows and happiness and sadness and that unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we don’t get the option of reading ahead to find out what will happen next.

Our pet count these days is down to only six, three cats, two goats, and a horse which is boarded at a farm a few miles away from us. I’ll be honest in admitting that right now I’m okay with temporarily not having a dog, not having to clean up the yard and having a slightly lower volume of pet hair in the house.

I use the word temporarily though because as I said before, in a democratic family situation, the lazy traditionally get outvoted.

I imagine that in the near future, there will be an election coming up.


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12 responses to “A lifetime of pets

  1. celticadlx

    Pets have a way of wandering in to your heart and taking up residence when you least expect it. I grew up in the middle of a forest and we had 26 cats before we knew what hit us! I, like you, have had pets most of my life. Our Laydi left us a month after our daughter left home. Our son was already gone and I thought, at least we had our Laydi girl. I guess she decided that since the kids were gone, it was time for her to move on too. We still miss her, and have yet to get another pet. We’re waiting to see who sneaks into our hearts next. In the meantime, my life is blessed with memories of Laydi, and much less pet hair in the house! Thanks for sharing.

  2. We had our share of pets, too. Dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, birds. It’s funny because now I have zero pets. I guess I’m a bit too lazy to go out and get another one. But they all were like members of our family. Sorry to hear about your dog. I still get weepy thinking of my dog that died right before my dad died. I loved reading this post though, just love your writing, I wanted you to keep going on at the end!

  3. We only had 4 cats and 3 birds and just like She’s a Maineiac we have none, and i don’t think we ever will.

  4. Another of your great “can’t stop reading until the end” posts. Funny how pets crawl deep inside your heart and life.

  5. I am about to get our first two kittens ever! Quite nervous actually. My knight said I should go and pick them up and I said that I first want to go and see of I can find a book for idiots on how to look after cats. I am excited but also the idea of having to keep an animal in a room for a few weeks and then slowly grow that secure area is quite overwhelming.
    I would agree with your house though. Time for a new puppy. Xxx

  6. Wow. This makes me smile because my memories of so many pets from my childhood until now are flooding my noggin. My kids have had dogs, cats, lizards, dwarf hamsters, guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits…we could have a zoo and be thrilled. My daughter’s 14 yr. old cat’s name is Boo. He’s been mean since she climbed a tree one Halloween weekend to get him to bring home. His cranky, saggy gummed self sleeps most of the day in a basket 3 times too small for him, but he’s happy there. We have 2 dogs and another cat, too. For now. My little dog Tru is happily laying on my feet as I type. Ahhhh….life is good, until I go out and step in a wad my daughter’s dog, Buddha, drops in the yard going to the garden. She picks up after him most days, though. Great post!

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