In the 50s after she and my dad were married, they had a bull terrier – Slick. He was black and white and could climb ladders (below left). When my dad was transferred to Japan, Slick had to stay with my grandparents. My sister still has fond memories of Slick. The picture at right of the two of them out in the snow. I’m not sure how old he was when he died of heart problems. Along the way my mom also had a bird (I never knew she liked birds until I was older).
Yes, dogs were the main pets in our family. Cats – well, not so much. As a child, I always wanted a cat but mom wasn’t a cat person. Didn’t like the whole litter box idea nor would she have wanted to let a pet “roam” outside and possibly get hit by a car. She told me a story about what happened when she was a young girl. Either she or her sister (or both) took a bunch of kittens and threw them down the outhouse. Needless to say whoever did the deed, had to retrieve them and clean them up. I’m sure that soured them more on cats!
Before I was born, my parents had a dachshund (Gretchen). She had two puppies – one we gave to my grandparents (Lisa) and one we kept (Bridget). Those were my dogs! When I was about three, my parents had a sitter stay with me one evening. I remember they put Gretchen in the car and drove away in the dark. The poor dog had broken her back and for a dachshund, that was a death sentence. From what I’ve been told, she died quite peacefully at the vet’s office. It wasn’t long after Gretchen’s death that I began to insist that we needed to get another dachshund – as a playmate for Bridget.
We drove to Marysville, Ohio to a dachshund breeder’s home and picked out a cute little red shorthair puppy. In keeping with the tradition of naming them with German names, I wanted to call her Gretel. I joked with my parents that if we got a male, we could name him Hansel. But we just got the little girl. Not only were the two dogs friends but they were my playmates. No matter where I went they were there too. When I played in my room, they slept under my bed. When I took a bath, they sat quietly in the corner waiting until I was done. When we had parties, I’d put a party hat on them! And those poor dogs allowed me to dress them up in doll baby clothes and wheel them around in my doll buggy!
We bred Gretel when she was a couple years old and the result was seven little puppies! There were five males and two females. My brother and his family took one of the little girls – Heidi (again keeping with the German naming tradition!) Here is a shot of the puppies in the whelping bin.
Then Bridget got sick when I was about 9. She died soon after she got sick. I don’t think I ever knew what was wrong. When my mom asked me if I wanted to see her, I said no. I wanted to remember her as my energetic friend.
Gretel became my confidante. I could tell her anything and she’d just sit there and absorb everything. I just knew she understood everything I said because when my grandparents had to stay with me for awhile when my mother was in the hospital, I heard my grandfather get upset because of her barking (she really didn’t bark all that much). So I told her that when she wanted out to just go to the door and if no one noticed, to give a “quiet” bark. Then when she wanted in, to bark twice. I don’t think it was my imagination that from then on, that’s exactly what she did.
When I was in 7th grade, I got up one morning to discover that Gretel was sniffling. I really wanted Mom to take her to the vet then. But Mom couldn’t miss work or she wouldn’t get paid. I think we both talked ourselves into believing she just had a cold. Since Gretel stayed in our “mudroom” area when we were gone, I left the door open a little as I left for school that morning. I talked to her and petted her and then I left. I usually arrived home from school about 30 minutes before my mom did. When I walked in the door, I immediately called her name. I heard nothing. Somehow I knew before I got to her bed that she was gone. The shock of seeing her lifeless body was more than I could bear. I called my mom’s work, told them it was an emergency & when Mom got on the phone I exploded in sobs begging her to come home RIGHT NOW. She said she would, however, knowing she only had five more minutes before her day was over, I’m sure she stuck around for those five minutes. Nothing would change if she had left right then other than she would have been docked about 15 minutes worth of work time.
After she arrived home, we took poor Gretel to the vet. She wanted to make sure she hadn’t been poisoned and asked for an autopsy. Mom said all she saw were dollar signs wondering what she had asked for! It was concluded that Gretel had contracted bronchial pneumonia and her lungs had filled with fluid. We had her buried in a pet cemetery in the Dayton area (I don’t even think I know where it is). Luckily, the autopsy and burial weren’t as expensive as my mom had thought.
From that time on, she said no more animals. That it wasn’t fair to them to be alone most of the time – with her at work and me at school. I think she was also trying to protect her heart and mine from any other pet losses.
Intermingled in all that time, my sister and her family had a dog and cat. When they’d go on vacation, they’d board the dog but asked mom to watch their cat. Remember the whole “not a cat person” story from above? Well, I will say that at first Kitty liked Mom more than Mom liked Kitty. But I think that changed. Mom finally said she didn’t mind Kitty because she didn’t rub around on her legs or get under her feet. She was a pretty laid back cat.
As an adult, I’ve had several dogs and cats and birds. No fish – I’m not a fish person! The best cat I ever owned was found in a diesel truck yard – covered in black soot. He wasn’t very old. The first thing I did was throw him in a bath to get all that soot off of him. He turned out to be a beautiful gray and white cat. We called him “T.C.” for Tom Cat. He quickly learned where he could sit (not on my kitchen counters or table), where he could scratch (on his cat post, not the furniture or carpet), and that he needn’t be afraid of people. When my oldest daughter was an infant, he would sit at the foot of her infant seat and hiss at anyone who came near to her that he didn’t know. We soon learned to “introduce” T.C. to people and tell him it was okay that they get near the baby.
We had been in our present home a little over a year; listening to our son wish he had a dog. His sisters were old enough to run off and play without him and he was still so little he could only go in the backyard – not in the front. So one weekend the kids and I went to an Adopt-A-Pet event. There was a little white dog who seemed so excited to see people who were interested in her. We were told she was at least 2 years old, housebroken and spayed (all not true). She was part terrier, part poodle – but her fur was shaved close to her body so she wasn’t all fluffy and hot. After she arrived home with us, she found the kitchen floor and decided she wanted to mop it up for us. That’s how she got her name – Mopsey. We determined she was probably at least 6 months old. But when she started chewing on everything we owned, it was outside for her. I was working full time and with three kids, there wasn’t any time to housetrain her or anything else. She had a carpeted dog house and was an outside dog for a long time. My son had his friend. He’d sit on the edge of the patio with his arm around her. After our last child was born, she was very careful not to jump on the baby. Finally we brought her in to let her have a place on the inside. She had matured so that she wasn’t chewing on anything and was pretty laid back. Mopsey was part of our family for quite a long time. The spring before our son graduated high school, we could tell she was going downhill. After all she was at least 17 years old. She went blind and have a seizure every once in a while. The weekend of graduation, we already had her on medication & a special diet hoping to halt any further damage to her kidneys. But a few days later – she started seizing constantly. We all knew it was time. In the morning, my youngest daughter, grandson and I took her to the vet. He examined her and told us that we really only had one choice to spare her any further indignity as he didn’t think she was aware of any pain anymore. I called family to let them know and give them the option of being there at the last moments. So with soothing words of comfort and love to our beloved Mopsey, we waited for the end.
It took quite a while before we wouldn’t cry anymore every time her name was mentioned or a memory about her was shared. She had been an important part of our family life and I believe she had waited until she got to see everyone one last time before giving it up.
Almost a year later, our youngest daughter was ready for another friend. So for her 15th birthday, we found a medium sized mixed breed named Oreo. She was a year old, housebroken and spayed (all true this time). She’s been a best friend to my daughter and we often wonder just who gets the bed as Oreo loves to lay her head on pillows and be covered up – just like a person! She is smart and has similar traits to her human!
Yes, pets have been an extension of not only my immediate family, but of my mom, my sister, and my grandparents. They have only enhanced our lives and helped us be better people because of their unconditional love for us.