The Pets I’ve Loved

As a kid, I remember finding a dead bird and wrapping it in large ivy leaves and giving it a full burial.  My neighbors had a thing for birds and I watched over several days as they carved a piece of softwood into a nest for their little eggs.  The neighborhood dog had puppies every spring.  I wanted to witness every aspect of puppies and dog life, and would laugh at seeing two dogs stuck together. They were cute until they became loud and stinky.  I eventually convinced my parents to let me have one.  There’s nothing like the smell of puppy breath and seeing them wander aimlessly on bellies with pudgy and useless paws, leading with noses that know the smell of their exhausted mother, though their eyes and ears were sealed shut. I’ve rescued a litter from underneath a house because the spot chosen during the beginning rains wasn’t ready for the water sluicing through the mud as the storm progressed.  One spring I was cramming for an exam and the dog sitting at my feet started whelping pups. That carpet was doomed and I ended up ripping it out myself. With the many births and pets I’ve had, death and loss are part of that.  I’ve cried over some of my animals, but not all of them.  Maybe that makes me cold, but I doubt you cry over every human life lost and broadcast on the news.  I tend to do that and don’t watch the news anymore because of the uncontrollable empathy that I feel, but I will read and catch up on stories as I choose to.

I’ve always thought of animals as part of my home, but home is shifting for me.  I have a home, but more and more my home is where I am happiest, and that place shifts depending on my mood.  It’s no longer tied to a place and a person. It’s all about me, and while I still have animals in my home, they are not my home.  I miss my children when they are gone, but shared custody has given me an early empty nest for part of the week.  For a while I wanted home to be my haven, but I’m finding peace in knowing my home travels wherever I roam and I can find joy in almost anything.

We’re down to two animals! My lonesome koi doesn’t count as I have nothing to do with his survival.  That little thing just won’t die.  I never even named the little guy. I like having the two animals.  We’re down to the first two we adopted when we moved here 9 years ago and before we found out about the many allergies my older two suffer from.

Nature is the German Shepherd mix we adopted as a puppy.  I can’t justify her name, but I can justify the pride my then 5 year old felt in naming her.  He’s 14 now.  He was nonverbal for so long, we were encouraging his words in any way they came out.  She has old lady joints and forgets about them sometimes.  She reminds me of myself although I would be willing to part with her.  She follows me and lounges near me.  She understands when I tell her to get off the couch or go to her yard, but she will also look at me as she tries to steal scraps at the table. She gets that from Kid2. Socks is the cat we had since she was a teenager of a kitten.  She was playful and loved socks on laundry day.  Now she’s a murderer that will eviscerate birds, rodents and lizards, leaving entrails and feathers with an occasional tail.  She eats her kill, then she’ll delicately lick her paws as if it’s a regular bath and not destruction of evidence. She keeps rodents away, so she’s a keeper. She likes people though.  The first few weeks after my ex left, she would bring me a freshly killed bird each morning.  I hate the way she loves me.

We had Max dog for several years.  He was a stray that followed my niece home.  She couldn’t keep him and we took him to the pound.  We kept checking on him to see if he had a missing owner that missed him.  We eventually adopted him because I couldn’t imagine that sweet boy being put down.  Now my niece is a grown up with her own place and she was able to take him back.  He was my teenager, always hungry and sneaking food off the table, and sneaking out for a midnight run.  He was very sweet and loving and often tried to steal kisses from me, but he knew I don’t get licked by dog tongues. Every so often he would try to convince me he could be a lap dog. My niece picked him up last night before I hit the beach. I didn’t ask the kids.  I just did it and when they got home today they were okay with it.  They like the idea of visiting him still or having him visit on holidays when my brother brings his dog, my sister sometimes brings hers, and my nephews bring theirs.

I’ve had so many animals.  It started with a German Shepherd named Spikey Brownie Power.  I wanted to name him after Spike from Tom and Jerry.  My sister wanted to name him Brownie but I was the baby and I won almost everything until my parents started foster care.  Spikey came from the neighborhood dog that got knocked up every time she was in heat and we called her Puppy.  I called her Puppy Power and that’s where his last name came from.

Bear was my favorite.  He didn’t do tricks because I didn’t teach him any, but he was smart and he understood me.  He understood English and my very limited Spanish. My early 20’s were rough and he was by my side with his head in my lap whenever I cried.  I got him through Parvo only to lose him to a rattlesnake bite a few months later. Living in the wilder areas near Dodger’s Stadium wasn’t always great.  Sure parking at home and walking to the stadium had perks.  The grassy lots on Elysian Park and Stadium Way that people park in now were always full of rattlers.   My friends were always giving Bear tastes of their beer. He was a chow mix mutt.

All of my animals were mutts and either came from a shelter or got adopted out of a back yard in the neighborhood. Mighty Max was a chihuahua that came with the name a friend gave him before she had to give him up. Gorda ended up being an only puppy because her mother (Puppy) was part stupid and had her litter on the couch we kept on the porch.  Some of them were smothered in the cushions and under her. Puppies that survive when their littermates all die get to sample each nipple as many times as they want to.  She loved falling asleep in my pumps.   Eventually only her muzzle would fit in my shoe. Chester was mainly black with a patch of white that looked like chest hair.  Cuddles was a husky and she was a whiny little bitch. We had a chihuahua named Naughty List.  You can’t be a homeless dog at Christmas without being on the Naughty List.  Honestly, I don’t remember all of the animals I’ve had.

The cats I remember were Sugar who was white with a orange litter mate named Tang. Our sitter’s neighborhood cat died, leaving her kittens homeless and I wanted to rescue them.  Arwen was my cuddly cat.  She would lay on me at night.  I would shift positions or roll over and she would walk on me as I rolled and ended up on top of me as smoothly as if I had never moved.  She was the mothering cat that took in and loved all kittens.  We adopted her from the pound after her abortion.  She’s been gone a little over a year. Milk was a kitten I got from my sister.  His mother was a Savannah that my sister bought on sale which means she still spent more than I would have. He was my first tiny kitten and I had no idea cow’s milk could be fatal.   A large vet bill later, and I named him Milk. My ex brought home a pit bull for long enough to break in a window that Milk jumped out of.  Milk died by dog when the pit decided it was play time.  The pit went away after that.  I’ve fostered a couple of kittens long enough to know round the clock feedings with a wet cotton ball were not worth the cute.

We also had reptiles.  For a while, the ex wanted to run a reptile rescue.  I never volunteered to be his mother, so I went with it as long as my involvement was as minimal as I wanted. The kids preferred sleeping on the couches, so he commandeered their room to house over 30 different reptiles.  I had a few I liked.  I had two sulcata tortoises I named Slow and Poke.  I had a couple of baby albino corn snakes I named Clio and Calliope.  We had a tegu that I fed raw ground turkey mixed with raw eggs and calcium powder.  We just called him Tegs. He had a dog like temperament, and would follow me around in the little play pen we put up for him.  The cats would watch from outside, super curious and more cautious.  We had a mali uromastyx named Chubby that I grew collard greens for.  He was sweet and loved so much by Kid2. I hated the iguana and that temperamental tail whip of a beast hated me too. One Father’s Day one of the red tailed boa constrictors gave live birth, then smashed some of it’s babies because snakes are awful mothers.  We had ball pythons and bearded dragons that were always in the mood for love. We had turtles and frogs, and chameleons.  There were live rodents and frozen rodents, live crickets and freeze dried crickets.  I chopped fresh produce and was grateful that someone in the house was willing to eat a salad.

When I was a kid I had a hamster named Goober.  My uncle found him and his habitat with food and everything else he needed left with the trash collection in 90210. He was a sweet little food hoarder.  We brought home a rat and didn’t feed the snakes right away.  She gave birth and I pardoned her.  That is how we started breeding rats for a while.  They don’t mind incest and we had several rat litters going for a while.  They are amazing mothers, willing  to steal babies from other mothers to raise and care for.  Feeding them is important because once food becomes scarce (even by a couple of hours), they will turn into cannibals and eat each other.  I couldn’t keep doing it because, ew.

I fully recognize I’ve done more than most would, and it’s quite enough. I like other people’s animals, but this newly designed life I’m choosing isn’t going to keep including animals.  I may keep a cat because I prefer an invited cat that is okay staying outdoors to uninvited rodents, but once Nature dies I’m not getting a replacement dog.  I plan to run away on weekends and I can’t do that without worrying about the beasts.  In the last decade or so, animals that can’t reproduce were a first choice.  We’d have pets and ask someone to check on them when we wanted to skip town, but now I love the idea of an empty house and no obligations because I know the kids are fine with their Dad when he has them and I love the idea of skipping town to play in towns I’ve always wanted to see. Is it horrible that the last guy that asked for my number while walking his dog was rejected because of the dog I was petting? Really, the question of whether I’m dating comes down to who’s asking and so far I haven’t been asked by anyone I’d be willing to change my dating status for. Dog or no dog, I probably would’ve found another reason to reject him.

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