Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dogs I've known (part 2, the family chapter)

I asked for a lot of things as a kid. A horse, for one. A dog, as I've mentioned exhaustively. I can see how it seemed improbable that I would properly care for a dog; my ability to reliably carry out responsible tasks was not great.

It's interesting, though, to think of a family's history of pets, and responsibility, and mindsets. My grandparents are not who I would consider "pet people". On occasion, they've been the designated cat sitters when various households went on vacation, but once their kids grew up and moved out, they didn't have pets of their own anymore. My grandfather clearly loves Elka when she visits, but does not want a dog of his own, to my grandmother's relief.

(sorry for the Christmas picture. It's Elka in my grandparents' living room)

Bachelor was the family dog before I was born. He was the only male in a litter of poodles that my grandmother's sister down in Florida had. She thought her nieces and nephews should have a poodle, and put him on a plane, calling my grandmother to let her know that he would be arriving at JFK (take note: not Newark! which would have been far less of an inconvenience to my Jersey Shore located family). My grandfather had a broken leg at the time, but they went up there to pick Bachelor up from the airport, in the middle of the night is how the story goes. He was shut in the laundry room overnight once they got home, and in the morning, the big reveal. Family lore states that my uncle's reaction was "You had to get a poodle!" (read: disappointment). Nobody else's direct reaction is recorded. Bachelor was still around when I was a baby, and he let me crawl after him and pat him, and when he'd had enough, he'd take my hand in his mouth, gently, and I would sit there and fake whimper. Then he would put my hand down and move away. Crawling after Bachelor and getting picked up is my earliest memory. Or my earliest imagining of events, on my own timeline.

My aunt Jen had a dog named Ernie. I can remember him hiding in the bathroom upstairs, in the space between the tub and the toilet, when we went to her house to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. I remember sitting with him, but not trying to pet him; I don't know if this is true, that I was a little dog listener at 4 or 5 or 6, but I know it makes the better story. I'm not sure what kind of a dog Ernie was; he was blonde, and white, longish haired with a white blaze down his face like a Border Collie. He had freckles on his nose, and I remember looking at his ropey dog lips and thinking they were so different from people lips.

(Elka's ropey dog lips, as I am without pictures of Ernie)

I had the occasional hamster, but after the last one passed, I wasn't allowed to get another. I hadn't kept up the cage well enough. For awhile, I had hermit crabs because I liked the idea of hermit crabs; I got each of them with my own money. I even won first place in my 5th grade Science Fair for building a "hermit crab run"; a miniature copy of a dog run, so your hermit crab could roam back and forth without wandering off into the household and getting lost. I revisited hermit crab ownership briefly junior year of college, with Kelly. His name was Lothar the Nomadic Pastoralist, and I'm sorry to say that he perished of shock or cold on the car ride home during Christmas Vacation. The hermit crabs from my younger days are buried under the window of my old room, where I grew marigolds one summer; Lothar is buried under the rosebush in Kelly's grandparents' back yard.

In my heart, I've always wanted a dog. I can remember at an Elk's club barbecue making a list of the pros of having a dog. Things I listed? Stuff like "dogs can be trained to go to the bathroom in the same place, so you don't have poop all over the yard". "People who own dogs are healthier." "People who own dogs get more exercise". Though not always exercising the best judgement, I've been accused of having been a precocious child. My dad looked at the list, and I can remember his surprise. He said "I thought you were going to put down things like 'dogs are cute." Well yeah, that too, but I didn't think that would help my case.

(dogs are pretty high up there on the cute list)

In 8th grade, we got a cat. Cats are cool; lots of households in my family have them. Had I known then what I know now about training, I could have taught Ripple, my first cat,  and the two who came after him quite a lot of nifty stuff. But I didn't. So Ripple was just a big ol' stripy cat that was fun to have around. He retrieved film canisters, but learned that on his own. He also had a little stuffed teddy bear that he loved pretty much to death, that we then put in a little cloth bag so he could still carry around by the throat like a miniature tiger with its prey. With the cats, we learned some about responsible pet ownership. My family has always been a spay and neuter bunch, and the cats have always been rescues or "free cats" (Free Cat (noun): look in the paper for ad that says "free to a good home" with regards to cats or kittens of indeterminate origin. Acquire. Love.) We made an effort at feeding good quality food.

Ripple developed a mysterious illness at the end of my Sophomore year of college; it mystified his vet, and he got very thin and very slow, and we ultimately let him go. I still wonder sometimes what it was Ripple had; he wasn't a super gregarious lap cat, but he was my buddy and I loved him, and loved playing with him. (Apologies, I can't find any digital pictures of Ripple and my physical pictures aren't organized in any useful way).

After Ripple we got Piper and Gracie, who weren't really "my" cats, as I was out of the house at the time. They're still going strong (to my knowledge); Gracie is the grey tabby-cat, and Piper is a fluffball that we jokingly referred to as an "American Curl", due to her ears. Interestingly, both of them have whispery little meows. It certainly contributed to Piper's name.


Of course, now there are several family dogs! Featured on this blog not long ago, is Toby! My Aunt Alicia brought Toby home the day that I took the SAT in high school. Toby has a little brother, Louie, who is a rescue.

I'm happy that there are other "family dogs", though!  My cousin Connor has also developed into a dog person; he has a retired racing greyhound, Ebb (who's about Elka's size, or weight, anyway) and a rescued pittie girl named Addie (who I somehow STILL haven't seen a picture of!)

And last, but not least, there's Kniles, who my Aunt Ruth rescued. He was an Ohio Amish puppy mill puppy, poor little guy.


  1. You and your family have the most unusual pet names ever! Lothar the nomadic pastoralist...OMG I love that. It must be nice to go back, look out your bedroom window and be able to say hi to old friends.

    There are Amish puppy mills? :(

    1. There are Amish puppy mills :( In Ohio and Pennsylvania I know, I'm not sure where else. It's a sad thing.

      Lothar's name was joint venture: "Lothar or the hill people" was a Saturday Night Live thing, and an anthropology class and a few of my college friends took involved nomadic pastoralists, so we put them together!

  2. I think you could see from early on you were destined to be a dog owner. A hermit crab run....really? I have never heard of Bachelor for a dogs name. Ernie sounds like he was pretty cute. I'm glad you have lots of family dogs now and thank goodness for your Aunt Ruth rescuing Kniles! I love the pictures of Elka you put in this post too. After all, it all leads up to her...the star of the show! :)

    1. That hermit crab run got me first place in the elementary school Science invention project thing! I got an honorable mention when it went on to competition against the higher grades. I was definitely destined to be a dog owner too ;)

  3. Gosh a lot of different pets in your family. We had a dog growing up, but after he died, we only had cats. My sis had a gerbil. My hubby had a tarantula before we were married. Yikes!

    1. Yeah, we certainly had a lot of variety! I didn't even mention all the cats that the other family households had, or my cousin's guinea pig!

      A tarantula? They look cool, but I don't think I'd ever WANT one. One of my aunts' roommates had a snake!


    He was a good hermit crab.