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The Pets in My Life

It's been an interesting day for me, to say the least. Somehow an employee of mine and I got into a conversation talking about some of the pets we have. I believe it started because he noticed the marks on my hand that the cat left behind. Suddenly we were talking about the pets we've had.

He told me a story from when he was just a child and his dog defended him against two other dogs nearly the same size. It sparked my thought process and suddenly I was alive once more with multiple stories of the dogs in my life.

When I was really little we had a German Shepherd named Shatzi. In German, Shatzi means "my love" and from what I've been told, she really was a love. Unfortunately she was ill, and though I have no idea what it was that made her so sick, she was put down at only 2 years old. The only thing I remember about her was petting her pretty little nose as she lay breathing on her side on a long metal table. A man in a white coat was near by... I'm assuming that was the vet. I was at the head of the table looking at Shatzi, the white coat was to the left of the table, and both of my parents were to the right. Daddy was wearing a light blue polo shirt. Mom was wearing a black and white striped sleeveless sweater. That's about all I remember. Daddy told me it was time to go and reached to take my hand. The rest of the memory is gone.

The next dog we got was Cocoa. She was a cockapoo and I remember I hated that dog, and she hated me. I remember so little about her that her memory is more vague than that of Shatzi. I think Cocoa was a rich brown color with little tiny paws and huge teeth. I remember the teeth most. I remember her biting my foot one day as I sat on the plaid couch (obviously from the 70's era) and I kicked her. I was probably about 4 years old. Clearly I got into a lot of trouble for that. I have no idea what happened to her, but we didn't have her when we moved to Arkansas.

Dad was stationed in Alaska for a year when I was around 7 years old and we couldn't go with him. It was called a "remote tour" for the Air Force. Mom wanted to be close to her family if she wasn't going to have my Dad there, so Arkansas was the natural fit. We moved into a small trailer out in the middle of nowhere, a mile down a back country road. It was the kind of road where you could feel every bump and rock in the path, and only two parallel lines marked the way from the tires killing the grass under them. Weeds, flowers and Bermuda grass sprouted around the edges and in between the parallel lines. My brother and I would often walk home from the bus stop, each of us choosing one of these lines. We would fear the weeds on either side because of the ticks and chiggers that would infest our bodies if we ventured too far into the grass.

One day, not long after we moved there and Dad wasn't gone yet, Mom came to pick us up at the bus station. We climbed into the car, my brother in the front seat and me in the back. We rolled down the road all the way to the trailer that was our new home. As we pulled in beside the house and in front of the wood shed, we saw Dad standing over behind the wood pile.

"What's your Dad doing," Mom asked us.

"I dunno" my brother said.

"Well, why don't you go see?"

Confused, my brother and I got out of the car and walked over to where Dad was.

There in his hands was the tiniest puppy I had ever seen, all black except one white toe on his back foot. We squealed, cooed and awed over the little puppy. He was only 5 weeks old and small enough to fit in my mothers jacket pocket. Because of his coloration, he ended up with the name Shadow. It had multiple meanings later on. He followed my brother around like he was his shadow, and of course, he was scared of his own shadow. Fragile Rock was popular at the time, and there was a little character on that show afraid of about everything he came across. His name was Boober, and evenually Shadow learned to answer to that name, too. My brother liked to joke that he would answer to anything and sometimes called him "come here, Stupid" just to prove a point. Yeah, Shadow answered to that one too. Shadow was adored by everyone in the family and eventually became the reason I love dogs so much today. He and I grew up together.

My Uncle's cat had kittens - the same Uncle who was thrown off Whomp and looked for the gold in the Superstition Mountains - and I was offered one of the litter. I had always loved the movie "Escape to Witch Mountain" and the movie had a little black cat called Winky in it. Because of that movie, I wanted a solid black cat that I could call Winky. He had lovely little yellow eyes. Shadow and Winky didn't get along all that great at first, but in no time they were best buddies.

One day Winky wandered away from home a little too far. We looked everywhere for him and couldn't find him. Shadow moped about for a while, broken hearted. We had Winky about 6 months when that happened, and Shadow had raised him from a kitten. That was his baby, that was my own first pet, and Winky was a member of the family. When Mom finally found him, she didn't tell me for months.

There had been two Dalmations that lived up the road called George and Sissy. They were mean, nasty brutes that would bark at passing cars, bite at the tires, and generally hated everyone and everything but the owner who fed them. Travis, the boy at the house about my age, couldn't control them and nobody else would try. Mom guessed that one day George and Sissy wandered down towards our home and found Winky. He was too young and too little to get away. When she found his mangled corpse on the side of the road by Travis' house, she picked it up and burried it. My poor little kitten didn't even make it to a year old. Since then I've had little to do with Dalmations. They're stupid, ugly, viscious brutes and I'll never forgive George or Sissy. They killed my first pet.

Shadow lived happily once we got the pet chickens though. My Uncle had a chicken farm where he raised them from chicks for Tyson. He would have to kill the defective ones, and when we found out durring a visit one day, we 'rescued' the chicks from a fate worse than death. One had a twisted leg - we named him Roadrunner as a family joke. Another had no feathers on the back of his neck because all of the other chickens pecked at it for some reason. He ended up with the name Peck-Neck, or more commonly, Picnic, also a family joke. The third chicken's name escapes me, but all three were beautiful little yellow chicks. We took them home and raised them.

Shadow loved the chickens. They were good company for him on the hot summer days in Arkansas, and in the winter they would roost near him to keep him warm. They would play wildly together, Shadow chasing them around the yard, snatching out tail feathers each time they began to slow down. They would Bawk loudly and scoot right along. Thanks to Shadow's tail-feather-snatching days, Roadrunners leg eventually straightened out and he could run faster than both of the others.

When we left Arkansas, we couldn't take the chickens with us. I knew a kid at school that had his own chickens in a coop, so we gave them to him when we moved away. Mom knew they would likely end up eating the chickens we raised as pets, but had a last remark about it later on.

"I imagine those were some of the toughest chickens they ever tried to eat, thanks to Shadow."

We moved to California after Arkansas and lived happily with our dog Shadow. He was good company, but we could tell he missed having company of his own out in the yard. Sometimes he would play with the neighbor dog, but most of the time he was just really lonely. Thankfully, my Mother used to talk in her sleep.

"You know what kind of dog we're going to get next," she aske my dad one night while she was sleeping. He woke up and decided to play along.

"What kind of dog?"
"A Great Dane", she replied. "Wanna know why?"

"Why a Great Dane", he asked.

"That way when I get tired of walking it, I can just ride it home."

He laughed and that was the end of that - until 2 weeks later when we had a Great Dane in the back yard getting used to Shadow.

We found Lady in a newspaper ad, "free to a good home" by some people that lived fairly close by. They were being shipped to Hawaii with the Air Force and couldn't take her with them. It was no easy feat to get her in the back of Dad's Ram Charger, but they managed and when I came home there she was, a huge brindle colored Great Dane in my back yard. In contrast to Shadow, she was the biggest dog I had ever seen. I thought we had gotten a pony when I first saw her.

Since Shadow had decided to be my brother's dog, Lady had become mine by default. I would walk her in the desert for hours. She would leave what my father would call "Elephant Piles" in the neighbors back yard when I wasn't looking, and I would have to go pick up Lady's road apples. Sometimes I would strap on my roller blades that I got in the 6th grade and she would pull me down the street. She would even stop at the intersections and look both ways. She would continue on even if there was a car coming, but she would at least stop and look.

One day while walking in the desert with my Mom and the dogs, I spotted something moving off in the distance. It looked like a wolf running across the hills of sand, heading straight towards us. The Akita was looking for an afternoon snack, and Shadow fit the bill. We turned and started to walk away, but Lady kept cutting her eyes around trying to watch the Akita. She was gauging how far off it was.

Just about the time the Akita lunged, Lady spun around and snapped her leash in two. Mom grabbed Shadow and braced for impact. I stood there holding what was left of the leash, and Lady slammed into the Akita with a force that shook the ground beneath my feet. Mom handed Shadow to me and started reaching for a rock. The only thing she could find was a dirt clod the size of her head. As the dogs locked in combat, a snarling mass of glaring white fangs and fur, my mom hurled her clod of dirt at the dogs and managed to make contact. Unfortunately she landed the blow directly on Lady's head. It exploded and the dirt flew into the other dog's eyes. Momentarily the fight was stalled. It was all we needed. The owners of the Akita came from nowhere and snapped the leash on their dog while Lady had it pinned down by the throat.

When the fight was over, both dogs were out of breath. Lady had a single puncture wound on her right shoulder that should have taken a few stitches. I actually cried over that.

We had Lady for the entire time we lived in California. When my Dad got orders to go to Utah, we knew that Lady was too old and frail to handle the stairs of the split level home and the snow in the winter. We in turn placed almost a duplicate ad in the paper to the one that guided us to her in the first place. It wasn't long before we got a response. In the mean time, I knew nothing about it.

When I got home from school that day, Lady wasn't in the yard. I panicked, thinking she had gotten outside again. She would sometimes take herself on a walk to the Grocery Store about a mile away. Once she was picked up by the pound and we had to go fetch her. I was ready to storm out looking for her, but my parents stopped me.

It turned out that the people who had answered the ad had just moved to California from Hawaii. After a bit of a discussion, my parents discovered that the people they had on the phone were the exact same people we had gotten Lady from in the first place. They had been sent back to California. My parents took Lady to them that afternoon, thinking it would be easier on me to take her while I was at school. When they told me the story, they realized they were wrong. I cried from a broken heart. The dog that had saved my life (in my eyes) was gone and I'd never see her again.

My parents bundled me up into the car and we drove straight out there. I got to say goodbye to my beautiful brindle Dane at a strangers home. I never saw her again.

We took Shadow with us to Utah that November, and by January he was starting to act like an old man. He didn't get as much exercise anymore, he walked slower, he didn't play as much ... it was obvious he needed someone to make him feel young again. We bundled up in the car and went to the local Animal Shelter. The first dog I saw was a cute little black cockapoo puppy, but my Mother remembered Cocoa... she tried to talk me out of it, but my heart was set on that dog. I wanted the puppy.

Paperwork had to be filed and things had to be done in steps taking a full 24 hours before we could take the dog home. In that amount of time, someone else had snatched up the little black puppy. Mom went to pick up the puppy while I was at school on January 27th of 1993 and had to make another choice. Since I wasn't there, she did the best she could - and it was a wise decision. She picked out a dog previously named Pixie who had a sister in the pen with her. She hated breaking up the two, but she knew instinctively that the dog she had selected was meant for us. The dog looked just like me, down to the sun burned spot on her nose. I was upset when I first saw her, but all it took was mere moments for me to fall completely in love with her.

Mom discovered the dogs real name before she wound up in the pound was actually Cookie. She asked if the dogs wanted a cookie (which was what Shadow knew as being dog treats) and they both came running. Shadow ate his treat, but the new dog, later identified as a Long Haired Chihuahua, didn't want one. She had responded because it was her name. We had a hard time training Shadow to not jump each time he heard her name.

She was probably one of the smartest dogs I've ever seen. She would pick raspberries off of the thorny vines and place one on the ground before Shadow before eating one for herself. She could jump from one nook in a tree to another to climb up to where I was. She would crack open the walnuts when Dad would run over them with the lawnmower and eat the nut inside. Often, she would share this with Shadow too, by digging out the nut and placing it in front of him like she did the raspberries. She would put her paws into the holes in a chain link fence and climb it like a ladder, balance on the top, and jump to the other side. When she got sick it just about killed us all. She had Parvo.

In the dead of winter my mother would sit with Cookie on her lap each day and feed her a teaspoon of water each hour. We couldn't afford the vet bills to cure her, and even then it wasn't guaranteed. My mother saved that little dogs life. Later on, the dog saved me. She became my best friend and who I could always turn to whenever I had a hard day. She was my everything back then.

Then the neighbor kids kidnapped her and fed her rat poison, thinking it was dog food. When she came back to us, so much as a pin prick would have caused her to bleed to death. She was cage confined for weeks. Somehow, miraculously, she pulled through.

When she dislocated her hip during a thunderstorm by getting hung up in a fence she tried to climb, we were all convinced she was half cat and had nine lives. Unfortunately, being only half cat, she had fewer lives than nine. We had that lovely girl for 8 years.

The dam broke on the hill above my Mom and Dad's house years later. A very muddy Shadow was found on the front porch while 4 feet of mud covered the back yard. Cookie was never found. I've never cried so hard over a pet.

We didn't get another companion for Shadow. He was so old at this point that he had lost most of his vision, sense of smell and hearing. He lasted for another year after that. When he got out of the yard and couldn't remember how to get home, the Animal Shelter picked him up and finally had him put to sleep. He was 17 years old.

I was married by the time I got my next dog. I was driving down a back country road in Arkansas when a muddy little dog came running out of the woods right at my car. Thinking something was wrong with the dog, I pulled over and opened the door to check on it. The dog jumped into the car, mud and all, and bounded over me into the passenger seat. Mud caked her fur to her body and even through the tangles I could see the shape of her rib cage. She was thin, practically starving to death. I looked around for an owner and didn't see one, so I put the car back into drive and started to pull away. The dog stood up on the passenger seat, set her front paws on the dash, and watched out of the windshield like an inquisitive child. The first thing I did was take the dog home and give it a bath.

I named her Cotton. She was another Long Haired Chihuahua and reminded me so much of Cookie. She had brown ears but was mostly white. When she laid down and curled up, she looked like a big cotton ball. She came along at the most perfect moment. The following week I found out I was pregnant, and the week after that I was bedridden due to a near miscarriage. She was the most wonderful company I could ask for, living so far out in the country that nobody could hear me scream. She never left my side.

I worked with her day in and day out. She learned everything I taught her and eventually learned how to respond to basic hand commands, just as Shadow and Cookie had been taught to do. If I snapped my finger and pointed at the floor, she would walk over and lay down on the floor, making sure her nose was exactly where I had pointed. She would come, sit, stay, roll over and even bark on command, with nothing but hand movements.

Finally the scare was over. I was 8 months pregnant then and had no worries anymore. I saw an ad in the newspaper for an ammeter dog show that was going to be held not far from where I lived. I didn't care if she won or not - I just wanted to show off my little beauty. It was hard to think of her as being the same dog I found on the side of the of the road. I also knew that there was a chance someone might see her and know who her real owners were. I had fallen in love with this little beauty, but I was willing to give her back to her rightful home if she were spotted.

We went to the dog show... and she won first place for her size category and then Best in Show for all dogs. I was very proud.

When I started going through my divorce some time after that, I wanted to take her with me and couldn't. I found a friend who agreed to take her and said that if anything should ever change, I would be welcome to come get her back. A month later I landed in a place where I was able to have dogs, so I went to collect her. My 'friend' told me that Cotton hadn't gotten along with her dog, so she gave her away to a friend. The friend of hers didn't want me to know where they were or how to reach them because they didn't want to give up my dog. I was sick over the whole deal and cried myself to sleep for a week. She was precious to me and every day I regret ever giving her up in the first place. I felt betrayed by a friend.

A few weeks later I was driving through town and saw a familiar white and brown head poking out of the passenger window of a green pickup truck. I whistled my old familiar whistle, and the ears perked up. She began to look around. The truck pulled into a gas station and I couldn't slow down in time. I drove right past. Immediately I turned around and went back. I just knew in my heart that was her. She knew it was me. By the time I pulled into the gas station, the truck was gone and I never saw her again.

It was many years before I got another pet, and that one I still have. These stories you've read tonight are the reason I smuggled my cat into the hotel room against all rules. I was incredibly lucky I did... the other option was to leave him in the uhaul overnight, and that was stolen around 3am. I never would have seen Oliver again.

Oliver will be with me like Shadow was - all the way to the bitter end. I'll guard him with my life and I'll never go anywhere he isn't welcome. I've fought to keep him against all odds. I pay more for an appartment than I should have to because I have him, but he's worth every penny. When I adopted him at 5 weeks old, I knew in my heart that I was his guardian and soul support, and he depended on me. No flood, famine, or hurricane, no friend, foe or divorce will ever separate us.

I've loved all of my pets. They've all taught me lessons in one way or another. Some of them saved my life by battling Akitas, others by being the shoulder for me to cry on, and yet others by keeping me sane out in the middle of nowhere. At times like now when I am so desperate for some form of affection, Oliver will suddenly decide to curl up in my life and all in the world is right once more.

I loved them all, yes. I have a special place in my heart for three in particular, though. Lady was precious to me, Cookie was my darling sweetheart, but Cotton was my baby. I think about her almost every day and always with the same affection. I loved her more dearly than I ever thought I could love a pet. She was more than a dog to me. She was my child, my companion, my best friend, my saviour and my saving grace keeping me sane when I needed it the most. She was my pride and joy, the reason I made it through the pregnancy without bleeding to death. She gave me a purpose and reason to keep going on each day. In return, she loved me more than any other pet I've ever had. Cotton was truly special... and I blew it.
I'm sure she's long gone by now. That was so long ago. I only hope she had a long and happy life with people who loved her as much as I did.

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  1. That was very well written!! :) I love the pets in my life too. And I know there is a special place for each of them not only in my heart! :)

  2. Well done.


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