From My Window: Not all pets have to be dogs or cats; varieties abound

Sean McMahon, Editor
Sean McMahon, Editor
I was looking out my windows before the rain shower on Sunday and out the back and front windows were dogs.

Cris and I decided about 10 or 12 years ago, when we lost Nickolas and Jamie, two very small Yorkshire terriers, in about a four-month period that we didn’t want to go back to dogs as pets—at least for a while. We had Nick for about 10 years, and his death was to Cris just like we had lost a child. It was something we didn’t want to go through again.
Since we moved here a bit more than two years ago, we had been asked many times if we wanted a dog or a cat, and the immediate answer was no. I am allergic to cats although they seem to love me, and we just weren’t ready to go for another dog.
Then a friend of Cris’s carried a dog into the hair salon where Cris worked. That changed everything.
So now we have about a five-year-old black poodle/Yorkshire terrier cross. Gracie, and that was her name, looks more like a poodle because of the curly hair and she has a white mark right in the middle of her upper chest.
She is a great dog with a few really strange quirks, but we have both gotten to the point that she is firmly ensconced into the family.
When we pondered taking Gracie, we had one of those serious family gatherings with each other and made the list of the cons and pros of taking on another “small dog,” although Gracie is bigger than the Yorkies we had. Gracie is about 10 to 12 pounds while the Yorkies were about five and eight pounds.
We discussed the animals we had both had before, and there was quite a long discussion.
When I met Cris 37 years go, she had a cat and a dachshund. The dachshund didn’t like me, but Buffy was OK. The cat, on the other hand, had to go. If Cris literally hadn’t chosen me over the cat, we wouldn’t be together today. I could look at that cat and start sneezing, hacking, eyes swelling and watering and a rash would break out on my face, may arms and my legs. It would never have worked out.
Buffy was around until we made the move to Arizona the first time. She was just too old to relocate, so Cris’s parents, who lived about 35 miles from the town in which we were married, took care of her. It was about a week after Buffy died that we found out the news because Cris’s mother didn’t want to tell her. And even though it had been more than a year since the two saw each other, it still wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Lots of tears were shed.
We went through a series of pets in Arizona from two more dogs (an Australian shepherd—a brilliant dog and good pet) and a basset hound (great personality, but it didn’t like to do much except dig holes in my new lawn to get out of the heat.
Then we ended up with Nick the Yorkie, then, several years later, with Jamie, the other Yorkie. They were lots of fun, incredibly cute, greatly affectionate pets and quite intelligent. They just plain grew old.
After that, it was time for a change. We tried a hedgehog first. Another interesting pet that was a little bit playful although you had to watch its sharp quills. We only had the hedgehog about six months, and even after several trips to vet, he didn’t make it.
It was time for another family gathering with me and Cris. We discussed birds, as I had parakeets when I grew up and when Cris and I were dating. One day while we were gone, Buffy the dachshund had taken a leap from the floor onto a table, onto a higher book shelf and launched herself from about five feet high at the bird cage, knocking it on the floor. No more parakeet.
The best pet I had ever had and the only one I ever had that wasn’t a bird was a skunk. Yes, it was the best pet I had ever run across as it had all the loving tendencies of a cat and all the cute habits and loving attributes of a dog.
He lived under the bathroom sink. When I would come home from work, you could hear the bathroom cabinet door open and slam shut, you would hear Charlie’s nails clicking down the hall and shooting across the linoleum in the kitchen until he got to the rug in the living room. Then, before getting on the rug, he would just stomp his front paws repeatedly on the linoleum like a child with a tom-tom, and he would do it for about 20 seconds. At that point, the ritual was for me to move back into the living room with Charlie watching until I sat down on the couch and put my legs out straight and tell him, “Come on!” At that point he would stop his staring at me and run as fast as he could up my legs, up my chest and give me a big kiss.
I got Charlie when he was 10 days old and he had already been de-scented. He weighed about a quarter pound, and when I had to move to Wyoming, he weighed about 20 pounds.
We would go for walks in downtown Eureka Springs, Ark., a tourist town in the Ozarks, and Charlie would walk about five feet behind me, stirring some quite interesting reactions from the tourists and cheerful greetings from the locals, who had all grown to know and like Charlie.
Wyoming, however, didn’t allow pet skunks because, like today, wild ones are too prone to rabies. I told Wyoming Game & Fish that he was tame, had his rabies shots, etc., etc., etc.
No go. No pet skunks in Wyoming.
I gave Charlie away to a friend, and he lived happily on until he was about 16 years old before dying. I understand that is quite a ways past what is normal.
I did pull a lousy trick on my wife-to-be, however, as I had moved to Casper to work for the Casper Star-Tribune and had acquired a fairly large one-bedroom apartment.
Now, for a couple of different reasons, I had always thought snakes were neat. As a young boy, me and my friends, then about six or seven, would walk the three blocks down to Monument Park in Colorado Springs. There was some nice park property then a huge concrete embankment that would take one down to kind of riparian area with the South Platte flowing right through downtown.
If you want to find water bugs or frogs or lizards or garter snakes, it might not take long.
Snakes were my thing, and at times—often unknown to my parents—I would have six or seven snakes stored in a large aquarium mostly in the garage; on occasion in the house. Never had one get out; never had one die on me. I kept them alive with water and insects and tall grass I would pick from the river. I had these for about three years, when we were moving to another location in Colorado Springs.
As quietly as I brought them in, I brought them back to the river to their original habitat.
After we moved, the only pet I had was my first parakeet. Igor was his name—and I thoroughly enjoyed Igor until I took him out one day and discovered he knew how to open the latch on his cage.
After that, and I don’t think it had anything to do with Igor, my parents divorced and my mom and one of my brothers moved to Boulder. The other siblings had gone away to high school or college and it was Mom, Kevin and me in a much smaller home —no room for pets.
After I was graduated from high school, I moved to Aspen and obtained a loft apartment, and it was so expensive and small, pets weren’t even a consideration.
So, after losing Nick and Jamie in Arizona, we decided we would again try birds. We got a couple of cockatiels.
It took us a while to figure out one was male and one was female. All of a sudden, eggs started showing up in the cage.
Anyway, regarding the snakes and the lousy trick on Cris, who is not fond of snakes, I purchased Darby, a three-foot boa constrictor that was about as big around as an adult thumb, just four days before we got married.
Cris wouldn’t go near Darby unless it was an emergency, which did happen twice while we had her, but a typical evening, with Cris sitting in her own chair, was letting Darby out of his beautiful terrarium, he would slither out into the hall, move the 25 feet down the hall and into the living room, coil up around the couch and wrap around my neck, where he would stay until it was time to go to bed.
This went on for about three years with me feeding Darby about once a month, and when we moved to Phoenix, I donated him to the Maryvale High School science lab. By then, he had grown to about six feet in length and about as big around as a man’s forearm.
Anyway, we had quite a collection of critters between us while growing up.
We also had a cockatoo, cockatiels (which we bred), the Yorkies (which we bred), iguanas, other lizards, gerbils and hamsters. I even raised a magpie from right when it fell out of its nest, and released it the next fall.
So, to make a long story short, we had a long conversation to determine whether or not it was time to get any kind of a pet. After a good hour or so of off and on discussion we reached consensus.
Gracie was going to join the family. And it has been a great joy that she has brought us. As I said, she had a few strange quirks, but that uniqueness is a part of the reason she had grown on us.
Anyway, just remember when and if you are looking for a pet, there are other animals than just dogs and cats. They will all offer you some fun and educational times if you learn about them first and always respect the nature of the animal you adopt.
Cats were not possible. Dogs were a joy. But Darby the snake and Charlie the skunk, the birds, even the hedgehog were fun to take care of, and each and every one of the experiences, particularly breeding the Yorkies and the cockatiels, were highly educational. Cris and I are both glad we did every bit of it; well, maybe not the boa constrictor for Cris.