I can hear Maggie licking her butt.
“Quit it,” I say, and she pauses. She looks at me, her body still folded in half. She resumes.
“Don’t make me put the Elizabethan collar on you.”
I’ve been avoiding the big cone collar, the “E-collar” as the vet calls it (that word makes me think of e coli. Ew. But appropriate when you consider what this dog’s applying her tongue to). Maggie’s backside has been bothering her for months, despite all the dog doctor’s prescriptions, which include medicines, expensive new food, and frequent manual expressions of her anal glands (look that up on YouTube–I dare you).
Mattie’s butt, meanwhile, presses against my leg. I’ve pulled a chair up beside me for him because he’s fretting over what sounds like fireworks outside. And as I completed that last sentence, he climbed gingerly into my lap, sheltering himself and snuggling at the same time.
I love my dogs. They are worth every effort, every mess, every dog-hair-sprinkled floor surface, every mischievously stolen morsel. These beasts are pure love.
I grew up with a lot of animals around the house, although I learned early not to get too attached. In nearly every case, animals did not fare well for long at our house before we had to bid them farewell.
I remember a black lab we adopted when I was in first grade. We had him for a week or two before my uncle hit and killed him with his car. I have this odd memory of standing over his body after the accident. It’s odd because I remember feeling disappointment more than grief, like we’d lost a new toy. I feel more grief now as I write this than I did then.
We had another dog, Flash, whom I loved and played with a lot. When he began to behave aggressively and started to growl at me periodically, my affection for him turned to fear. I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t want to play with him anymore. He lived on a tether in our back yard year round for several years before my parents had him euthanized. If I think about that too much I feel angry at my parents and disappointed in myself. Maybe part of why I lavish so much love on my dogs now because of guilt about Flash.
My dad brought home a goat one day. It was incredibly cute, and smart, and affectionate. We named it Sheba. One day Dad and my brother took it on a walk and our neighbor’s dog ran out of his yard and killed her.
We also had a sheep. He was black, and sullen looking, as if he knew what was coming. And maybe he did, because he strangled himself. My dad tied him to a pole under the back porch, where I found him one morning still standing and stiff, having wrapped himself round and round the pole until there was no more slack in the rope.
Dad gave us rabbits, a pair of them, and their cage didn’t keep them safe. That same neighbor’s dog came down to our yard, tore the cage open, and mauled them.
We raised chickens, lots of them, and ate them. For years, each spring, we’d buy twenty or so chicks. They were adorable, and we’d play with them like pets until the novelty wore off. I liked to place them in my sister’s doll house because proportionately it looked like Barbie had a pet ostrich. But the fun didn’t last long. They weren’t, after all, very interactive. Most of them lived long enough to make it to our table. Dad would chop off their heads, then dunk their spasmodic bodies into hot water to loosen the feathers. I frequently helped.
We had some ducks. Dad slaughtered one on exactly two occasions, and never again. The first time he was flummoxed by the feathers, swearing as he vainly dunked the web-footed highly water-resistant carcass in a bucket. The feathers refused to be rinsed away, and they were hard to remove manually. So next time Dad added some Lestoil to the water. That actually worked, but it made rather a bitter marinade. And Mom didn’t know how to cook it. Try cooking a duck the same way you prepare a chicken and you get a greasy, flavorless, mess.
We had a horse once. I don’t remember where we got it. We sold it because it kicked my father in the teeth.
We had a cow for a while. My dad bought it at a county fair and brought it home in the back of the station wagon. We kept it in the chicken coop, where it got really bad diarrhea and died.
I should clarify that we did not live on a farm–not even close. My childhood home is a 1970’s Cape-style construction sitting on a single square acre. The chicken coop (aka cow-barn) was in the back yard. My parents still live there. Now and then my father says he wants to get another dog, and the family collectively cries, NOOOOOOooooo.
Sam loves our dogs, and I feel all warm and fuzzy seeing her dote on them. It’s therapeutic for her, I think. They have a lot to teach us about patience, compassion, affection and responsibility. And they’re love sponges. Mattie is crazy-smart, a chronic worrier, food-obsessed, and a compulsive licker. Maggie is more laid-back, but still a terrier. She’s dainty, mostly quiet, squirrel-obsessed, and likes to be with her person (me). She has lived here only as long as I have–she came with me when I moved here, and Sam adores her. She’s smaller than Mattie, and, well, girlier. Dainty. She’s a little Princess. Who licks her butt.