Formative Years: 1954-1965
We didn’t have furry pets when I was a child. When my sister Margo asked for a dog (she would have been happy with a pony, too), Mom said, “No.” The excuse was that mom worked and had no time to take care of a pet. Additionally, we traveled two to three weeks in the summer. Pets were not a part of the family equation.
However, that doesn’t mean that my sisters and I never interacted with animals. For example, I remember Laura and Margo coming home with goldfish in plastic bags. These fish were won at Liberty Jewish Center’s annual Purim carnival. They were plopped into a small bowl, where if lucky, they lived for a few weeks before going “belly up.”
Margo remembers Mom buying two angel fish. She put them in the fishbowl, and then placed the bowl on top of the television set. Oops. Boiled fish!
We also had two parakeets, Petey and Icey. They lived for awhile but eventually were found dead in their cage.
I remember a small turtle or two, the ones about the size of a silver dollar. They didn’t live in a terrarium but maybe in a shoe box. Anyway, sales of these turtles was banned because they carry salmonella. So much for turtles.
My father never said so, but maybe he overcompensated our lack of pets by visits to the Baltimore Zoo. He often took me on Sunday mornings. Back then, the zoo was free. Where were Laura and Margo? Probably in Hebrew School. I didn’t attend Hebrew School since I went to Bais Yaakov School for Girls.
A few years before we moved away, a family with two German Shepherds moved next door. Every night, they let the dogs loose in the fenced backyard. They barked all night long. The racket was awful, and we were glad to leave that neighborhood.
Teen Years: 1965-1971
In 1965, we moved to a newly built Pickwick house. One of the neighbors, the Polskys, had and still have dogs. I remember holding their black, newborn puppies in the palm of my hand. They were so cute and sweet.
The next-door neighbors, whose name escapes me, brought home a Welsh Corgi puppy named Duchess. She was very sweet, and I often played outside with her. Even Dad, who wasn’t particularly fond of dogs, liked her. Her size, small and compact, was less frightening to me.
I don’t recall any of my girlfriends having pets, either. But here’s a true story that happened to me on the walk to high school.
Adult Pets: 1976-present
Ken and I had an aquarium. It wasn’t huge, but he took good care of it. We enjoyed going to fish stores to see the latest fish for sale and to perhaps buy a few more. We even had black molly babies born one Friday night. Sadly, Ken dismantled the tank when our toddler son began to climb on it. Kids and fish were too much work for him.
Many years later, we got our dog through my hairdresser. Another client of hers needed to “rehome” her Cairn terrier, Gyzmo. Once their grandson began crawling, Gyzmo was jealous. While he wasn’t aggressive towards the baby, he began to mark throughout their house.
I was Gyzmo’s “meal ticket.” When preparing meals, he was by my side, waiting for any scrap of food to fall on the floor. He ate everything except spinach. That he spit out. One Saturday our friends the Weissmans came for lunch. As the platter of chicken was being passed around, a thigh fell off. None of us realized that Gyzmo was tracking the platter as it made its rounds. He swallowed the falling chicken thigh before it hit the floor! Needless to say, we had the cleanest floors in the neighborhood thanks to him. I learned unconditional love from Gyzzie.
As if having a dog wasn’t enough work, we also got a cat. I’m not sure why I brought him home. Maybe it was because Ken doesn’t like dogs. Acquiring Gadget (as he was named) was my way of saying, “Thank you for putting up with my dog!”
Gadget was a stray. One Saturday morning, the front door of our synagogue was open. He walked right in. (Perhaps he was looking for herring or gefilte fish.) Someone picked him up and put him outside. The next day, he was back, waiting at the doors. This time, a synagogue member called a veterinarian tech he knew. She came and took Gadget to her clinic. Then, he ended up with us.
This feline was the Jekyll and Hyde of cats. One minute he’d cuddle up to you, purring, and the next minute, his claws were in your flesh. Eventually I learned his meows – some meant “I gotta get out of here—let me outside!” while others meant “please pet and groom me.” If nothing else, Gadget was an expert hunter of baby rabbits, mice and birds. And he shed like crazy (Gyzmo didn’t shed). I found cat hairs in the house years after the cat died.
Gadget did not like Gyzmo, though Gizzie tried to be friends. Eventually, Gadget learned to “tolerate” his canine housemate. They each had their respective corners on our den sectional sofa—one at one end, and the other at the other end.
Was I underprivileged not growing up with a furry friend? Perhaps not. However, it is ironic that during our childhood we heard many wonderful stories about Fudgie, my maternal uncle’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Uncle Ira brought her home probably in the late 1930s or early 1940s, sometime before the start of World War II.
I don’t know why my grandparents kept her except maybe in Small Town, USA, where they lived, pets were common. Even Dad, who courted Mom during World War II, liked Fudgie. He’d talk about how she’d lay her head on his lap, and look up at him with her big, brown “I love you” eyes. Fudgie also “survived” toddler Laura, pouncing and napping on her. She was that gentle or maybe getting too old to protest!
Being a retriever, Fudgie loved the water. Jumping into the Sioux River to swim was a treat. And she was very talented. Grandma would fillet a fish and put the remaining bones on the kitchen floor. Fudgie was able to carefully lick between the bones, eating the remaining tiny morsels of fish.
Our friends, Mary and John, recently got a Cavapoo puppy (a cross between a cavalier king Charles spaniel and a poodle). The pup is adorable, a bundle of brown, curly, wiggly fur.
I asked Mary, “Why?”
She replied, rolling her eyes. “I have no idea WHY?!!” But as Mary admitted, “Once she’s housebroken and settles down, I know I’m going to love her!”
My sentiments exactly.
Read more by Eileen Creeger.