Bella, Cora & Me
I’ve been a pet owner all my life. When I was little I didn’t think about it and made every creature one. Poor things had to endure periods of neglect and attention. Being a child and later on too, I didn’t always know what they needed or cared. My parents tried to stem my enthusiasm but I was a spoiled child who almost always got her way. My cat and dog endured many outings dressed, trimmed and stuffed into boxes or carriages.
I have lived a double life – one in the country and one in the city. In the country it was easy to find pets. They came by the dozen. Cats and dogs were always showing up at the farm. I played with the kittens and the mature cats whenever I could. My dogs and I would walk the fence-lines and spend long hours under a tree or on a large rock in the sun. I would race to the stables and snuggle up with the baby pigs and enjoy the older ones chewing on my rubber boots. Cows have very wet noses and very rough tongues. Chickens are silly and yet they are very sweet too. Collecting eggs with my grandmother I also learned to be careful cause a chicken can bite very hard. Sheep are kind of pushy – young and old. My father wanted me to join the 4H club but talked himself out of it when he thought about how I’d react to my calf being slaughtered. He tried to tell me that farming isn’t about having pets.
Pets have been my closest friends for periods of my life. They comforted me, made me laugh and were wonderful companions. They began to teach me that they have their own intelligence.
Last of the cattle
I looked to the farm animals and saw the same intelligence and it saddened me. I talked to my father about them and how when they didn’t cooperate, they were saying no or were afraid. When my father was ill and I tried to help, I remember dealing with a young cow on my own. She was not tame. It was her first calf and it wasn’t up and eating. Unlike my father I couldn’t pick it up and hold it. Calves are about 100 lbs. I couldn’t rope the cow and control her. I talked to her and slowly she allowed me to touch her and then milk her. The milk froze immediately in the pail and I had to bring hot water from the house to warm it enough to pour it into a bottle and warm it again for the calf. Days later my father was well enough to help but he tied the cow because she didn’t stand for him. He was shocked she stood for me. It wasn’t his experience that patience and understanding would work with farm animals. Years later I read a research paper on training elephants that showed it was the best way to train.
I found having a pet in the city a challenge and one that has led me to think about their happiness. When I moved to the city after school, I couldn’t bring my Doberman. She didn’t fare well. The city sounds and the broken glass made her life very difficult. Luckily my parents took her in. I didn’t have a pet again for almost 6 years. As a freelance illustrator I thought my lifestyle allowed space and time for a cat. It did but as time went on my work and social life took more time away and she grew lonely and a bit nuts. I got her a companion but she wasn’t prepared and though they did play and shared a bit the relationship wasn’t ideal. The companion cat lived a long and lovely life with me and my growing family. My first cat however became increasingly unhappy and fearful, culminating in a shorter life. She only related to me.
Here is Mitzi – one of my parent’s dogs. When my mother was in the hospital for a few years Mitzi would wait for me to arrive at the farm and then she’d hop in the car for the trip to the hospital. She was a working dog. She and Bruno, her life-long companion, would take turns working and keeping my father company. The year they passed away was very hard for my parents.
Losing pets is such a hard topic. Each passing cuts like a knife. As hard on me as the loss of my father. I think this is because they are like your children and in some cases like a sibling. Luckily for future pets they have given me much to think on regarding their health and happiness.
A little slideshow in honour of many animals in my life but not all.