Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cats and dogs and horses, oh, my!

by Helen DePrima

I’ve always felt pity for kids who don’t grow up with animals – pets, livestock, or both. I can’t recall not being surrounded by critters both indoors and out. We had a constant supply of barn cats, some of whom were elevated to indoor status, and a succession of border collies as well as other dogs introduced from time to time. Chickens pecked around the back steps and goats gamboled in the barn lot.

And equines, of course – ponies and work horses and mules and our own saddle horses cast variously as cow ponies or Indian war ponies or cavalry chargers, depending on what adventure tales my cousins and I were reading at the time.


When my husband and I moved to New Hampshire after his graduation from vet school, our family’s circulating menagerie shifted from farm stock to wildlife, birds and animals brought to his clinic either injured or orphaned. My kids grew up surrounded by blue jays and beavers and baby bats, squirrels and opossums and porcupines, hawks and owls and herons. As well as cats and dogs, of course.




Now we’re down to a single dog, an opinionated Shih Tzu who behaves well when it pleases her, certainly not because she feels compelled to do so. We just lost our beautiful Maine Coon to cancer, adopted as a rescue only two years ago, but are in the process of acquiring another. Maine Coons are unbeatable for beauty and personality as well as mousing talents.


Our house may suffer in tidiness because of our four-legged family members, but I truly believe that providing loving care for animals makes us more completely human.

by Liz Flaherty

Gabe
I am not--are you ready for this?--an animal person. This doesn't mean I don't like them; it means I don't connect with them very well. I used to say every dog around knew when I went to work for the post office, because they hated me from that moment on. Even my grandson's dog, Buddy, barks at me the minute I get to their house and the worst thing I've ever done to him is give him treats and pat his head. Gingerly.

I do have some memories of animals that give credence to Helen's pity for kids who grow up without them in their lives.

I grew up on a small farm. Where there were cows. We milked them by hand. They all had names, and we got attached to them. Or hated them. Cora, the Holstein, stood still and placid until the milk bucket was nearly full and then she kicked it over and slapped the milker in the back of the head with her tail in one easy motion. Myrtle loved us all and when we petted her, she would lean into us and knock us flat. The barn cats showed us how they could dance when we sprayed milk directly into their mouths. At milking time, when the cats gathered in the stable with the cows, our collie, Mort, babysat the kittens in the hayloft. He lay with them snuggled into his fur until their mothers came back.

We had free-range chickens and ducks before it was in vogue. They ranged all over the barnyard, which would have been fine if there'd been litter boxes for their use. I grew up barefoot. Do you get my drift? We also had pigs, about whom I will say nothing. Shudder.

We still live in the country. We love the deer who visit our yard on nearly a daily basis and enjoy the birds, but we don't have any livestock or even any dogs. 

I do love my outdoor cats, Gabe and Susie. Gabe came to us as a baby 12 years ago, Susie several years later. She was a stray, and starved--we don't know how old she is. Gabe is the black one, Susie the tortoiseshell. They sun themselves on top of the trash can. We have seen the man who picks up our trash literally lift them off the lid, empty the can, and lift them back up. Not that they are lazy or spoiled. Well, yes, maybe.
Susie and Gabe

I put animals in my stories, because they are such a warm and sweet part of the fabric of our lives. It goes right long with being a Heartwarming author. Aren't we the lucky ones?

And maybe I am an animal person after all. At least sort of. Especially if the animals are cats.


41 comments:

  1. Helen, your Shih Tzu is absolutely adorable. What's her name? We don't have any pets, but after watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week,I wanted one of each.
    Liz, we enjoy the outdoor critters too, especially our hummingbirds.

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    1. I love the hummingbirds, too, Jill. I keep hoping someday we'll get a whole bunch of them, but it's usually just a few--dive-bombing each other for custody of the feeder!

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    2. Hi Jill -- Alice is our second Shih Tzu; our first was a stray and we bought another when he died way too soon. We've had many cats over the years, always indoor, but the tow Maine Coons have been the best, beautiful and affectionate and dedicated to keeping the cellar mouse-free.

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  2. Your post put a big smile on my face . . . but anything to do with animals usually does. :) Your childhood sounds wonderful to me, Helen!

    Liz, I loved your concluding comment because I was coming to the same conclusion. The tenderness with which you write about animals tells me you are an animal person.

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    1. Hi, Kate! I think Harley and Logan could go a long way toward "animalizing" me. They are so sweet.

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    2. Great minds think alike, Liz! I was going to suggest in my comment that you come visit (after the snow is gone) because Harley and Logan would absolutely LOVE you!

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  3. Helen and Liz, I enjoyed these posts so much! I grew up,in a suburb so a very different experience with animals, though we did have a small poodle who managed to capture all our hearts. Because we raised our own family in the city, my hubby and I opted for smaller pets - a budgie named Polly (of course!) who did learn to say his (yes, a male Polly!) own name after a year of tutoring. You are both so right about the importance of animals in our human lives.

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    1. Thank, Janice. The last dog we had held our hearts pretty firmly. It's been a long time, but I still think about her.

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  4. Hi Helen and Liz, I so agree with you on the importance of animals in our lives. Hubby and I have always had pets and they really are part of the family. Thanks for sharing your pets.

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Sandra. Pets are definitely family members, aren't they?

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    2. Hi Sandra -- thanks for joining us. Although I enjoy my pets now, no way would I want to be a horse owner in New Hampshire at this stage of my life. Winters are too long and frozen ground is too hard -- I don't bounce like I used to. And I don't miss the 2 AM feedings from the years I raised multiple litters of baby squirrels every spring and summer.

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  5. Helen and Liz, you guys always have the best posts. I'm with Kate, here, Liz, I think you are an animal person and don't know it. I am so much an animal person, and get so attached so quickly...it's scary. Dogs love me. I think I have telepathy with them. Cats as well, since I had cats all the time growing up and my son barely knows life without cats. I adore horses as well. Let's face it, animal people are such softies. I, for one, can't imagine life any other way.

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    1. I think horse are some of the most beautiful things in God's creation, but I have to admit (hanging my head here) that I'm afraid of them. I'll pet and feed them--and that's fun--but that's as close as I get. Thanks, Catherine!

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    2. Hi Catherine -- Like you, I get attached too quickly. I knew when I adopted my last Maine Coon two years ago that I wouldn't have the joy of her company for a decent lifespan, but when I saw her photo on the animal shelter web page, I knew she was my cat. I loved her to pieces the short while she was with us and she paid me back in devotion. And neatly-killed mice displayed at the top of the cellar steps.

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  6. Helen and Liz, I grew up with all kinds of animals and until recently had cats and/or dogs. It's so hard when you lose them and I wasn't sure I could go through that again. Hence I have stuffed toy animals all over the house. But I love animals and think they add so much to stories. So keep giving your story characters pets to love.

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    1. Hi Roz -- Animals always play important roles in my stories as do weather and terrain, probably because I'm deeply rooted in the natural world. Growing up a farm kid, our calendar was based on plowing and planting and harvesting. I still celebrate when I see the first spears of skunk cabbage in the marsh or hear the first redwing blackbirds returned to stake out their nesting territories.

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    2. Hi, Roz. I have never been able to warm up to stuffed animals (more evidence I'm not really an animal person), but we still have a few of the kids' bears from when they were little.

      I'm with you, Helen--I love seeing those redwing blackbirds on the power lines!

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  7. Liz, my father grew up milking cows. As a result, when he took over the farm he got rid of all the livestock except one dog. My brothers and I subverted the plan a bit, with a cat, pigs for FFA, abandoned chickens we took in, a pigeon coop, assorted injured wild animals, etc. When I was fourteen, I finally got the horse I'd been begging for since I could talk. Turns out I have no natural aptitude for riding, but I did enjoy her as a big pet. I've always loved animals, and that's one of the things I especially love about Heartwarming books.

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    1. Hi Beth -- your menagerie growing up sounds a lot like mine. My grandfather's farm was on the outer edge of suburbia; all my classmates begged to come home after school to play with our barn kittens and hang around with the horses.

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    2. I was always fascinated by doves--not pigeons, although I'm not sure I could tell the difference--and by rabbits. We had rabbits when I was little, but I can barely remember. I agree, too, Beth, animals have a wonderful home with Heartwarming.

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  8. Liz, you know about me and animals, although I loved our sweet kitties when they were with us. And I'm crazy about Lily, our granddog, but I don't have any deep desire to own critters anymore. However, I think my new book will have a cat...the story definitely calls for a kitty.

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    1. Hi Nan -- nice that you have a granddog to satisfy your pet needs. My husband is the dog person although guess who does most of the care-taking. Like you, I'm a cat person; I've even learned how to balance my laptop on one knee while a cat occupied most my lap.

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    2. Nan didn't mention they used to have horses! :-) I think I would always need cats, and my sister-in-law's little aquarium is making me think ...hmmm... about a few fish. Just thinking, though.

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  9. Helen and Liz! I love you two and your posts. I grew up in an apartment with a Toy Fox Terrier, then Ron and I were given a kitten as a wedding present and we've not been without a cat since. Ron claims to be a dog person, so we've had those all our married lives, but all the cats sit with him, so he's been converted. I love the press of animals against me, having to step over the dog sitting behind your feet in the kitchen, having a cat jump onto your legs before you've even completely sat down, waking up to purring in your ear, or the weight of a dog against your feet. I can't imagine life without pets. I've never had wild things, but do love the local deer, the noisy geese, the chickadees. They've all so enriched my life.

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    1. HI Muriel -- our first cat wasn't a wedding present; my husband gave me a tiger kitten for our first Christmas together. Danny lived to be 18 and moved from Colorado to NH. Most of our cats since then have lived into great old age, each with his or her special place in family history. But our Maine Coons have been the best.

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    2. I like the geese, too, Muriel. Duane complains about them because they're very fond of the golf course where he plays--back we go to the litter box thing--but he likes them, too.

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  10. Thanks for sharing these stories, Helen and Liz. I love reading about people's pets, and your stories are wonderful.

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    1. Hi Patricia -- thanks for joining us. I'm glad you enjoy our meanderings.

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    2. Thanks, Patricia. We had fun with this one!

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  11. Thanks for your stories about animals and your pets. I love animals. I had the absolute best German Shepherd growing up, and now we have a 16 yr. old cat that thinks he owns us. We love him. I think it would be a joy to be surrounded by farm animals, but they'd all have to wear diapers, LOL (thinking about you Liz). Wildlife is so amazing too. And I marvel whenever I see a hawk, hummingbird, deer, cow, horse, snake, etc. They all live around me, and I like it that way. ( :

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    1. Hi Laurie -- I'll be you have a lot of wild visitors to your lovely garden.

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    2. We've been seeing a lot of hawks lately, and eagles have come home to roost, too. They are so amazing. Yes on diapers!

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  12. Great post, Ladies! Can't imagine my life without pets. Liz, I think that needs to go into a book about a hero who lifts the lid off the garbage can cats and all? And then puts it back on. So cute - I can't get over it! (Remember the TV show Frasier had a garbageman as Roz's hunky boyfriend?)

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    1. Hi Carol -- I can't seem to write without including animals as active elements of the story.

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    2. I think you're right about the trash cans story, Carol--thanks!

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  13. You are definitely an animal person, Liz. :-) and Helen, I love the hawk. I think they are so pretty. Great post.

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    1. That young red-tailed hawk had bounced off a truck's windshield and needed only a few days to get over the wobbles. Release is the best part of rehab.

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    2. It's definitely a Good Thing to be able to help an injured animal.

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  14. I spent the morning at the vet, routine, but Tyre the cat - who received three shots - is still not talking to me

    And Lucy the dog is sulking because Tyre the cat got to go on a car ride.

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    1. Funny how some pets hate vet visits, others handle it like a visit her fans. Our Reba lounged on the exam table like Cleopatra reclining on her barge.

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    2. Lol to both of you. My cats are not fond of the vet, or the car, and they hate the cat carrier.

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