I’m not a pet owner currently, and I doubt I will become one in the near future. It is not because I don’t like animals. But not only do pets require time (which I have little of to spare), many of my animal encounters have not been very conducive to developing a fondness for pets.
When I was a kid we always had cats. One in particular we dubbed Solomon, “because he was so wise”. He was really a very intelligent creature – but one day he started ‘marking his territory’ in everyone’s closet, and soon my mother was forced to get rid of him. I had this experience repeated a few years ago with my daughters’ two cats – and its not a pleasant one.
I also had a bird as a pet when I was about 5 years old. One day the bird escaped the cage and our cat pounced on it and killed it in front of my eyes. Two friends and I cuddled helplessly in an oversized chair, screaming for my mother, watching the cat rip the feathers off the little creature.
As a child I was always afraid of dogs – mostly because our neighbours from three doors down had a huge German Shepard that they allowed to run free. To a little child of 4 or 5, an encounter with this monster was traumatic. Looking back now I realize the dog was probably quite friendly. But I was a shy and timid child – an encounter with the large drooling teeth of a beast twice my size was enough to send me running (with the dog close on my heels).
My grandparents had a farm, and I was fortunate enough to spend many weekends and holidays there. Just one drawback – the outhouse. The outhouse was not the drawback – I was pretty adaptable in that regard. The problem was that my grandparents kept pigs. And the pigs liked to hang around outside the outhouse. These weren’t little pigs, but good sized ones – to a small child they seemed enormous. Every time I finished using the facilities, I would inch open the door cautiously:.worried that one of these huge, ugly creatures would be waiting to attack me outside!
I would peek around the corner, hoping to be able to run to safety, only to meet an evil snout! Immediately I would slam the door and trap myself in the outhouse, securing the lock (as if the pigs could open it!). I would then holler myself hoarse. “Grandma:.graaanddmaaaaa”:.GGGGGRAAAAAANDMAAAAAAA!!!!!”
No matter how stuffy or unpleasant the atmosphere in the outhouse, I would stay put until my grandma finally arrived to shoo away the pigs.
I had a cousin who was really interested in wildlife, especially birds. He would lead us on adventures to seek barn swallows, owls and falcons, explaining all kinds of fascinating details about each one. One day he suggested we should try and trap gophers. Except he knew better than to call them gophers – they were “Richardson’s Ground Squirrels”. He pontificated on the qualities of these unique little creatures and organized a system whereby we could trap some alive.
We found a large box and devised a stick and string method that would trap any “Richardson Ground Squirrel” who took our food bait. After laying in wait for only a few minutes, we excitedly trapped our first victim! Gingerly we managed to pick him up and place him inside another box – a sturdy one that was about 4 feet high by 4 feet square. We were sure no gopher (or “ground squirrel”) could possibly escape. We returned to the trap, and quickly caught our next victim! But when we went to place him in the box to join his companion – it was empty!!!!
Puzzled at how a small squirrel could possibly have escaped a box with such deep sides, we deposited the newest inmate and returned to our trap. This went on throughout the day. At one point we had caught six squirrels, yet they would all have escaped the next time we returned to the box!!!
The day finally drew to a close and it was time to head back to the city. There were still three squirrels in the box, and we transferred them to a smaller container in preparation for return to Edmonton. My mother was rather bemused, but did not argue about taking them back, since my cousin was insistent that they would have a very good home. Of course the squirrels quickly eluded captivity once we arrived in Edmonton.
It was not until years later that we solved the riddle of how they were disappearing from the box. My grandfather was a highly observant man who loved nature and had quite a sense of humour. Apparently he had watched us trapping squirrels. According to his philosophy; no wild animal should be in captivity:.so every time he would notice the squirrels we had captured in the box:.he would tip the box over and free them!
One of my most rewarding animal experiences came about a few years ago when my daughter agreed to babysit a bird for a friend. I only found out when I got a phone call at 7 AM:.and Petey was dropped off. Given my childhood bird experience I was not sure how I would react, but of all the animals I’ve known, Petey was the most ‘human’. Petey was a lovebird:.who had been raised from the egg to think he was a person. He would eye you speculatively, chirping and scolding until you felt guilty and let him out of his cage. Once released, he would check out every corner of the house before settling in companionably on someone’s shoulder.
One of Petey’s specialties was decoration, using the most expensive (or colourful) book at hand. He would perch himself on the latest National Geographic, or one of my Psychology textbooks, and serrate the edge with his beak. He would then pick up the colorful strip of paper and insert it strategically among his tail feathers. After he had amassed several of these, he would strut around showing off his finery.
Petey would sit on my hand or shoulder while I worked at the computer, begging my attention. He especially liked it when I sang “Bird on a Wire” to him. I would stroke his green and gold feathers and he would lay his head to the side and cuddle into my fingers, vibrating and purring like a kitten! My daughters, knowing my general indifference to animals, found it quite amusing to see me bond with a bird.
Unfortunately shortly after Petey went back home, he ended up in bird heaven. I’m pretty sure my ‘animal encounters’ are over for the moment – although my daughter has been hinting at getting a snake!