Do you have animals in your life? I think you may have missed something wonderful if you haven’t. Have you noticed how nearly all children love being with, touching, and interacting with animals, particularly baby ones? I always feel for city kids when they’re taken to the country, seeing how they react with such delight when encountering animals as if they’re rediscovering something basic, something which is their right and somehow they’ve lost. To me, interaction with animals is a natural, comfortable condition, and I thank God for the pleasure.
I was fortunate in discovering this joy early in life when my father brought home a tiny, shivering black-and-white bundle, telling my sister and me that this puppy was joining our family. She was friendly, wonderfully warm to cuddle in the winter, and became a great playmate for us as we grew up. When she birthed her litters, she allowed us to carry the puppies around all the time. Recalling it brings back that warm puppy smell into my nostrils. The puppies were used to being handled by the time our parents found homes for them. Then, of course, we were upset at losing them.
Later, in my seagoing days, it was against the rules to have animals aboard, and I missed them terribly. The Purser had a huge neutered male Persian, a most unfriendly creature with a seemingly inflated estimate of its own importance, not unlike its owner. So I had to be satisfied with interaction with the animals at home when I went on leave
In my adult life, I’ve had a dog or two, especially when living in the country on acreage. One of my favorites was a black medium-sized dog collected from the pound. She looked exactly like the dogs you see on the ancient Egyptian tomb friezes, which rather appealed. She was scared though, and I thought she’d probably been badly treated, but somehow we took to each other. At home, however, when I picked up the broom to sweep, she slunk into a corner, tail between her legs. Thus time had to be spent gaining her trust. Once gained, though, she was a one-person dog until, five years later, I lost her either to a snake bite or a tick bite. I wept for my faithful friend, who I’m sure would have defended me with her life.
Later, during a very traumatic period in my life, I had the pleasure of the company of a large tabby tomcat, the most affable creature I think I have ever known. My two boys were very young, and at that time I was stretched financially; I was alone since my first marriage had broken up. My mother was on the other side of the world. The cat stayed around for some time. His loud contented purring somehow gave me a sense of normalcy and, oddly, a feeling of reassurance. He was quite partial to curling up on laps—whose, it didn’t matter, except that the little ones didn’t sit still much, so it was usually mine. Consequently, we forged a great friendship. A couple of years on, when things were improving for me, he suddenly disappeared. After several days, he crawled home in a pitiful state, an inch-long piece of bone sticking out of his flank. The veterinarian shook his head, telling me there’d be no pain at the moment, but immediate action was essential. It seemed the final needle was the only solution. I stroked the animal, he purred his pleasure, and yes, I wept over him, too, feeling like a traitor as I handed him over.
One time I had the opportunity to interact with horses. Let me say here that I am not the world’s greatest horsewoman, that’s for sure. Myra, my friend and tutor, owned a small farm with her husband. There were many acres of wild bush country around their property, and we and the horses enjoyed some wonderful rides. As a beginner, most times I rode a quiet little mare who (Myra assured me) I couldn’t get a gallop out of even if I tried. True! But she was gentle and patient with a novice like me. Star, abandoned in a horribly neglected state on a neighboring property, had been rescued by Myra a couple of years before.
Gentle and reliable she certainly was. However, Morocco, Myra’s usual mount, was somewhat different. Part Arabian, 16 hands high, and with a mind of his own (with me anyway), he probably sensed how unused to riding I was and thought he would sort me out. He did; I only rode him twice. The first time he trotted over to the water, leaned over to one side, and neatly dropped me into the dam. I tried another day. He wouldn’t move. Myra was perplexed. “He’s never done that before,” she said in surprise. It was deliberate but not malicious, and there was no harm done. I think he just thought that having to work with greenhorn riders was beneath his dignity! I swear he was laughing at me! Thus Star the gentle little mare became my regular mount, and we became completely comfortable with each other. I recall one memorable ride on a warm spring day when we rode for hours through flank-high yellow flowering bushes. Both animals snorted with pleasure, and Myra commented how they too were enjoying themselves. We could have been a million miles from anywhere, and everything seemed so much in tune; I wanted the day to go on forever. That period of my life ended when Myra and Ted sold their farm and moved on, so my animal friends moved on, too. They left a gaping hole in my life.
I was also keeping Nubian goats in those years, which was great fun, plus we used the milk, of course. Come to think of it, is there anything prettier or more appealing than a baby goat? I don’t think so. The long, floppy ears and cute little faces are more appealing even than lambs, I think. I also milked one or two of the neighbor’s cows on occasion, although none of them cooperated (maybe because my hands were cold). More than once the tail flipped around my face or the buckets were kicked over. I have to say that cattle are not on my list of favorites, but in spite of that, I do like having animals around me.
I guess the most well-remembered and loved was our golden Labrador, who lived happily with us for 16 years, sharing our vegetarian diet and our lives. She was never known to turn down fruit of any kind, was partial to nearly all vegetables, and was far more entertaining than television. Although normally boisterous, she could on occasion be very gentle. I took her at the Matron’s request to the hospital where I worked, walking my dog around the wards so the elderly patients could make her acquaintance. They’d been told she was coming, so most had saved a little of their morning tea for her.
Having been raised on Kipling, I always wanted to interact with elephants, but the opportunity never presented itself. In my early years, I thrilled to hear stories of the mahouts and their elephants, which each man trained, cared for; and worked with his whole life. My father used to tell me about watching working elephants in India, but I didn’t see them for myself until my early 20s, when I watched them working and being bathed in the river in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There, too, I was aware of that indefinable something going on between animal and mahout. A wonderful sight and a memory I treasure.
These days we have no animals at all. We travel in the job quite often and have decided that until retirement it would be easier not to have pets. Easier and more convenient, yes, but there’s definitely a missing dimension. In the meantime, for creature interaction, I get by with a little “play time” with our neighbors’ small dog, who never seems to run out of energy or the need of human company. I’m so grateful God gave us animals. How empty life would be without them.