Beecham: A bulldog and his binky
In 2007 we found ourselves the lucky parents of an English bulldog puppy. With a brood of well-behaved older animals, my fiancé and I weren't really prepared for the havoc this small bundle would soon wreak as he turned our house and our hearts upside down.
I took every opportunity to spoil him and take embarrassing pictures that his daddy otherwise wouldn't permit when I had him to myself. We lived between two apartments and wanted him to get accustomed to all of the animals that would be our pack when we got married. In short, we were the Brady Bunch of pet families. Two dogs and two hairless cats for me, and two (haired) cats and a dog for him, so it was only fair to even the numbers by adding Beecham to the bunch.
One lazy afternoon after my future in-laws unloaded their old furniture at a yard sale, we found ourselves in possession of a glorious old rocking recliner that I just couldn't help getting lost in. I had found my new favorite spot to sit, while Beecham soon found a treasure of another kind. Shortly after the chair arrived, I noticed a strange clacking noise and the ominous absence of Beecham from the room. Expecting the worst, I made my way around the back of the chair and found Beecham, enamored with a small blue pacifier he'd found in the new chair.
Suppressing a giggle, I watched him hold on to the handle and shake his head briskly to kill his prey. When it did not give in, he bounced furiously around the room, the pacifier clacking away as he went. Still, the pacifier would not give in. It was at the point that he decided to attack from another angle that we experienced the annoying squeaking noise baby bulldog teeth make on a pacifier nipple. To Beecham it was the greatest treasure in the world, and for us it was our first glimpse into the wonderfully insane personality of the puppy with which we'd so quickly fallen in love.
Although inseparable for a while, Beecham and his binky had to part ways when he got big enough to swallow it. Since that time, he has discovered a new love for a skateboard and sharply sloping hills to maneuver. About a year after we got Beecham, we lost two of our older dogs; this past February we added another bulldog to our pack. Home only a few days, Sassy quickly discovered the delight of emptying a full toy basket and strewing all of the toys about the house. Tucked safely at the bottom of the basket, and long forgotten, she found a treasure made evident rooms away by the familiar clacking sound of a puppy with a blue binky. —Angie Melvin, Stem
Harry: The unbearable lightness of Fat Boy
I really wanted the old tabby. She looked skittish, rode hard and had an unadoptable scowl. That fit the bill. The Jones family had always picked the runt of the litter, the truly unlovable, the potential pet whose visage alone spoke to nighttime antics, excessive bodily functioning and vindictive behaviors that might one day drive you to hang yourself Omen-style from a mansard roof.
"Perfect," I thought.
As I walked to her cage, a long paw reached through its own confines and, like a furry white parking gate poised to stymie the passage of a day-late, dollar-short driver, it stopped my friend Clare as she followed behind.
Clare took one look and said, "This is the one."
"The One" was a 6-month-old kitty, distinguishable by his complete lack of color, manipulative green eyes and superior girth. His given name was Fat Boy.
I had never adopted anything, much less a fat boy, from an animal shelter, and as I nervously answered a barrage of questions about my suitability to parent a child of special needs ("Looks like that cat can eat a lot"), the thorough volunteer asked what I presumed was a trick question: "How long will you be taking care of this cat?"
"'Til death do us part?"
Once neutered, renamed and home, Harry Potter Kikat Jones found my tiny apartment to be a veritable playground from which to showcase an array of heavy-handed acrobatic feats and aural challenges—Houdini-like escapes from one barricaded room to another, chalkboard-quality nail sharpening apparently meant to elicit either bad memories of Rush, seizures or, at the very least, morning feedings. During those first harrowing Harry months, my partner and I, both mortal and sleep deprived, could be found most days standing next to the wide open entrance of our home, hands clasped steadfastly around the knob, waiting for Harry to be merciful and escape from the confines of our small abode in order to return to what we assumed must be his rightful place among The Flying Wallendas or Geddy Lee impersonators.
But weeks turned into months, months into years, with my corpulent kitty growing larger, more docile and tolerably social. After the partner had left, other pets died, illness set in and the apartment went from small to smaller, Harry stood by to jolt me from my malaise with a strategically placed claw, dust me off with a sandy tongue and provide the occasional nugget of perspective on how shit happens with his every single Fresh Step.
Put simply, each time I have felt like the more upright cousin of a litter's unlovable runt, it becomes clear that, for better or for worse, 'til death do us part, Harry will still be there, in a way most cannot: 20 pounds of kitty, hanging from a doorway, with poop stains on his paws, yowling something about today's Tom Sawyer.
My imperfectly perfect pet. For Harry, there's only mean, mean pride. —Jen Jones, Chapel Hill
Jimmy: The creature from the white oak
- Jimmy with the author's niece
"Frank ... there's an animal outside."
I ran outside to see what was in the fescue. It was a tiny squirrel with closed eyes and a bloody nose. The feeble orphan had fallen from the upper limbs of a lofty oak tree. I wondered if the eastern gray had major head injuries, and I pondered the squirrel's chances of survival. I had to rescue—or at least, I had to try to rescue—the poor creature. Clearly, he would die if left alone.
Thus began the saga of Little Bigheaded Jimmy the Squirrel.
Step one: Give the mother squirrel a chance to respond to her baby's cries. Problem: Jimmy is semiconscious from his crash landing, and he is incapable of squeaking, much less shouting, for his mother. Nevertheless, I left Jimmy in a grassy tuft and I waited ... and waited ... and waited. He remained mute and Mommy never appeared. Proceeding to the next step, I found a cardboard box, tossed in some newspaper and added a dash of Jimmy. My eyes welled as I closed the box flaps; I felt like this creature was destined to die, and I was now tethered to the inevitable event.
I brought Jimmy home to my wife and stepdaughter. I offered him some evaporated milk, but he repeatedly refused by turning and twisting his head. Total results: exactly one drenched squirrel. Then, my stepdaughter took control and—being just assertive enough—she squeezed a dropper of milk into Jimmy's minuscule mouth. He seemed to swallow most of it! White droplets clung to his whiskered snout and to his wet chin. Strictly speaking, Jimmy was ugly. His head was huge in proportion to his scrawny body, his fur was clumpy and sparse, and his tail was pathetic and weed-like. However, when I looked at his milk-splattered mug, I saw the subtle elegance of life. Warmth wafted through me. Maybe the little guy had a chance after all!
For the next few weeks, Jimmy—now upgraded to a plastic crate—went everywhere I went. Six times a day, he enjoyed warm formula or goat's milk; friends and family members relished an opportunity to nurse the furry critter. I eventually constructed a large enclosure and prepared for Jimmy's weaning period. During this stage, he began eating nuts and Cheerios, and he transformed into a genuine squirrel with the trademark bushy tail. Squirrels had always seemed generic and pesky to me, but Jimmy changed that perception. Little Bigheaded Jimmy was majestic and wonderful.
When he had adequately matured, I transferred his cage outdoors. After a week of acclimating to new temperatures and fresh stimuli, Jimmy was ready to re-enter nature. One day, as my eyes welled, I opened the cage door for good.
The next few hours were surreal and dream-like: Jimmy followed me around everywhere I went. The rambunctious rodent darted in and out between my legs, almost tripping me a few times. Finally, he climbed up my jeans, under my jacket, and out the sleeve....
Then Jimmy was gone. —Frank E. Guenzel, Pittsboro
Laika: Please secure all doors, shoes and paychecks
I have to hang up twice in panic right when the beep sounds before I can get the message right. Notes are written out in front of me, key points I need to hit in order to make this believable. On the other end of the line is the voicemail of the business administrator for the local IATSE union, for whom I work. In my hand is most of my paycheck from them. Curled up adorably on one of his two very comfortable beds is my dog, inside whom resides the rest of the check. I'm on the phone trying to explain that I need another check printed because, and I am serious here, my dog ate my paycheck.
You can put a lot of nouns at the end of that sentence. Laika, an 8-ish-year-old Siberian husky, has eaten many of our household items, ranging from razors to drywall to the kitchen floor. He's eaten shopping bags and socks. He's eaten parts of doors and whole photographs and just enough of the Monks of New Skete book How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend to let me know where he's coming from. He is the very definition of a bad dog. But he is my bad dog.
If a door opens, he will run. I chased him for a mile down 15-501 one day, in and out of traffic, getting a short ride from a kind man in a Volvo, until Laika ran into a video store. I guess when the door opened he thought he might be able to get further outside. It's the only reason he's alive, because I could never catch him, and he doesn't believe in cars.
I knew the day I met him that he was going to be challenging. As we lined up to help walk Carolina Siberian Rescue's dogs in the Cary Christmas parade, he began his characteristic yowl, straining at the end of his leash, standing on his hind legs. Elves and reindeer turned around from floats ahead of us, wondering who was abusing a dog. Adults and children alike shot disapproving looks my way. My friends laughed at me. I begged him to be quiet. I've been having a similar conversation, with marginal success, ever since.
It doesn't hurt his cause that he is stunningly attractive. "Ooh, Lord, that dog got witchy eyes," exclaimed a woman one day as we walked him. The cerulean blue gives his calm gaze, or his vigilant hunt, or his arguing that he should have a seat at the table, an almost human quality.
He is older, and we have trained each other. We put the remote out of his reach, close the trash can securely and make sure shoes are in a secure room when we leave. In return, he has learned that doors won't open just because he scratches at them and that if he wants a futon to relax on, he'd best not eat it. He has been with us as we've gotten married, as we've lost family and as we've bought a house. He has no idea how good he has it, but he reminds me every day—as he rests his chin on my foot while we eat or paws at me and noses a toy in my direction, and I laugh, guard completely down—that I have it pretty damn good as well. —Evan Rowe, Durham
Morgana: The mean live long
She was a small black cat with a triangle-shaped face and a long, slender body. We named her Morgana, after the sorceress in the Arthurian legend, thinking it a suitably ominous name for this dark and mysterious beauty. That was before we heard her voice on a daily basis. She was part Siamese, and there was no mystery and certainly no beauty in that voice—just very clear demands.
Her mouthiness did come in handy on occasion, especially the time a friend house-sat for us. Our friend was confused because we'd left explicit instructions for the dog, but we had forgotten the information for the cat. Morgana had no trouble handling the problem. She yowled when it was time for her to be fed. She continued to yowl until our friend followed her to the food cabinet. She then stood in front of her food bowl. No need for written instructions!
Morgana outlived two dogs and one cat. None of them had any doubts about who was in charge. She established her authority as soon as any animal walked in the house, and she never wavered. The only creatures she was afraid of were small children. As soon as they walked in, she simply disappeared.
She had a particular dislike for squirrels and battled them throughout her life. She was 18 when we saw the last squirrel corpse, and the body was bigger than she was. Any time she went out, the squirrels would scramble up the nearest tree and, when they were high enough, turn and squawk at her. Mostly, they found it easier to just stay out of our yard.
I've heard it said that the mean live long, and Morgana was proof of that. Finally, as she neared 20 years old, she started having problems. We realized that every time we let her out, she headed away from the house and into the woods. She hadn't done that in years. It seemed to me that she was trying to do what the cats I'd had as a child had done—she was going to slip out and die on her own terms. I had no interest in seeing her disappear and never knowing what had happened to her. For the first time in her life, she became a house cat. In the end, we had to have her euthanized. She could barely move and no longer ate, but she was still too tough to die.
She was our last cat. We've had dogs, but somehow we've never gotten around to bringing another cat into our lives. I do miss her. And I really hate that we've got squirrels all over our yard now. That would never have happened if Morgana was still around. —Dee Blackwelder Marley, Carrboro
Squeaker: The cushion-toss call of the wild
Sunday morning in the parking lot behind Spanky's, I watched a flock of pigeons feed on all the good stuff that a Saturday night in Chapel Hill leaves behind. With love and sadness I studied a white one with brown on his chest and neck at the edge of the group, tossing him Spanish peanuts. He, in turn, eyed me as if he knew me. Well, of course he did. I had raised him from a baby.
Stretching up to my full height, I'd stand like the Statue of Liberty with my pigeon in place of the torch. I'd ease him out the back door and up onto the porch roof. Then I would step out into the yard and look up at him.
"Well, so long, I'll see ya around 4 this afternoon." The pigeon, whom I'd named Squeaker, would bow and dance in a tight circle and answer, "Coodlee-coo, coodlee-coo." Presumed translation: "Goodbye. See ya. Whatever."
A woman had found him and given him to me when he was a pink, featherless baby—called a "squeaker" among those who raise pigeons—and I had raised him on my screened-in back porch. He became imprinted with me before I fully understood these birds, and I was thus bonded to as loving a pet as any dog owner could hope for. I was his life and his world, and he demonstrated it by sitting on my shoulder and preening my hair as I sat reading the newspaper.
After putting Squeaker up on the porch roof each morning, and after our goodbyes, I'd lock up the house and go to work. Late in the afternoon, when I'd return home, I would go out in the backyard, take a cushion off the lawn chair and toss it high in the air several times. People working in the tall bank building in downtown Chapel Hill could, I suppose, look down into my yard two blocks away and see a guy playing catch with a cushion. Most likely assessment: "Needs a hobby."
"He's home!" is what it signaled to Squeaker. I'd look up at the top edge of the bank building and see a row of dots silhouetted against the sky, each one black except for a white one. After a few cushion tosses, the white dot would drop partway down the side of the building, grow larger, and in a matter of seconds Squeaker would glide inches above my head—his "glad you're home" greeting, I guess—and then land on the porch roof. He'd do his "coodlee-coo" song-and-dance, I'd ask him how his bank was doing, then I'd hold the screen door open and he'd fly in.
After replacing his water and feed—pigeons are crazy for Spanish peanuts—I would change his bedding, meaning the paper towel lining the bottom of a shoebox. At night, with the house dark, the town quiet, the screen door hooked, I could hear him out there, cooing in his shoebox.
After about five years with me, Squeaker found a mate. Unable to convince her to move in on my porch, they eloped to Franklin Street, and that's where I saw him last. —Bill Kirk, Chapel Hill
Due to health and safety concerns, it is not recommended that pigeons be kept as pets.