I was raised not by, but around animals. When I was born, my mom had a Golden Retriever named Seven, and though I don’t remember him at all, I do have a few pictures of my small self with him.
The first dog I remember was a small black and white mutt. We kept him chained up near his dog house, and my older sister and I made it a game to run around our swing set while he barked hysterically at us, without getting caught by him. It wasn’t the safest game, but he probably wasn’t as dangerous as we thought.
I was five when my uncle brought Tyson, an energetic chocolate Labrador Retriever, to us. I was too young to understand or care why, but I had a simultaneous love for and fear of him. I was never too happy around big dogs; when we went for walks, if I saw a large dog I would get scared and my dad would pick me up until it passed. Tyson was a good dog, though, and although I didn’t play with him much, I burst into tears anytime my dad mentioned getting rid of him. My dad, having four daughters, couldn’t stand little girl tears and would immediately apologize and assure me that we could keep him. Those tears were nothing compared to when my mom, sisters, and I returned from a long day of chicken pox vaccines and the library summer reading program and saw Tyson laying down flat on his side in the yard. As soon as I looked at him, I had a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. Somehow, at six years of age, I knew he was dead. My mom told us to stay in the car and went to check on him. After that I remember crying a lot, my little sister thinking it was because of my shot, reading books to take my mind off of it and to keep myself from crying, my dad hauling him off, and our neighbor saying something about a snake bite.
“We’re getting a pony day!!!” I wrote in my diary when I was seven. “Hannah ran up to me and said ‘Emma! Emma! Dad’s home and he said he has a surprise for us… we both ran to the kitcen very exitedly and asked what it was… then Hannah shouted a pony? Thats right! Said dad and HER name is Shurger!!!” Her name was actually Sugar, and we kept her in a friend’s pasture. I only remember riding her once, and that she took off with my sister and tried to rub her off against a barn.
The next two animals I remember were a black dog and a black cat, both named Shadow. My family was obviously very creative with names. While brainstorming names for black animals, I suggested “Tire,” but Shadow somehow won the vote. These pets really rocked my world, because the cat was male and the dog was female, and up until then I had sort of assumed that dogs were all boys and cats were girls. All I remember about Shadow the cat was trying to keep him away from all of the kids when we had a garage sale shortly after getting him and that he ran away.
One day two black Lab mixes showed up at our house. We contacted the owners, who decided they didn’t want them back because they couldn’t keep them in their yard. They were the great escape sisters; Schuyler, the bigger one, continuously climbed over our fence, while Scarlet, a bit smaller, dug her way under.
When I was eight we went one Sunday after church to look at a puppy, ironically with the same name as me. A sign by their driveway read “Emma is here!”. She was a sweet puppy, but I was slightly more interested in the daughter’s fingernail polish design. We took her and renamed her Abbie. She turned out to be a great dog. Half Bouvier de Flanders and half Boxer, she grew to be large, playful, gentle, and protective. She considered my sisters and I to be her personal charges, keeping an eye on us when we were playing in our yard, barking at anyone who drove by, and getting very upset if one of us started crying. I wrote about her in my diary: “She is black, her ears are a caramel color, and she has a caramel colored ring around each eye. She is pretty mellow and calm. She does not run very fast. She likes to ‘help’ us water the plum trees (while she tramps all over them). She is REALLY REALLY REALLY CUTE!!!!!”
My older sister, Hannah, wanted her own puppy, and my dad, being a softy, gave in. We stopped at WalMart one day and my mom went inside to get something. Some people had free puppies and we stopped to look at them. She picked out a tan, white, and black female puppy and we went back to pick up my mom, who immediately started picking fleas off the puppy. Heidi, as my sister called her, did not end up being the best dog for a kid, and after she started being aggressive, we gave her away, but not before getting a replacement. Princess was a fluffy Shetland Sheepdog who came from a filthy house full of old Tic-Tac containers. Besides the fact that she barked constantly at squirrels, and when she didn’t see any she just barked at the trees, she was a pretty good dog – one of the only ones we’ve had who could be off a leash or out of a pen for periods of time. She had heartworms and suddenly started having seizures, so after eight years we had to have her put down.
My dad decided to get another dog, named Otis. Before he even brought him home, I already thought I loved him. I wrote in my diary: “We’re getting a new dog! His name is Odas and he’s a black and brown Blood Hound! Odas is supposed to be dad’s, but I’m gonna treat him like he’s mine! Hopefully he will become mine!” accompanied by a squiggly sketch of a long-eared dog.
I was your typical horse crazy preteen, but took it a step further. I was completely obsessed with horses. My walls were covered in posters that I faithfully pulled out of the middles of the Young Rider magazines I subscribed to for several years. My bed was covered in a horse quilt, horse pillows, and horse stuffed animals. My bookshelves were laden with the huge series of The Saddle Club books and miniature horse figurines.
At nine, I wrote:
“I want a horse so badly, but I know I’ll never get one. I read all these books about girls getting ponys/horses but it just doesn’t happen that way. It’s not fair. In A Pony for the Winter Deborah just asked her mother, I can’t, I don’t have the courage, if I did Mom wouldn’t know where to get one. She wouldn’t say ‘yes’ though. In Summer Pony It just said they ‘made arrangements’ how could I get mom and dad to do that? Its not fair. It makes me angry, and sad.”
Three months later I wrote:
“The other night Dad said, ‘Guess who I talked to today? A guy who owns a bunch of ponies. I’m not talking about those big, fat ponies like Sugar. These ponies look just like horses, only smaller… you never know, maybe someday.’ The next night I was telling dad goodnight and he asked me, ‘What would you do if I bought you a pony?’ I said, ‘Take care of it, ride it, Love it.’ He said, ‘Would you be excited?’ I said ‘Yah’ He just nodded his head. I think that means He’s gonna buy me a pony soon!!!”
Two days later I documented another conversation that took place between my dad and I. “He asked me if I would like it if He bought me a pony. Of course I said ‘Yes.’ I’m not sure how it happened, but it ended up that before this summer, Dad is going to buy me a welsh pony! He also said that between now, and then we would have a lot to build.” When I was ten, my dad started looking around in the classifieds and such. One day we went to a large pasture to look at a horse for sale. A young male horse came running, leading an entire herd of other half-wild horses and Shetland ponies. My dad agreed to pay for him in four monthly payments. During those months, we spent time building a fence around half of our large front yard, getting the supplies we needed to care for him, and thinking of a name. I decided on Chester, and was thrilled the day we got to go pick him up. He was only three years old and not completely broke, meaning that a small ten year old girl with very little actual experience with horses could not ride him or do anything with him by herself. I loved him, but after he started trying to bite our feet under the fence, and threw my dad when he tried to ride him, my dad started talking about selling him. I burst into tears, and my dad promised to give him more time. He talked me through it, and I eventually realized that it would be better to get me an older horse that I could do more with.
My mom fretted the day my dad drove me to Oklahoma to see Rusty. After riding him for five minutes or less, my dad let me hop on him. Rusty was friendly and gentle, and I spent many years braiding his mane, riding him around on trails, making special treats for him, and grooming his thick auburn hair. We sold Chester after nursing him back from a nasty leg wound when he got tangled in some wire. We had several mares off and on but Rusty didn’t get along with any of them, and we never kept one for long. Finally we found Summer, a brown and white Paint horse, who Rusty actually tolerated. She stuck around for several years.
At this point we bought twelve acres of land in a tiny town called Chismville. We fenced off several large pastures and moved Rusty and Summer out there. Dad found a new mare and a miniature Cecilian donkey named Jack. Once again, the mare didn’t last long, but Jack became a faithful friend to Rusty.
For my thirteenth birthday, I got five Pygmy goats: a nanny, two twin females, and two tiny baby twins. The baby girl was specifically mine, and I named her Kissy because she was chocolate brown and reminded me of a Hershey’s chocolate kiss. Her brother was Chip, her sisters Swanli and Barli, from the book Heidi, and the nanny we named Ruth. I trained Kissy to walk on a collar and leash, and to raise her nose for me to kiss her. When they were all fully grown we bought a billy goat named Romeo and let him breed with the girls. In the dead cold of January we birthed three live kids and had one who didn’t make it. Ruth had Junior, Swanli had a tiny little white female I named Adelheidi Sombrita, or Heidi for short, and Kissy had Snickers. Shortly after, we got rid of Romeo and Barli, and several months later were surprised to find four new kids in the pasture. Ruth and Swanli had apparently both gotten pregnant again before we could get rid of the billy, and so Duke, Petunia, Turk, and Distelfink were added to the growing family of goats.
My younger sister, Eliza, decided she, too, wanted a dog. She had her heart set on a Poodle but my mom helped her change her mind to Cocker Spaniels. Her birthday is only a month apart from my youngest sister’s, and my dad, knowingly opening a can of worms, asked if they both wanted one. Leaving their last littermate and brother behind, we took two female pups, Chloe and Apple Dumpling.
After building a house on our property, we bought another fourteen acres next door and built more pastures and a chicken coop. Eliza decided she wanted chickens, so on her next birthday she picked out six chicks from Atwoods. They were cute and fluffy at first, but ended up pretty stupid and pooped all over our back porch. They did lay a lot of eggs, though, attracting a big black snake that my mom shot and killed.
We then bought ten sheep and two black Anatolian sheepdogs, Lucy and Leo. The sheep all got names, too, of course: Cream Soda, Root Beer Float, Dr. Pepper, Queen Bee, Caramel. We bred all of them but one who hated me and who I think was a transvestite. Shasta, Fanta, A&W, Ivy, Pearl, Spot, George, and twenty five other lambs were added.
While we were living in a duplex for six months, a young tabby cat found her way to us. She seemed hungry, so we took her inside. We had not had a cat in years, so we did not have any cat food, but we gave her some shredded cheese and water. She stuck around, and we bought kitty chow and would let her inside each morning to eat and drink and hang out with us while we were home. My grandpa said we should call her “Little Orphan Annie,” and “Annie” stuck, though I changed her “real” name to “Anastasia Isabelle”. One day we came home to find her limping, and after inspection realized she had been shot in the hip with a BB gun. She lied in a box crying all night that night, but soon recovered. When we were getting ready to move from that house, we discussed whether we would take her with us or leave her there, because there were some other neighbors who also took care of her sometimes. In the end, my dad wanted to keep her, so we did. She adapted to our new house well, living in the garage and eating pizza out of the trash. A few months later, my mom got up one Sunday morning and found her giving birth to five kittens. I named them: Snowball, Snowflake, Annie Junior, Oreo. I spent more time taking care of them than Annie did. She didn’t seem to have inherited any mothering traits whatsoever, and would often leave them for long periods of time, or just ignore them altogether. When they were old enough, we found someone who wanted all of them. We tried to put them in a laundry basket but they crawled out, so we punched holes in the top of a cheap foam ice chest and put them in it. Halfway through the car ride, I noticed they had stopped moving around so much and peeked under the lid to find them wet and half-suffocated. We pulled over, took them out and held them the rest of the way. Then it was off to the vet for Annie; we were not going to have any more kittens. When we got there, she freaked out and tried over and over to jump out of my lap. She finally succeeded and darted off down the hall, but the receptionist chased her down. By then we probably should have thought to invest in a cat carrier. The next day we went back to pick her up and were informed that the doctor wanted to talk to us.
“There was another cat here that was supposed to be both spayed and declawed,” he told us. “She looked a lot like your cat, and we got them mixed up. She is an indoor cat, right?”
I was angry and said all sorts of mean things about them on the way home, and Annie just looked at me pitifully. When we got her home she sat up on her hind legs and dipped her front paws in water.
My best friend found three kittens in the dead of winter that had been abandoned and were frozen. She and her family revived them and then tried to find homes for them. I was helping her out by transporting one of them, a sweet black female kitten, to her new owners, who soon discovered they could not keep her. I somehow talked my mom into letting me have her, and named her Tinkerbell LaTasha Bojangles, though I just call her “Tink” most of the time. She lived with me in my room in our basement. Because I was homeschooled, I was able to spend a lot of time with her. I spent hours letting her chew on and claw at my left hand while I did schoolwork with my right hand. She grew up to be a good cat, and went to live outside with Annie after I had her spayed – being sure to take her to a different vet. They both moved with us from house to house, until we finally settled into a neighborhood for a couple years. Tinkerbell was a very active and adventurous cat, and roamed all over the neighborhood, but I never worried about her; she was good at taking care of herself. One day I had been sick and gone to the doctor, and was trying to pick up some prescriptions when my mom called.
“Come to the clinic,” she said. “Tink’s been hurt bad.”
I threw everything I was holding into the nearest display, ran outside, and sped to the clinic, where my mom and I both worked. I found Tink on the x-ray table and was told that she had been caught under my garage door that morning and was pinned for over two hours. Nothing was broken, they said, and they didn’t see any crushed organs. They gave her a pain injection and a sedative. She had no bowel control and no movement in her back legs or tail. I cried as I stroked her and listened to her pitiful meows. My boyfriend and I had just broken up, and I couldn’t take this, too. We took her home for the weekend and cleaned her, fed her, and worried about her. She began moving her tail, then slowly regained leg movement. She ended up having muscle atrophy in her back legs, but recovered to the point that she could jump up on things, run up and down stairs, and look completely normal. The doctors called her a miracle cat.