Column, Looking Back

Childhood pets

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Many of us had pets growing up. Dogs and cats were the most common pets but goldfish, turtles and birds also had a place in many of our homes.

On my street three of my closest friends had dogs and I had a cat. The dogs wanted to spend time with us. My cat did not! His independent nature sent him scurrying in the opposite direction whenever he saw us coming. The dogs followed us everywhere and were cooperative when we made them do foolish things. There were no “leash laws” in Rutland City back in the ‘50s so it was a “dog free-for-all” on the street.

Dressing up a dog is certainly a lot more “doable” than attempting to do that to a cat. A friend and I decided to put a tutu on her dog and parade him up and down the street. He didn’t mind a bit and relished the attention and compliments he got as the adults watched us go by. I don’t think we even had to bribe him with treats. He was totally willing to please us.

The dog of another friend could qualify as the bully of the street when it came to dealing with cats. Our cat was an outdoor cat and this dog chased him whenever he spotted him. There was usually a bite inflicted to my cat’s ear or tail. Fortunately my father, who was a pharmacist, had remedies to prevent infection so most of the time a trip to the vet was avoided. As much as I liked my friend, her dog was not very popular with our household.

My cat loved his independence. He used to hide in a large flower bed that had tall plants. It was cool in there on a hot day and a great place for a cat nap. When we discovered him among the flowers he would immediately move a few feet away, thinking that would make him invisible.

This same cat had a nightly ritual that involved getting behind our floor model television and poking his head out of the curved bottom section. He had a sixth sense about when the time had arrived to shut him in the kitchen and cellar area until morning. As fickle as he was, he always came out for treats and off to bed we all went!

My cousin had a cat that with a trait normally found in a dog. The cat would follow my cousin and her mother when they walked somewhere. One of the journeys taken by the cat was to Christ the King Church which was a few blocks from their home. The cat normally waited outside but one Sunday they spotted her walking down the aisle, up onto the altar and then rubbing around Monsignor Kennedy’s feet. Eventually she walked back down the aisle and was grabbed by my cousin’s mother. Once she was captured she attended the remainder of Mass just like a good catholic cat!

When my friends from long ago reminisce with me about our pets someone always brings up the days when we walked to Woolworth’s and came home with a goldfish in a plastic bag. The fish went into a glass bowl and we began learning to be responsible for feeding the fish and keeping the water clean. All of our goldfish had a fairly short life span so maybe we didn’t live up to our responsibilities!

A friend and I shared ownership of a turtle. It had a cute little bowl with a ramp in it that allowed the turtle to climb up on it and get out of the water. Unfortunately, our turtle died on my watch when my friend was at summer camp. Another friend had a blue parakeet what was probably perfectly happy in its cage but she thought it would be happier flying around the house. The bird got its taste of freedom whenever her parents were out. Looking back I think my friend was the bird whisperer because she always managed to get it back in the cage before they got home. The bird showed its appreciation by not leaving droppings anywhere in the house. Maybe that was just dumb luck!

In today’s world our childhood pets have a different function. Their names are often typed in as we choose our favorite pet as the answer to a “secret question” for a security log on. “Back in the day” we never dreamed our pets would have this type of role in our lives as seniors.

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