My children have never known a home without pets. There have always been at least two in the house.
When my older daughter Beth was born, we had our cats Loki and Freya (who were littermates), as well as our dogs Pupcake, Ajax, and Daisy. Beth was very young—3 ½ years old—when Pupcake died in 1997; we suspect he ate something poisonous. So she never really knew him or missed him.
We moved to a new home, had our younger daughter Ally. We had to put Freya to sleep for renal failure in 2000. Ally was much too young to understand, but Beth did, and she and I cried (Freya was my cat).
We got Bogart in 2001 at a yard sale: he was a big black Lab whose family couldn’t keep him because they were moving onto a houseboat. Atypical for his breed, Bogart didn’t like water: he didn’t even like going out in the rain, let alone a bath or swimming.
He was a good boy, very friendly and devoted. We didn’t need to walk him on a leash (though we did) because he never tried to run off. His worst habit (aside from getting in the trash)* was that he’d constantly follow you around, right behind you. I learned not to turn around quickly, lest I crash into him.
(*Well, that and he liked the bite the feet off the Ken dolls the girls owned. Not the rest of them, and not the Barbies. Just Ken’s feet.)
Bogart was our girls’ buddy, patiently playing with them and snuggling with them. He rather quickly developed cancer in 2004, and after some surgery (which did little to slow down the cancer), we had to put him to sleep. All of us took it pretty hard, especially Joni, who had lost her father a few months before. I still miss Bo. He was the best dog I ever had, and was the inspiration for “Jack” in my first novel, Dragontamer’s Daughters.
Ally had problems with mobility as a toddler, so she liked Ajax, because he was old and had difficulty walking from joint ailments. Hence, he would sit on the floor with her as long as she wanted to play with him. Old age took Ajax—he’s buried in our back yard.
After Ajax went, we got a puppy because the girls had never had one, and I thought having a puppy is something every child should experience. We got Cookie in summer 2003, and she’s still with us.
Shortly after we got her, Daisy died of old age. She was the last of the three dogs that Joni and I had when we got married: “The First Generation,” we called them. We had found Daisy as a stray, half-wild, and she stayed half-wild all her life, fond of jumping the fence and running off, to return hours later after adventures I can only guess at.
We found Clawdia (yes, really) in Tuckahoe State Park. Someone had abandoned her—a tiny, calico kitten—in the middle of the woods, miles from any home. We took her in, and she quickly adopted Beth as her own, sleeping and playing with her. Clawdia did not appreciate Beth going off to college: for more than a week, she attacked anyone’s feet if they came too near. She gets happy again when Beth comes home to visit, sulks again after she leaves.
At one point, we were down to Cookie and Clawdia: one dog (mine), one cat (Beth’s). But after visiting ARF, Joni fell in love with a Beagle she name Cecilia, who became “Sally” in my most recent novel, Lost Dogs. We still have her.
We took in a number of pets, one after another, from shelters or from relatives who were moving: Colonel Fido (another Beagle); Champy (an orange, striped cat who acted like a dog, drinking from the toilet, playing fetch, and following us on walks around the block with the real dogs); Gandalf (a grey, striped cat, kind of neurotic), Cougar and Mooch (two cats who lived together, whose owner had died).
Of that bunch I just mentioned, only Gandalf is left. Champy was hit by a car; the others got ill and had to be put down.
In 2008, Ally insisted we adopt Tiki.
Beth likes animals, but Ally LOVES them. I adopted this aspect of her personality for “Alijandra” in Dragontamer’s Daughters. For several years, she had wanted a Chihuahua, but Joni and I don’t buy from pet stores or breeders, not when there are so many dogs that need to be rescued. Our local paper used to run a weekly feature on all the critters available for adoption at the animal shelter: we told Ally that if there was ever a Chihuahua in there, to let us know.
For months—years, actually—Ally faithfully looked through the paper every week. And one week, she finally found a Chihuahua. She circled his photo, took the page from the paper and the phone and went to my wife. “You said when I found a Chihuahua at the pound, I could have him. Here he is.”
What else could we do but follow through on our promise? We went to the shelter and we arranged to meet “Chi Chi,” as they called him. Ally sat on the floor and the dog ran to her lap and sat on it. He liked her face. My wife sat next to them and he licked her face, too. Beth and I got closer and he growled at both of us. He obviously knew whom he needed to kiss up to, and whom he didn’t. The little swine.
Needless to say, we took said little swine home, and renamed him “Tequila,” because, as Joni is fond of saying, “A little bit will do you in.” We nicknamed him “Tiki.” He still loves Ally and Joni, and he and I have warmed up. We are amigos.
He’s still not wild about Beth.
A few months ago, Ally was determined to get a kitten, and I relented, because Ally was too young to remember Clawdia as a kitten, and we got Gandalf (our other surviving cat) as an adult.
Just like I believe every kid should have a puppy, every kid should have a kitten. So she brought home “Clover” (named because she was born on St. Patrick’s Day), who is all black except for a small patch of white on her breast.
Ally renamed her “Pimienta,” something she made up, and they adore each other, playing and sleeping together (Tiki doesn’t mind: he prefers to stay warm sleeping between Joni and me, under the covers). It’s been a long time since we’ve had a kitten, and I had forgotten how playful they are—especially very late and early in the morning, when everyone else is trying to sleep.
Pimi (for short) feels like if it’s worth going somewhere, it’s worth running there, which she does, at top speed, often startling Gandalf (who’s easily spooked) and annoying Clawdia (who is much too old and plump to chase her). I’ve nicknamed her “Rocket Kitteh.”
Joni and I started our “family” with three dogs—Pupcake, Ajax, and Daisy—and two cats—Loki and Freya. Pets came and went as our kids arrived and grew older. Some we had for a long while; others, only a few years.
Now we have six:
- Cecilia (who is about 14, and has a bad heart; we are mindful of the time we have left with her);
- Cookie (11), who craves food (especially dog biscuits) despite never knowing a day of hunger;
- Tiki (irascible but loveable);
- Clawdia (diabetic but otherwise healthy, and still sassy);
- Gandalf (who often tilts his head and meows loudly; we suspect he’s deaf in one ear due to an infection he had before we got him); and
- Pimienta, not quite one year old as I write this.
I hope we’re all together for quite a while.
Kenton Kilgore is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. Kenton also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, a two-part young adult fantasy novel based on Navajo culture and belief. Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.