When I was 9 I had 9 pets. That is where my career quest began and I must start with some description of our furry and feathered friends. The Conchie zoo consisted of three cats (Billy, Hobbes and Polly) and one dog (Belle). Belle was originally called Melody so we changed her name to Belle to avoid confusion. One of my dad’s favourite movies was Beauty and the Beast and ‘Belle’ rhymes with ‘Mel’. My Granny often called the poor thing “Dumbbell” because she never became fully house trained and she continued to chase the cats even when they scratched her nose. Belle was 6 months old when she came to us. Her owners had pity on her after seeing the effect of being locked up all day while they went to work. Perhaps she never fully got over the trauma. She did love playing soccer and could find a tennis ball anywhere, even at Lighthouse Park. Belle inspired my mom to write a Christmas card with her picture on the front to our mailman as an apology for being constantly barked and even chased once. He gave us a card back and all was forgiven. She went down the playground slide like a champ and loved our family for ten years. We miss you Belle.
Billy the cat was the third generation our feline family. We got her grandmother Wednesday before I was born. (I think her siblings were Thursday and Friday) Wednesday begot Lucy and while Lucy was still a kitten she gave birth to Billy (there were a lot of tomcats in the neighbourhood) Lucy was not ready or willing to be a mother so she ignored her little baby other than feeding her. Lucy also ignored us and eventually moved over to the neighbours who gave her a special cushion and fresh chicken every day. What can beat that? Billy, the orphan, never learned how to hunt or jump high or do very much at all. Her great feat was to hide under the Esperanza dining hall for three days after a bear visited our home. That was enough adventure to last her a life time. She was a beautiful calico cat with a fluffy white chest, giant eyes and brown, black and orange silky hair. But Billy was not friendly. Very seldomly did she sit on anyone’s lap. She purred when we pet her but and then she often thanked us with a bite. When Billy got old, we looked for the next kitten generation.
Polly and Hobbes came as another donation. My parents had okayed one cat for my sister, but when the lady saw how much I wanted a kitten too she told my parents, “they really do better in pairs you know…” Hobbes was the namesake of that beloved cartoon tiger, our first boy cat! He showed it too by spraying the basement before his date with the vet. He was the most mellow of our feline pets. He loved lounging on Sarah’s shoulders.
Polly had beautiful peach hair on her nose and sides. She was my “Peachy Polly” and “Pollywog” She seemed to be able to sense whenever I was sad or needed a cuddle. She also knew when I was trying to get homework done and would lie right on top of my book or the keyboard and demand attention. So hard to resist… that’s why I didn’t get straight A’s in high school 😉 Polly followed me from Vancouver to Comox and ended up living to 18 years with my parents on Quadra.
Another distraction from homework was my budgies. I had several because they didn’t survive in our house very long.. there was Snowy, Blueberry, Sapphire, Sky and John Wayne. Three of them flew away and one was eaten by the cat.. (I had nightmares for a few years after that)
Snowy was my first bird. She would sit on my shoulder, my finger and my head. One day she landed on my dad’s spoon and took a swim in his cereal! She neatly chewed all of the edges of my math book and learned how to say ‘pretty bird’. She was also my miracle bird.
One evening she was flying around the house and got out an open window in the bedroom. (The next morning we went for a walk and found her in a tree about a block away. Our attempts to reach her simply moved her on to somewhere else. I lost hope of seeing her again. Later that day or a day later my siblings and I were on a play date when we got a call from my dad. Snowy had landed in the tree beside our house! Dad put her on his finger, held his thumb over her feet and Snowy was home!!!
Since Snowy enjoyed the outdoors so much I often put her cage on the back porch in the summer so she could sing with the wild birds and get some sunshine. I was also watering the plants and accidentally or not-accidentally gave her a shower. The poor bird was soaked and we thought that flying around the house might help her dry off. Usually she stayed up high away from the cats but because of her wet feathers she went plop down to the floor.
First Belle got her in her mouth and Mom rescued her, then Polly had a turn and again Mom got her out.. Poor Snowy had a bloody torn wing and her head was drooped. I was devastated. Caring for pets had made me want to be veterinarian but maybe that wasn’t a good idea? We couldn’t afford to take Snowy there so we put Snowy in her cage and prayed. He sees each sparrow that falls… does He see each budgie too? That night the door bell rang several times (we had a doorbell with seven tunes so it wasn’t easy to miss!) The next morning Snowy was singing and there was no trace of blood!!! True story guaranteed! One day Snowy was ready to move on though and when the bottom of the cage fell off on the front porch, Snowy took off with her boyfriend John Wayne and this time we didn’t find them.
Guinea pigs don’t fly so they lasted longer in the back yard. Two of the males got sunstroke though. Uncle Jim administered First Aid to one of them and saved his life. They loved chewing on the grass and whenever I moved the top of the cage there was a tidy square of mowed lawn. They also fertilized with their little brown pellets. It is not good for man – or guinea pig- to be alone so I searched for a worthy mate for my squeaky furry guy. Dad and I found a female guinea pig for free in the paper. The previous owner said “you know what happens when you put a male and female together don’t you?” Oh yes and boy, was I anticipating babies! My friend Erin and I held a wedding ceremony for two lovepigs and waited to see what would happen… sure enough, one night my sister held “Missy” and said, “I can feel something moving in her. I think she’s pregnant!” The next morning, I greeted a beautiful baby guinea pig. Mr. Pig stood on the other end of the cage looking very scared. We gave him his own house for a while. Guinea pigs are born with open eyes and all of their hair, which made Junior incredibly cute. My deepest pet owner desire was fulfilled.
Our handful of hamsters had a pretty normal existence, except for when my sister tried to wake up my brother but putting her hamster on his face. That little creature was flung across the room and survived! (I hope no one from the SPCA reads this blog, they wouldn’t be too impressed) We had a couple of escapee hamsters. One did a whole tour of the house and ended up in the fireplace I think, fortunately with no fire! He was somehow blinded by the experience though. Another hamster took off in the wilderness of Esperanza. Not much hope there with bears, cougars and cats prowling around. A friend was walking home at night and saw a furry creature dart across the sidewalk. Yup, another divine encounter!
The final two pets were a turtle and a fish. I think the turtle got held too much and the fish really missed Sarah when she went to Africa.
I loved our pets dearly and enjoyed caring for them but there were a few disasters and vet school was 8 years- almost my whole lifetime. Mom suggested nursing, maybe caring for people would be easier than animals? My grandma had wanted to be a nurse and my mom had wanted to be a nurse so maybe I would fulfill the dream. She gave me a brochure from BCIT: Math 11, English 12, Chemistry 11, Biology 12…
Four years of school and no math 12? I could do that! My critters had indirectly helped me with English skills as I wrote letters to relatives and friends about their daring feats. When my dear Aunt Rose came to housesit I would leave a detailed biography and instruction sheet. So English 12? No worries! I was currently failing math and didn’t even really know what Chemistry was but hope remained.