I was devastated. (Mom, ever-practical, used this as a lesson to remind us NOT to play in the road.)
I don't remember what happened to Boots (or maybe it was Mittens, time has blurred the memory a bit), I think he/she just "disappeared." In later years I would learn that this was code for "we're not sure what happened, but chances are he was probably snagged by a coyote."
Brutal, I know, but that was just the beginning.
We never raised livestock on our farm. My Dad says that he used to raise cattle, back before we were born, but he didn't care for it much and gave it up (secretly I suspect this is because he is a big softy and didn't like raising the cattle to be butchered). Our only livestock was an overabundance of cats and one dog. Despite the tragic deaths of our first two kitties, the subsequent cats seemed to do alright. In fact, we had one mama cat that made it to be about 8 years old and provided us with a whole herd of other cats. Every spring, my sisters and I would search out the litters of baby kitties born in the barn, cooing over the blind babies and dividing them up amongst ourselves to be given carefully chosen names. Some of these babies would eventually be given away to neighboring farms (an always difficult parting), some would grow up and have babies of their own (which is why we had an overabundance), and some would meet their fates early, either on the blacktop or at the clutches of a coyote. In one horrid scenario, one of our cats, Fluffy (because he had long hair, which was unusual in most of our cats), went missing. I found him about a month later between the slats of a pallet board, cold and hard as a rock, his beautiful fluffy fur all matted and stiff, his front lips curled up so that his teeth were barred in a disfiguring expression. My best guess is that he may have gotten into some kind of poison and then found his way into the pallet to die.
I know, I'm an awful person, I shouldn't be telling you these stories.
Cats were not the only pets on the Gleason farm.
At one point, we also had peacocks. Yep, peacocks. Cool, right? A lady not too far away raised peacocks and Dad took my sisters and I to pick out two little peacock chicks, Petunia and Daffodil. We loved those things, and they loved us too. Dad may have later come to regret this decision, since they had an attraction to shiny things and a special affinity for his truck, which meant they were always leaving scratch marks on it with their claws. Truck aside though, they were pretty good pets. They weren't what I might call "loving," but since we had raised them and played with them since they were chicks, once they reached adulthood they still let us pick them up and pet them, and they'd often come when we called for them. They also loved to fly up and roost in the big oak tree in our yard and make the most ridiculously loud (and awesome) "PeeKAW" sound. And they were a wonderful conversation topic when friends came to visit. Overall, they were fun to have around, and my sisters and I were dying to watch them hatch eggs and have some more little peacock chicks to play with.
The only problem was, they were both female, so any eggs they laid would be unfertilized and there would be no peacock chicks.
So my Dad, being the excellent father he is, went back to the lady we originally got the peacocks from and asked her for some fertilized eggs, which we took back to our peacocks and placed in the nests they had built on the ground near the garden. Our little lady peacocks were thrilled to have eggs to sit on, and took to roosting like natural-born mamas.
About a week later, one of these little mamas wondered into the road and was converted into a pile of feathers whirling behind the bumper of a speeding car. I was not witness to this, but Dad says the guy never even slowed down.
This left us with only Petunia, who was so determined to be a good mother that she rarely, if ever, left her nest. Night and day she warmed those little eggs for nearly a month. Then tragedy struck.
It was a bright summer morning and my sisters and I were watching cartoons on the living room floor. I was innocently enjoying the antics of Bugs Bunny when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look out the window only to see my uncle's bird dog dragging poor Petunia around the yard and shaking her savagely back and forth in her jaws, a trail of feathers floating behind her.
I screamed and my sisters and I leaped out the door, frantically yelling and crying and trying to chase down the bewildered dog, who couldn't understand why were so angry at it for catching such an exotic prize.
When we finally pried Petunia out of its clutches, it was too late. The poor girl, in the face of certain death, had refused to save herself and leave her nest of unhatched chicklings to fly away from my uncle's dog, as she and Daffodil had done on previous occasions.
Consequently, we were left with a dead peacock, eggs that would never hatch, and a story that probably traumatized me for life.
Let's move on.
Rabbits were another venture. At the annual town homecoming festival, one little stand set up a game in which the prize was a pet bunny. Needless to say, this was the most popular carnival game of the year, with every kid spending all of their allowance money trying to win one of the adorably fuzzy real-life prizes (and every parent hoping they wouldn't.) My sister ended up winning one, and at the end of the carnival, I was so crazy to have my own too that Dad just ended up buying one of the leftover bunnies for me. Mixie was a brown and white female, and Nibbles, my sister's bunny, was an all white male with little black spots. We kept them in the old chicken coop behind our barn and took great care in making them "salads," of mixed clover and dandelions and other weeds from around the house. We'd let them out in the yard to play daily, and then had a grand time trying to catch them again (sometimes this was easy and sometimes it was not) to put them away for the night. Being male and female rabbits, it wasn't long before we noticed that Mixie was getting unusually large, and our eyes grew wide in anticipation of more little bunnies on the way.
Well our babies arrived and we were thrilled. It was a short-lived joy. Did you know that male rabbits sometimes eat their babies? Yeah, we didn't either. Until we found their little half-eaten bodies huddled in the corner of the hutch about three days after their birth. It was a sad day.
Honestly I don't remember what happened to Mixie. It's possible she died of a broken heart (although unlikely). On the other hand, I do remember the fate of Nibbles. We had let him out to play one day and, unable to catch him for the night, decided we'd try again in the morning. We never found him. That's one more for the "disappeared" category.
Now before you go thinking that our farm is an animal graveyard where pets go to die, you should also know that we've had numerous success stories. First off, we had two dogs, Freckles and Ginger, that both lived to ripe old ages. Also, I'd like to think I saved many a baby bird in my day, rescuing them from the paws of our little spaniel who occasionally found them hopping in the yard. And then there is also the story of Daisy, the duckling my dad rescued from a vicious territorial swan that was trying to peck it to death on the golf course. She made an excellent pet and waddled around the yard following us girls. We loved nothing more than to put her in the pool and let her swim her little heart out, a practice that was openly denounced by our parents since she had a tendency to poop while she was in there, a surefire way for us to catch salmonella according to Mom. Nevertheless, we raised her to adulthood and then released her back to the wild. There is also the story of the burrow of baby skunks which Ginger dug up in the yard. Most people would just as soon that the dog have at them; who wants a pack of skunks hanging out next to their house after all? But one look at the kitten-like little things, hissing at us with their little tails stuck up and we knew they had to be saved. So Dad helped us load them into a bucket and we drove them to safety at a nearby pond where we let them go to enjoy long full lives (hopefully).
I suppose this weakness for rescuing lost and wounded baby animals will follow me all my life.
When I saw a little white kitten mewing at me on the side of a dusty Dominican street, I knew I couldn't leave it behind.
An injured puppy huddled on the sidewalk by a busy road just had to be picked up in a cardboard box and carried to the nearest veterinarian almost a mile away.
And most recently, I found a baby bunny hobbling across my path on the sidewalk during a morning jog. The poor thing was headed straight into a yard with a lawn mower running and I could see that its leg was injured. I couldn't stand to not do anything. I scooped it up and carried it, as gently as possible, the half mile home. I put little Skippy (yes, I named it), into a shoe box and ran to call the nearest animal hospital. The nearest animal hospital would not accept non-domesticated animals. Worthless. Who turns away a baby bunny? But they did give me the number of a wild animal shelter to call, which actually turned out to be nothing more than a kind-hearted old lady who had a soft spot for injured wild animals. She didn't have any medicine, just "lots of love and a rocking chair." But she did recommend giving the bunny water mixed with honey in case it was dehydrated, and she was able to diagnose the probable cause of injury to little Skippy: crows. Apparently a favorite pastime of crows is scooping up defenseless little rabbits, soaring to amazing heights, and then dropping them. This is a quick way to kill the bunnies so that they can later be eaten. Nature can be amazingly cruel. More fun facts about crows, they are extremely intelligent and can recognize human faces. Scientists have even debated whether or not they have their own language. Also, female crows mate for life, but males will cheat (go figure). Lastly, if you kill one, the rest of the murder (a flock of crows is called a "murder!" so creepy) will avoid coming back to that spot since they know it is dangerous. So if you don't want any crows around killing your baby bunnies, hit one (preferably a male, those cheating bastards) with a pellet gun (this won't kill it, just scare it away) and hopefully they shouldn't be a problem anymore. Anyways, back to Skippy. He didn't make it. I had such high hopes for his recovery, but the poor little fellow just couldn't pull through. I have pictures of him, but I'm not going to show you, because you will cry. I almost cried. And I have been desensitized through a long line of traumatic pet deaths (honestly, its a wonder my heart is capable of feeling). So you will definitely cry.
Ok so what's the point of this somewhat tragic tale? Well nothing really, I just wanted to point out some fun facts about crows. But I couldn't just tell you about crows out of the blue. That would be weird. So I had to tell you about Skippy, who was the reason I did a little research on crows. And Skippy made me think back to all my other childhood pets. And so there you have it. Don't be sad though, there are lots of good memories tucked in there. And if I've learned anything, its to appreciate all that much more the value of life.
So what are some of your favorite pet memories?