Writers and Their Pets: Nancy Welch

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Nancy Welch.

You can also submit your own essay to the series. Read our guidelines here.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

nancywelchFor years I cruised the websites of shelters and rescues. Established and well-trained. Mannerly. Mature. Such were the dogs—staid companions, their elderly owners bound for assisted living—that I tried to tempt my husband into meeting.

“No,” my husband said. “No dogs.”

His answer never varied, not in fifteen years. So why did I persist? For the same reason children press for ponies or mini-bikes few are likely to receive. Each time I tried to initiate a “What about this one?” conversation, I experienced the thrill of longing, my SEEKING system (as animal-welfare advocate Temple Grandin might put it) pleasurably engaged. When I asked him to look at a flop-eared pup with enormous paws, I expected him to snort. I thought he might alter his answer: “You’ve got to be kidding.” Instead, lingering over the website photo, he said, “Maybe …”Continue Reading

Writers and Their Pets: Andrew Ladd

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by our blog editor, Andrew Ladd.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

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Photo: Maureen Cotton

Many of the essays we’ve featured in the Writers and Their Pets series have been touching accounts of lost or deceased pets—but when I sat down to write my own contribution, about my wonderful two-and-a-half-year-old cat, Jack, I wanted to strike a happier note. The problem was, happy is hard to do, the narrative arc less obvious—and while that was a nice problem to have it was a problem nevertheless: I just couldn’t find a good story to tell about him.

I got Jack with my wife Mallory—then just my fiancée—the night before Thanksgiving in 2011. He was about six months old and recently rescued from a hoarder, and at the shelter he was sharing a cage with so many other cats he’d resorted to sleeping in the litter box. He smelled like it, too, when the staff fished him out for us to take a look at, but he nuzzled so quickly into my shoulder—and showed such terrified resistance when we tried to put him back—that our hearts crumpled. (Besides, we figured: we could always give him a bath.)

He was a white-and-orange tabby and so his papers, predictably, said Garfield—but we quickly rechristened him Jack Meower, after the main character on the TV show 24. Like his namesake, too, he turned out to have boundless energy, improbable agility, and superlative cunning, and he often drove us to despair getting inside and behind and on top of things we were sure we’d fully catproofed.

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Writers and Their Pets: Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

elk 017Zee was his name. He had liquid eyes and a proud stance. He also towered over me at well over six feet—without his antlers. My husband raised Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk on our Missouri cattle farm from 1997 until 2009. Zee had lost his mother and we raised him on goat milk until his size and strength was too much for the goat even after we put her up on a hay bale.

I don’t want you to think I don’t do normal pets. We have dogs, we’ve had cats, my daughter had a gerbil once. My very own Pepe was the tiny toy poodle farm dog our children grew up adoring. But Zee, a charmer from the beginning, was something else.

When the second graders came out every year to visit the farm and all the other elk stayed back, Zee walked straight up to the fence to get his nose scratched. He loved the attention and would lower his head to the right height for the pint-sized visitors. We started calling him ZeeBee for no reason other than it suited him.

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Writers and Their Pets: Carolyn Creedon

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Carolyn Creedon.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

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I was raised in a chaotic household with many animals; my mother was a dog breeder. We always had at least one litter around us. I can remember our little pup Tripod with his proud three legs. I also remember my mother watching a pup birthed. He appeared lifeless and without breath. My mother calmly pre-heated the oven and put him in there. He came out gasping a few minutes later. We nursed him to health, though he was always the little guy—the runt, but tough.

In my adult life, my then-boyfriend of eleven years and I led a transitory, school-seeking lifestyle, so about five years ago when I was aching for a dog, he was trepidatious. I can remember touring the cages at the wonderful Charlottesville ASPCA. The eyes of the dogs and cats were heartbreaking, as anyone who’s been to a shelter can tell you.

There were treats outside of every animal’s cage. We stopped by one cage with a sleepy cocker mix-it-up breed inside of it. I held out a treat. She didn’t want it. Instead, she reached out her head for me to nuzzle and scratch between the steel bars. The kid craved affection. When we took her for a walk, we weren’t sure. She seemed twice the size of what we could handle in our apartment.

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Writers and Their Pets: Carol Keeley

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Carol Keeley.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

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It was a kill shelter, the kennels concrete and crowded. We’d visited shelters weekly since losing our first dog. My husband fell in love each time. I was still in mourning. It had been eight years.

This shelter was wretched—sickly dogs smeared with feces, frenzied barking, puddles of piss. A handsome mutt smashed his heart against the bars as we passed, as if he recognized us. We stopped. He had big polka-dotted paws and a wide smile. “One year old, not house broken, loves everybody,” said his slip.

I was finishing a novel and a degree. Brad was often traveling. An untrained older dog? With liquid green diarrhea? I resisted for two months.

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Writers and Their Pets: Enid Shomer

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Enid Shomer.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

photoBecause a large portion of my spine is fused, for the last nineteen years I have owned service dogs. Currently, I live with a seven-and-a-half-pound Papillon named Mink. Her job is to retrieve things on the floor or otherwise out of my reach. She even jumps into the clothes dryer to fetch stray socks.

When my doctor and his wife offered to watch her for several days so that I could travel to teach in a low-residency MFA program, I agreed. But I was nervous. I had planned to take her with me. But at her annual check up, a week earlier, I learned she was developing kidney and bladder stones and needed a radical change in diet. I had never left her in strange quarters. On the few occasions I’d traveled without her, she’d stayed at home with a sitter. Mink is my only live-in companion, and I didn’t know the Smiths well.Continue Reading

Writers and Their Pets: Nathaniel Frank

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets.

We also ask contributors to the series to tell us about their favorite pets from literature. Here’s what Nathaniel told us: “The summer I graduated college I took a road trip across the country in my parents’ minivan, to discover in person what I’d been writing about as a student of “American Culture.” Reportedly this was also the impulse behind John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, a touching account of driving cross-country with his 10-year-old poodle as he rediscovered America. I read it on my trip as I discovered America for the first time. Who wouldn’t want a sounding board like Charley, trusted tour guide and guarder against bears?”

We hope you enjoy Nathaniel’s essay.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

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Romeo was a rescue dog from a city shelter in East New York. He was all Brooklyn from the get-go. So it wasn’t hard to figure out where to scatter his ashes when he finally left us.

Every morning for years, we had started the day trotting through Fort Greene Park, which Walt Whitman helped create and Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison used as a writing perch. That seemed the obvious choice. Still, I had to spend some real time deciding. After all, Romeo was one of the most widely traveled dogs I know, choosing only the poshest destinations: he romped the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, East Hampton and Fire Island; hiked the rustic roads and grassy hills of Sullivan County, enjoying nothing more than a wild back roll on the 15-acre farm he inspired us to buy; he lived with me in London, taking a weekend home in Notting Hill; he even spent a month in Aix-en-Provence, visiting cobbled plazas, daytriping to vineyards and fording the moats of medieval castles.

So where was his favorite place? For someone who’s not always great at making decisions, this was an easy one: because I came back to beginnings, to roots.

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Writers and Their Pets: Martha Serpas

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Martha Serpas.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

Serpas&KindleI felt fairly monogamous about the first dog I raised as an adult. He saw me through two break-ups, two graduate degrees, and helped launch a marriage. When he died, Audrey lit votive candles and tucked frozen vegetables around his body until I could fly home for a wake of sorts. I hefted him into the four-foot grave we had dug while we called every (bewildered) person who’d ever expressed affection for him. I’d been at his birth—and afterward was rarely without him—but I missed his death. Unabsolvable.Continue Reading

Writers and Their Pets: Bonnie Jo Campbell

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets.

We also ask contributors to the series to tell us about their favorite pets from literature. Here’s what Bonnie told us: “My favorite pet in literature is, of course, the long suffering Modestine in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.  She is such a sturdy, cranky jenny, and Stevenson himself is half in love with her by the end.”

We hope you enjoy Bonnie’s essay.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

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Jack and Don Quixote are my two donkeys, and I love the way they smell, and I love their beautiful eyes and noses and ears. When they he-honk, they go on for about twenty seconds and their joy fills the neighborhood.

Jack is the smaller donkey, at about 650 pounds, and Don Quixote, “Xote,” is his son, at about 850 pounds—and they both have the most common coloration of gray-dun body with black stripe down the neck and across the withers. They are called standard donkeys, at twelve and thirteen hands, as opposed to the miniature or mammoth varieties.

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Writers and Their Pets: Gretchen Henderson

The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and over the coming months I will also invite other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Gretchen Henderson.

—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief

GretchenSierra-InsideWe met Sierra as a seven-week-old puppy, palm-sized and all paws. The rescue organization said she was a Bernese Mountain mix. Her mother and five siblings had been found on the streets of Los Angeles. Each puppy was about 10 pounds, projected to grow into 100-pounds, piled in a sidewalk playpen, sleeping in the sun. She was the only one awake, looking out the bars, wide-eyed and curious.

We had not planned to get a dog that day. We were just beginning to explore local rescues, waiting as we had for years to be more settled to responsibly care for a dog. There always was a rational reason to postpone: space, time, money, our lifestyle as academic gypsies. We had a tiny apartment with no yard. But watching her peer out of the pen in wonder, our reaction was immediate. We stopped questioning the dog, instead questioning anything in our life that would prevent us from taking her home.

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