Growing up on the farm, some of my earliest memories include my pets of all shapes and sizes. My cats, dogs, cows and horses have taught me a lot about life. Some of my favorites had unique traits and personalities.
We always had a lot of cats around the dairy farm and I guess I decided that it was my personal responsibility to tame all of them. Of course they all had names and despite the fact that my brother and my cousin used me to capture them for their antics, they always came to me.
Snoopy was one of my favorites. She would crawl up my leg and perch on my shoulders. She stayed up there as I did my chores and even when I was riding my horse. I can’t imagine what visitors thought when they saw my crazy cat riding on my shoulders.
She never had a litter of kittens, but she chose to be a surrogate parent for many. She would let them nurse and occasionally helped transport them to another location, but she would never try to keep them for her own. It was the earliest form of foster parenting that I knew.
My grandma, who lived on the same farm, had a white Spitz dog named Fiffi. She was not a typical farm dog, but was a loyal friend to my grandma until the day that she was given one of my grandma’s infamously hard cookies. Fiffi sniffed it, picked it up carefully in her teeth and carried it to the water bowl where she dropped it for soaking.
Although grandma didn’t think so, it was hilarious.
About seven years ago, I adopted a beagle named Mickey. It has been known from the beginning that, while she will allow others to care for her, she prefers my company. She rides to the farm with me daily and in her younger days would spend her time chasing rabbits. I don’t think she has ever caught one, but her beagle bray might clue them in to her being on their trail.
Mickey lies by my side wherever I am in house, often interrupting naps when I move to a different room. She sleeps on her pillow beside the bed and if I’m having trouble sleeping, she is often up too.
Most people in the neighborhood know when we are coming home from the farm because she will stick her head out the window and bark from west of Beatrice to my home near Paddock Lane school.
I remember bottle feeding baby calves from the time that I could walk and as I got older, they were my responsibility. If I had a sick calf, as they sometimes get scours, I would take special care to nurse it back to health. I remember one that had a crooked head her entire life, but she lived.
Some of them didn’t live and because we were farmers, some of the animals were sold for slaughter. It was always emotionally hard for me, but I learned about death.
I guess I’ve always seen animals as a gift from God and I decided early in life that it was my responsibility to be a good steward to whatever animals were in my care.
Some would say that my animals are spoiled. Not many farmers name their calves or let them ride in the passenger seat of their jeep, but again, they are my responsibility.
In addition to life and death lessons, I also learned about trust and unconditional love.
What have your animals taught you about life or death?