My life defined in the kingdom of animals

Jack with Spot at 401 Congress Avenue, Brownwood, Texas (ca. 1952)

My life has been defined by animals.  All sorts of animals: chickens, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, birds, wild and domesticated beings. For whatever reason, I preferred to stay home as a child while my mother and grandmother worked and when I was older and my mother married J. W., I liked the fact that he had land in Mills County filled with cattle, raccoons, squirrels and wild, tall, native grass that I later learned was bluestem.

I was a latch-key kid.  And when I sped home on my Hawthorne, Montgomery-Ward bicycle, the first thing I did was play with the dog.  The dog you see in the picture is Spot and he was the second dog I ever owned.  He did not live long, for distemper took his life.  Before him, there as a chow-mix of a dog named Toy that mother had to relocate because he ate the neighbor’s chickens.  I loved that Toy and when he was picked up by a farmer that lived in Bangs, Texas, one world came to an end and I lost my innocence, not in the back seat of a Ford, but in the driveway of my home as Toy went away.  To this day, I can remember his fur and his dark, black tongue.

Many events force growth and sadden our days.  The loss of a loved one, four-legged or not, wounds us and we stagger into days and nights hating the loss and finding ways to forget it or ease the heart from the tear.

Many events bring growth and brighten the day.  The face of a loved one upon rising in the morning, the nickering of horses in the barn and the wagging of that tail.

At the end of this post On the left sidebar of the blog home page are photos of cats, dogs and horses that surround Brenda and me. All of the cats are gone now, from accident or predators.  I miss each of those kitties:  Fenster walked with me to the far fields like a dog, Bubbles talked to me on the road down to the barn and Painters never strayed from my side while I fed and tended the horses.  Painters would lie down in the middle of the corral and the horses would walk around him.

Lottie is a schnauzer and was my mother’s pet.  I brought Lottie to Mingus and she has run through every room in the house slamming her toys for attention and play.

Yeller is like Toy, my first dog, the chow-mix.  I first saw Yeller across the county road, staying on the Nowack place, our neighbor to the north.  Yeller loved children, but the Nowacks had several dogs already and Yeller had come from some other family or was abandoned in the country by a cold-hearted person.  One day Steve Nowack tried to shoo Yeller away.  Yeller crept off the property and went down the road, just out of sight of the children, and stopped.  Yeller turned around and sat on his haunches and looked over the grass towards the children, wagging his tail and smiling, wanting to go back and let the smaller children ride him.  I had already begun to like the old boy, but that was it: Yeller obeying to go off as instructed, but not far enough to lose sight of children.  I would not let another minute go by with him unattended by a human companion.

I called him to our yard.  As he saw me engaging him and then petting him, Yeller ran around in circles, merrily and merrily he went.  Soon, we took Yeller to the vet and had him brought to pristine health and today, tonight as I write this post, he sits on the floor beside me.  I walk him and Lottie three times a day.  He is always on leash.  I cannot dis-attach myself, nor do I want to, from the kingdom of animals.


Filed under Dogs, Recollections 1942-1966

28 responses to “My life defined in the kingdom of animals

  1. Lynn

    A wonderful post. Last month, I had to put down my little boy of 16/17? years. I really miss him…he was such a little character. I miss my Sassy, my loving Lab. I miss Ace, my gentle show horse. I miss…all the way back to Tippy, my first dog. All my animal babies are fixed in my memory and as you, my life has been defined by my animals. Great post…takes me down memory lane. Thanks

  2. And Yeller never looked back either. Was that already his name when you got him?

    I was a latchkey kid too, and that was a precious time between getting home from school and my mother coming home from work. We had such freedom that kids don’t have now—though they certainly have more stuff. I always came home to cats and dogs too, and long before there were rabies scares in the eastern US, we tamed squirrels, opossums, and raccoons. I would take the dogs for long walks which led us to magical places, and with no cellphone, just imagine! I had a rich pretend-life.

    Though I don’t believe in heaven or hell or whatever, I whimsically believe that someday I will be reunited with my most beloved pets. I cry so hard when I read that mushy rainbow bridge poem.

    Great picture—aw c’mon, please post more like that!

    • And Yeller never looked back. Thank you for that sentence. No, I named him Yeller because his coat was yellow from his bad diet. When we fixed him up and got him strong, his coat was no longer yellow, but reddish. Wow, what a life you did have with the opossums, racoons. The latchkey option never took into account what a liberated time it was for us at home and by ourselves.

      The joy of having animals. Yes, there’s cleanup, but there is the nicker, the wag. I’ll try and describe someday the behavior of horses that “hug.” They do it to humans and I’ll have to get Brenda to take the photos to show you how they hug a friend. It’s reciprocal.

      I’ll try and post more along this line. I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Ruth Karbach

    How true that our lives are defined by animals. Your excellent comments took me back to my childhood Collie. As a kid whose parents both worked, I could roam my hometown safe and secure with Laddie by my side. He patiently let me play dress up with him as my model. Once wanderlust overtook him, and I grieved and missed him so that my family and their friends drove all over Bryan County, Oklahoma to find him. Surprisingly an Air Force pilot found him about 10 miles from home three weeks later. Having Laddie back was one of the biggest gifts in my life.

    • Oh, Ruth, I can just see you and Laddie now. You were fortunate to have him and he to have you. They are gifts, aren’t they? Dogs as companions and playmates…such a grand time we have had with them. Hope all is well with you. You must come out and see our place and dogs and horses.

  4. Caralee

    Your description of Yeller reminds me of how we came to live with Bonnie and Clyde. While we were building the house in Eagle Mt Lake, those two dogs would come and hang out at the site. They didn’t have tags and both were so thin, especially Clyde whose ribs and hip bones were easily visible. We had recently lost our little dog Helga, and intended to get another dog someday–one dog, not two. We were still novices at owning dogs, after all. But they kept coming to visit as we built, and soon enough we bought them dog biscuits. Then we got them their shots, just to be kind. We didn’t even live at that house yet–we were still in town with all our cats. When the weather got terribly cold that winter, Jim built the two dogs one of his overbuilt, insulated, shingled dog houses, typical of the way Jim builds things. We moved in on December 21, and both dogs were hanging around, shivering in the cold. By that time we’d given them names and put tags and collars on them–and yet they still weren’t a “real” part of our family. One day they showed up with the name tags covered in tape with other names on them: Buddy and Brandy. We called the number on the tape and spoke to the “owner,” who said they were her “outside dogs” and she couldn’t afford a fence and they already had an “inside dog” and she didn’t know why Buddy was so thin because she did feed them. That did it. From that day on they lived with us, warm and safe inside as much as they wanted. And the big bonus was that they brought a third friend we also took in: Bruno. Remember that big lumbering friend that hung out with Bonnie & Clyde in the movie? That was Bruno. He didn’t have a home at all, and he was very wary of us at first. We’d put food out for him and walk away, and he’d come eat so long as we left the area. Eventually he’d take a biscuit from our hand, and then he, too, was spending the night inside and loving on his new humans. I don’t know if we ever told you all that, but you know well how lucky we were to have those strays come into our lives. Bruno was my first BIG dog, and the first dog who watched out for me as much as I watched out for him. Bonnie, my little Mexican street dog, was the sweetest girlfriend to Clyde and the best mouser this side of the Mississippi. And Clyde was smart and kind and brave. I know you are as lucky to have Yeller come to your life as we were to take that chance and adopt three dogs who we weren’t even looking for. Turns out they were looking for us, and that’s even better.

    Love from the pack in Utah

    • I did not know the full story about them. I knew they had hung around while you were building and you adopted them. And, Bruno’s name? Didn’t know that it came from a movie. I wish you could send me that picture, and I’ll post it, of you and Bruno sitting on the back porch looking off towards the backyard, just your backs showing. It’s one you sent us when Bruno died. The behaviors we remember come tumbling out of us. Your comment is so moving.

      Yes, they lived with you and Jim built a fence that managed their lives — all to the better for you and Jim and them. I remember all of them. I also regretted leaving your home when you returned because I had become a part of the pack. I missed them.

      When you get a chance, what are the names of your companions there in Utah presently?

      • Caralee

        Bruno wasn’t the name of the guy in the movie. I can’t remember that, but it was the idea of a big, burly friend to the two partners in crime. He just *looked* like a Bruno–thus the name. Unfortunately, that photo of Bruno and me was taken in pre-digital days, and the photo is tucked away somewhere deep in storage, not to be found till we move into the house.

        When Jim finally got that fence built, we could at last let the dogs safely run outside on their own acre of woods instead of having to be walked on a leash every day. I’ll never forget how Clyde, so used to being stopped at the back door because he couldn’t go out, hesitated when we threw the door open. Finally, he ran out, and I swear to you, leaped like a lamb with flying jumps through the high grass, the very picture of joy.

      • Oh, I see about Bruno. I have not seen the movie in a long time and did not make the connection. Okay about the pic. Hope I can see it again someday. Hooray for Clyde! Thanks to Jim.

  5. Hello Jack! Every dog, every animal is lucky to be at your ranch. I often think about sweet Lilly.

    When you are a child it hits the worst to have to say good-bye to an animal friend, but whether you are a child or a grown up it is so terrible to lose an animal pet. Ocean of tears have been cried.

    I don’t know if the word latch-key kid is the same as a tomboy, but I was like that. I lived in town and brought home cats and kittens and young birds, like jackdaws. One jackdaw was by me for a long time and I could call it back from the flock in the air calling Claus! Each year I was six weeks in the country by grandmother. What a joy. Cats and dogs and horses and calves…………………

    I love the story about Yeller. What a lovely dog. He’s got a good life now. He’s lucky. You’re a good king, and he now lives in a friendly kingdom. I’m sure he knows.

    I loved the story caralee told us about those two dogs Bonnie and Clyde and then came the third familly member, Bruno. A moving story.

    I wish every dog was so lucky to live in a good and caring home like yours.

    Best wishes for a good day in your kingdom of animals.

    • That is so fascinating that a jackdaw could be called back. You have a gift there in communicating. Occasionally, I think I can get doves to answer me back, but I may be imagining it. I’ll have to be a little more scientific about reporting it. Oh, yes, Caralee told a beautiful story and she and Jim take care of those animals like good kinfolk.

      Thank you for your kind wish and comments.

      Grethe, I hope you can be around animals. I think they help us forget ourselves and the little foibles we see as gigantic. I must go look up the behavior of jackdaws. Maybe we have some around here?

    • Hi Grethe,

      Yes that is fascinating about the jackdaw. This is the bird whose complex social and hierarchies were described in detail by Konrad Lorenz in King Solomon’s Ring. We have similar birds here–was the bird you made friends with in Denmark where you live?

      A latch-key kid is one who comes home to an empty house after school and has a key. It’s actually a wonderful way to grow up—well, if you’re a responsible kid. It gives you breathing room, a little freedom to escape and indulge your curiosities.

      I’ve looked at your blog and it’s lovely.

  6. Great article Jack(ie)!! And the 2nd grade pic is so how I remember the Coggin Ward days!! As I read your article I thought “this sounds like my daughter, Lara”. Never let a stray dog or cat not go home with her. She has taken care of more sickly dogs than anyone I know of. Every dog she has ever had – except the one she adopted from a “special needs” adoption center she found while living in Ft. Worth, Tx. – just hanging out on the street. Last month she moved from the D.C. metro area to Washington state. Larry drove with her, and her two dogs and a cat. I flew with the granddaughters!
    Without a doubt, one of her best “finds” she gave to Larry. A Rhodesian ridgeback, approx. 4 yrs. old, that was as wild as could be – had been living on the street so long his chock chain had gotten tight. We brought Mowgli to San Antonio and he lived another 11 years – was the best dog we ever had!!

  7. Carolyn: Good to have you come on the blog and comment. (Note: Carolyn and I grew up together in Brownwood, Texas, and have known each other from the first grade through high school, taking classes together and singing in choir.) I wish I knew Lara. I know where she gets her big heart and it’s from both you and Larry. The ridgeback I hear is one of the smartest and loyal dogs ever trotting beside its human. I must look into that breed.

    And, Carolyn, please call me Jackie…it brings back such nice memories. I hope all is well with you and Larry. I need to go on facebook and see your pictures and look at Lara, your daughter. I’ve some of Wendy, my daughter, but have not posted them.

  8. The movie, “Old Yeller,” broke my heart: “But, Pa, we can’t just shoot him , like he was nothin’.” Loving and losing, and yet, we go on loving, and isn’t it wonderful that we can? Yeller sitting back and watching the children from a distance is almost heartbreaking, but you offered companionship and a place to call home. Your four-legged family members are very fortunate. And I bet they know it. The two-legged ones, too. Have a good week, Jack.

  9. Kittie Howard

    Beautiful story, Jack, truly beautiful! Tears can still fall for my beloved Chessy, Chena, and Chester. They still live in my heart. Actually, I read your post twice because you describe a certain era so completely, so rich with warmth, emotion, and reality. Thank you, Jack!

    And, hey, how about some more photos from that era???

    AND, good news, with the glitch cleared up I was able to link you to my sidebar. YAY!!!

    • I’ve got more photos from that era and preceding decades. My mother loved photography and I have many pictures from her estate. I go through them and it stirs up a lot of emotion and motivates me (and others) to write. Susan Sontag wrote a monograph “On Photography” that I want to read again.

      I’ve been to your site today and see that the glitches have evaporated and I am on your sidebar. I’ve responded to your new posts. Glad you got it fixed.

  10. Koda'sTotems

    Wow, Jack. This post made me tear up. I too define my life by my animals (those who belong to / with me and those who belong to / with Mother Nature). Every year of my life is marked by which animal companion shared those days with me. The days of Boo Boo, the days of Beauregard, the days of Spooky, etc, etc… To be able to share your heart with an animal is the greatest gift, and some people just don’t have it. To me, that’s sad for them, in more ways than one. It is a proven medical fact that sharing your life with an animal brings greater longevity and a deeper sense of peace and well-being. We give them shelter, love, and a sense of family, and they give us health and heart. It’s symbiosis in its most beautiful form.

    Thanks for this lovely reminder, Jack. The world needs more of this.


    • Kristy: Yes, I tear up when I think of so many animals that have run and played in my life. Your attention to beings in the animal kingdom I have read and applauded, in every post and in every line you write about. You are so special to those beings that cross your path. The world is a better place with your stewardship.

  11. Hello again Jack and hello Debra.
    I’m a little late in responding. Now I understand what a latchkey-is! LOL! Of course! I really hadn’t read the word properly. I was not a latch-key kid, my mom was home every day. Then I was a tomboy, for I was a little wild. I was much outside. I did not play with my dolls. I dressed them up in draped curtains and washed their hair. At last they looked awful!
    The jackdaws were “kids”, when I found them. I lived in the city, and the jackdaws had nests up in the chimneys in spring. I knew, when a kid had fallen down, for the parents screamed and jumped around, and the many cats (it was before they were fetched by the municipality) began to pay attention. Sometimes I was lucky to get hold of a jackdaw kid, I gave it water and fed it. And it grew easily tamed. I had one kid almost each year. Usually it flew from me as soon as it was grown-up, before my summer-holidays in July. The special jackdaw, who flew down to me, was a very special bird. There are really differences in their personality! Thank you for bringing attention to Konrad Lorenz’ book. And thank you for your kind words about my blog, Debra.

    Jack, thank you for good wishes. I cannot be around animals since 1978, since I got a serious allergy as to the (udstråling) magnetism from animal skin. It sounds strange, but I cannot ecxplain it in other ways. The allergy doctor at the hospital told me that it was either the animals or me. There was no cure in my case. I had to choose. Allergy is a strange symptom. Varies almost from person to person.

    But I take photos of the animals, Jack, and read about them – and when I’m out in the country I am as close as I can be to the cows and the horses! . That’s great. I have arranged my life without physical contact with animals.

    Best wishes
    Grethe `)

  12. Something extra: My computer is making trouble, so if I don’t response, it’s because it has broken down.
    This has been going on for a month, and my son has promised me to help me buying and installing a new one.

  13. Val Erde

    My life these days is enriched by the friendship and trust of wild birds which is wonderful for me as I had a childhood mostly devoid of pets as I’ve had a lot of allergies. And for the past few years I’ve been able to be around my sister’s two dogs which is brilliant as before I’d always been allergic to them. I think it’s since I moved out of the city. But my husband has a curious relationship with the wild birds and animals here that I’ve never quite managed. I think it’s his patience and his voice. (My voice, so far, has only endeared me to one animal – a small shy goldfish, back in London!)

    You’re quite right about loss of a loved one – whether human or otherwise – forcing change and joy coming from similar but bright experiences… there’s a lot I could write on these. Maybe another time.

    I’ve been ‘stuck’ (happily) reading your blog for quite a long time tonight, and am glad I found it!

    • Val Erde: The friendship of wild birds that you have. I seek to cultivate my wild birds. Very hard to do. I’m glad you can be around the dogs. How I love dogs. Please post about loss of loved ones. I’ll read it and forward it.

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