Kansas Collection books

A Boy's Best Friends

spaniel at the ready

      It seems to me that pets and children are attracted to one another.  There seems to be a natural bonding instinct that is a part of human nature.  I recall as a youngster, I always had some sort of pet around.  One of the earliest pets I had was a big nondescript dog I called Bowser.  He was given to me by an uncle and I carried him home in a box on a passenger train.  He turned out to be a big, ugly mutt that followed me around wherever I went.  I thought a lot of him and when Grandma got on my case for something, he was my best friend and I told him all my troubles.

      After Bowser met his demise under the wheels of a car he was chasing, I acquired Fritz.  I donít remember where he came from, but I suspect he was just another stray dog that I brought home from somewhere.  He was a little dog, yellow-golden in color, with a long body like a Dachshund.  I had visions of making a house dog out of him, despite Grandmaís edict that pets remain outside.  He hadnít been allowed in the house very long when Grandma caught him on top of the dinner table licking the plates clean.  From then on, he was banished from the house.

      We lived fairly close to town and the barn was near the road.  The townspeople had a habit of dropping off their unwanted cats.  I think word had gotten out that Grandpa was a soft touch for cats, and he was.  In the barn was a long wooden trough that Grandpa would fill with milk every time he milked the cows.  At one time I counted sixteen cats lined up drinking their fill of free milk.  So we always had cats around.  Their favorite birthing place was in the haymow.  It was always a thrill to find a nest of baby kittens and watch them grow up.

      One day my friends and I were prowling the woods and we came across a crows nest.  While one of the boys fended off the mother crow, we robbed her nest of three little crows.  They were feathered out and about ready to leave the nest.  Each one of us took one home.  With Grandpa's help, I built a box cage and put Squawky inside.  He soon became very vocal and would demand to be fed any time someone came close.  Soon he was flying and could hunt for his own food.  He roosted in the box each night, but flew about during the day.  He became the world's worst thief.  Any time we missed something we would look in Squawky's box and usually find it.  I had him nearly all summer, but when fall came, he deserted me for a flock of crows that gathered in the grove of trees nearby.

      The next summer one of my friends raided a squirrel's nest and came away with four baby squirrels.  They were also about ready to leave the nest.  He gave me one of them and for nearly two years it became my favorite pet.  When he was little, I could handle him with no problem.  However, as he grew bigger he didn't like to be handled, and would let me know that with his sharp teeth.  His favorite sleeping place was in my overall pocket.  When he awoke, he would climb on my shoulder and demand to be fed.  I usually carried something for him to eat in the other pocket.  He soon learned where the food was and would transfer from one pocket to the other in record time.  Smokey, the squirrel, loved sweets and the day Grandpa caught him stealing sweet rolls from the table, he was banished from the house.  However, it didn't take him long to gnaw a hole in the bottom of the screen door and he was back inside again.  During the summer, Grandma would set out fly poison in the washhouse.  It was a strip of black paper that contained sugar and some sort of poison.  Smokey liked it really well and that was the end of Smokey.

      Jiggs was another dog I claimed.  Actually he belonged to an uncle, but he was with us for most of his life.  He was part bulldog and part something else.  He was a medium-sized dog and was very muscular.  He could stand flat-footed and clear the five foot fence around the yard.  He was a fine hunter and used his eyesight to spot squirrels in the trees.  When he spotted one he would run around the tree barking, causing the squirrel to slide around the tree so I could get a shot at it with my trusty .22 rifle.

      For my birthday one year, my grandparents gave me a purebred English Shepherd female.  I named her Queenie and she was something special.  Before she was six months old, I would take her to the pasture each evening to bring in the milk cows.  Before long, I could pick up the milk buckets and head for the barn.  By the time I arrived at the barn, Queenie was coming down the lane with the milk cows.  I mated her with a neighbor's English Shepherd and she raised several litters of puppies.  There was a ready market for good stock dogs in those days and at one time I considered getting into the dog raising business.  Queenie accidentally got a dose of poison put out to control coyotes.  She didn't die, but lost her eyesight.

      Another time I captured an all-white pigeon and made a pet out of him.  He followed me nearly everywhere, even to school.  But he liked to roost on a beam above our coat rack; the teacher said he had to go.

      On several other occasions I would capture rabbits, both cottontails and jackrabbits.  I found I could raise jackrabbits to maturity, but not cottontails.  They always died.

      Over the years there were other pets of one kind or another and I enjoyed and loved them all.  However, all good things must end; so did the pets.

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