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Share Your House With a Pet: Advice from an Expert

I love animals. Always have. As a kid, I had a pet cocker spaniel named Frisky. He was a great dog. He could sit up and beg and roll over and play dead. When he would sit up and beg, he could always catch whatever treat he was begging for. He never missed. One day we had some raw oysters that were being prepared for oyster stew. Since my father and I liked raw oysters, we felt sure Frisky would too. I held one up and said, “Sit.” Frisky sat. I tossed him the oyster. He caught it and swallowed it in one swell foop. Did you know that an oyster could come back up faster than it went down? It doesn’t even stop at the mouth. It can become a projectile hurled approximately 6 feet across the floor. My father and I revised our opinion of Frisky’s fondness for oysters and Frisky revised his opinion of me. From that time forward there was a certain amount of distrust and even animosity for me. You could see it in his eyes and in the way he bit me at every opportunity.

I had other pets as well—mostly reptiles and amphibians which I caught in the woods and along the edge of streams and ponds of my native southeastern Ohio. One of my favorites was a black rat snake (elaphe obsoleta obsoleta)* which I found in the yard when I was 12 years old. The snake was about 5 feet long and very gentle. He, unlike Frisky, never tried to bite and he didn’t seem to mind being handled. In fact, he seemed to like human warmth. I named him Frank. He ate rats and mice.

Although Frank was not my constant companion, I did learn some valuable lessons with his help. I learned, for instance, that many adults would behave in a very peculiar way when confronted with a 5-foot long snake even though he was a friendly snake. Some people would make loud noises while others would make little whimpering sounds while trying to climb behind the sofa, even when the sofa was pushed right up against the wall. Some will make no sound at all, but appeared to have great difficulty breathing. This was particularly true when Frank was presented as a surprise—like, “Close your eyes. I’ve got a surprise for you.” As a kid I rather enjoyed this power I had to make adults do funny things. However, as I matured, I realized that things that were that were funny as a kid were actually still funny as an adult. I never outgrew my fascination with snakes.

Among the other pets I’ve enjoyed are raccoons, skunks (descented of course), groundhogs (which do not make very good pets), ducks, geese, cats, turtles, an owl, a scorpion, a parrot, and more dogs.

All the dogs that have lived at my house lately are German Shepherd Dogs. The two that live with me now are Sally and her grandmother Chloe. Chloe is 11 years and doesn’t get around as fast as she once did. She is still loveable and a great guest greeter. Chloe’s standard greeting involves placing her head just below crotch level and raising it with a sharp upward jerk. She feels this a good way to get acquainted with newcomers. Most guys respond to this greeting by putting their knees firmly together and saying, “Whoa,” in a very high voice. Women’s responses are variable. Concheta, a somewhat large woman said it best, “I like it when your dog gets fresh with me.” She was a frequent visitor.

Sally is three years old, very big, very strong, and very playful. You have heard of dogs whose bark is worse than their bite? Sally’s bite is definitely worse. She sleeps under the bushes beside the front porch. That way she can keep track of who’s coming and going. She likes to play with visitors. One of her favorite games is to wait until someone gets on the porch and play “I’ll bet you can’t get off”. I’ll tell you about an actual game played with two nice religious young men, Fred and George, who had come to the house, uninvited, out of great concern for my deplorable spiritual condition. Sally let them get all the way up on the porch, then leapt out the bushes, teeth bared and barking like there’s no tomorrow. The nice young men saw considerable merit in disregarding the condition of my soul and leaving at the earliest possible time. Leaving via their arrival route was not an option. That’s where Sally was. George jumped over the porch railing into a convenient tree. The convenience of the tree had to do with its proximity to the porch roof, which is where I found him when I got home.

Fred figured he could make it to the car while Sally was trying to climb the tree to get to George. He might have done it if he hadn’t tripped over Dooley, the cat, who was watching the proceedings with great interest. I arrived home only moments later to find Sally firmly attached to Fred’s butt. Fred was actually crying and George was shouting from the housetop that I should go to the very place he had come to save me from and I should take that dog with me.

· The snake looked the same in either English or Latin