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TITLE: Pets Are Family Too
By Jim Oates

This is for pet lovers.
It is an excerpt from Wilma My Friend My Wife
On returning home from our honeymoon; it was back to work for both of us. Wilma to the day shift at Metropolitan Hospital and I went back to the steady night shift at General Motors. Since our dream home was still under construction, we had rented a secluded old farmhouse back a long laneway. The thought of Wilma being alone at night in that creepy old house gave us an uneasy feeling, even though it was only temporary. Not wanting Wilma to be alone at night while I was away, I decided to provide some company for her.

Patsy immediately came to mind. Patsy was a beautiful purebred black Labrador. She had been a loyal member of my family for several years. Although they loved her, my parents thought it would be a good idea if we took her home with us. Patsy immediately adapted to her new surrounding and her new mistress. We had her for a few more years until she expired from old age. At her passing, Wilma, the children and I were deeply saddened.

Over the years, we have always had a pet of some description. Our next dog was much smaller, a Beagle, whose name escapes me. Then there was Roger, who was probably a Brittany spaniel mix. We named him Roger after the fellow who gave him to us. Roger was startling white with beautiful brown ears; the brown from one ear overlapped an eye and he had a saddle shaped brown patch on his back with more on his tail. Roger being a hunting breed, loved to romp in the fields, thus he constantly had burrs tangled in his medium long hair. Wilma, not wanting to get burrs and hair all over the house, would spend a lot of time outside grooming him, combing every speck out. Thus, we always had a very neat well-groomed dog in the house.

His name became a problem; Wilma thought it embarrassing to stand out side calling, “Roger, Roger.” One of the neighbour boys had the same name and she was afraid the wrong Roger would answer her. It was time for a name change; we decided on Buddy but he would not answer to this new name. We then began calling him Buddy Roger. He got used to this and after a while, we dropped the Roger part. This worked fine and everybody was happy with it; it was now officially Buddy.

We have had many cats and kittens, a couple budgies and several dogs as part of our family over the years. The cats were supposed to be barn cats, the working variety, cats that earned their keep by keeping the rat and mouse population down. However, every now and again the girls would sneak a kitten or two into the house. They soon became part of the menagerie that was the Oates’ household. When there are pets in the house, there is feeding and from time to time a mess to clean up; this job usually fell to Mom.

I mentioned Tango in the story of Mom, Tango and the Rat. He was a big Lab cross breed. He was not as pretty as Patsy had been but was every bit an endearing member of the family. While coming home from a visit to the neighbours one day he was struck by a car on the road. He was bruised up a bit and this was a concern for all of us and we were relieved to find that he had no broken bones. He recovered from his injuries but as he aged, arthritis developed in his hindquarters. The time came when he was in so much pain; he had to be put him down. I think everyone cried that day, Wilma and the kids and it was especially hard for me as I was the one to pull the trigger and dig the grave.

It was always hard on Wilma when we lost a pet. Being a farm girl, she was well acquainted with of the process of life. There was always birth, death and burial; it was not easy but was accepted. Of course, when the children were little she would explain this as one of the facts of life.

Then came the empty nest syndrome, our children were gone, we were alone and between dogs. A family up the road had a litter of pups; their small terrier had a new family so I brought one home for Wilma. He was tiny with curly light brown hair. Wilma thought he was just the cutest thing, and for the first time she had a lap dog. She thought he looked like someone who should be called Larry, and Larry it was. He was always on her lap while sitting and watching television.

Larry, by now, half-grown, went exploring and crossed the road. A hydro truck came rumbling by; Larry panicked and made a dash for home. He never knew what hit him. He ran under the truck as it was passing and the rear wheels hit him. The driver stopped and apologetically informed us of what had happened. Thankfully, he died instantly. Wilma was heartbroken. It was as if she had lost a child.

After a grieving period, I surprised her on Mother’s Day with another puppy from the same dog who had had another litter. This one was the size of her hand when he came to join our family. She immediately fell in love with him and cuddling this little handful of fur against her cheek, announced, “I think I’ll call him Billy.”

Billy, now about a hand and a half in size, followed me out to the barn one morning as I was doing my chores. I lost track of him and he had found some rat poison that I had set out in a crawl space. On returning to the house I told Wilma that I had lost him for a while; we both wondered if he might have found the poison. Just to be on the safe side I called the animal clinic to inquire what to be on the look out for. I was told to watch for bleeding from the nose and mouth; if there were any signs we were to bring him in immediately.

I had just gotten off the phone when Wilma said, “He has a nose bleed.” Wasting no time, Wilma had wrapped him in a towel and we were off the Kingsville to the clinic. With that worried look that only a Mom can have, she cradled him, and spoke encouraging words to him all the way. Billy was very weak when we walked into the clinic and the doctor was ready for us when we arrived; he had prepared a large dose of Vitamin K, which he administered immediately. “If he survives the next couple of hours, he will have a good chance of making it,” he told us. We went home but called in a couple hours and the receptionist informed us that he had roused and would probably make it all right. The clinic called much later in the afternoon to tell us that we could come and pick him up.

I don’t think I have seen Wilma this happy since the time we brought Rob home from the hospital when he fractured his skull as a child.

Billy was special; he was always on her lap except when she was doing needlepoint. He was like her child, he refused to sit on my lap, he was Mommy’s boy. As he grew, it seemed as if his legs were too short for his body but he was fast. Although not a hunting breed, he thought he was, and spent a lot of time out in the hay field behind the barn. Because the grass was so high, he would stand up on his hind legs to see where he was, the same way bears do; but he was much smaller than a bear.

In the spring of the year, he would find rabbit nests and eat the babies. This provoked Wilma, to no end. She scolded him severely whenever she caught him at it or if she found rabbit fur in his teeth.

The worse time was the day we were to take him to the clinic for his yearly checkup and shots. He was out, and nowhere to be seen. He was on a hunt. We would be late for our appointment if he did not show up soon. After a few minutes of calling for him, he finally appeared and promptly threw up, right at Wilma’s feet, a mess of partly chewed bunnies. Yuk! What a mess that was; Wilma severely scolded him. He looked at her with those sad eyes, as if to say, “I couldn’t help it Mom, I had a tummy ache.” He thought the scolding was for throwing up. She wiped him off and just as she put him in the back seat of the van; he upchucked again. Another mess to clean up; Wilma’s patience was wearing thin by this time, and she gave him a sound slap along with another scolding. We arrived at the clinic a few minutes late for our appointment, she put his leash on him to allow him relieve himself before going into the office. You guessed it, he upchucked again. By this time, Wilma was livid; I am glad I was not the object of her wrath; she was so embarrassed.

As Billy got older he began to slow down, he was not fast enough to catch rabbits anymore although he would still chase them. His eyesight began to deteriorate and if a rabbit did not move, Billy would walk right on by. He settled into the role of just being a lap dog; although he did not know he was a dog; he was just Mom’s little boy.

As Wilma’s health began to deteriorate, she could not allow him to sit on her lap any longer. Billy would just sit at her feet gazing up at her not understanding why he could no longer enjoy his favourite spot. She tried to explain it to him but he just could not understand. He wanted to be held by her and she wanted to hold her little boy.

After Wilma’s passing, for the longest time, he continued to look for her. Whenever I came home, he would look at me and then run from room to room trying to find her. Other than the love I had for her; I believe he loved her the most.

Billy out-lived his Mom by three years. He died peacefully at the age of seventeen years and I buried him in Wilma’s flower garden.
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