“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” ~Orhan Pamuk, My name is Red
I have a million pet stories. Probably because I’ve had a million
pets growing up, which has continued into my adulthood. My mother and
Aunt Peggy say it’s because there is an animal fairy that shuttles
them my way. Growing up, my house was full of the requisite cats and dogs,
as well as hamsters, guinea pigs and ducks. We also had the random raccoon,
squirrel and baby bird that needed a little rest and recovery before being
sent back out in the wild. Mom and I even convalesced a seagull with a
broken wing that we found on East Beach. Seymour the Seagull was the most
unappreciative animal I’d ever had. Too bad there isn’t any
footage of me at six years old, running for my life while being chased
around a dog kennel by that cantankerous seagull. One of my favorite stories
is how I acquired our neurotic Beagle, Scout (much to the chagrin of my wife).
I was on an annual Boy Scout kayak trip down the Satilla River with my
son. Now in its essence, the boiled down version of this tale, we were
suppose to place our kayaks upstream, float down the river during the
day, find a sandbar, camp, wake-up and kayak down to the pick-up point
the following day. In actuality, it was like herding cats down a river
on unstable flotation devices. Boys were turned around, stuck in trees,
ramming each other, flipping kayaks, sinking kayaks and jumping off bluffs
onto other’s kayaks. It was the South Georgia version of
Lord of the Flies. The experienced troop leaders knew that it would degrade into chaos,
so they had a system where one adult stayed at the front of the pack,
a group remained in the middle, and I acted as a sweeper in the back.
No one got past the sweeper. I spent most of the time dredging up sunken
boats and equipment.
As I floated down the river, doing my best to keep the chaos in front of
me, I noticed a Beagle with an orange hunting collar wandering down the
river bluff at the same pace as my kayak. I watched him for a while then
forgot about him during periods of frenzied activity, rescuing waterlogged
scouts. After about ten miles or more, we found a habitable sand bar on
the west side of the river as our overnight campout. While setting up
my hammock, a blaze of orange caught my eye, and there was the same Beagle,
sitting on the far bank. I didn’t really pay it much thought since
I was too occupied with making sure everyone had set up their tent or
hammock and wasn’t trying to blow up stuff in the fire.
The next morning, we cleaned up the campsite and started to head downstream.
I gave the campsite the final once over and began my duties as kayak sweeper.
As I paddled into the middle of the river, I looked over to the far bank,
and that same Beagle stared back at me.
Okay, fine, I thought.
I’ll just take a look at him to make sure he is okay.
I tied my kayak to a cypress root and hauled up the side of the bank where
he waited patiently for me. As I approached, he timidly laid on his side.
It was then I noticed that his front paw was swollen, and his coat was
pock marked with mange and ticks. Except for the thump-thump of his tail,
he looked dead. So I grabbed him and slid down the bank. For the next
few miles, he laid down on the bow and slept. Upon returning to civilization,
he spent a few days at the vet clinic for dehydration and treatment of
his broken wrist and mange. Now, he’s a full-fledged member of the
family. Scout, of course I named him Scout, has fit in with the rest of
the menagerie which includes the four boys, four dogs and three cats.
He has taken a liking to our fat rescue Lab, Maggie. They sit on the back
porch, barking and baying at buzzards that roost in the trees.
Scout’s a good dog, and he means well. When I come home from work,
I’ll pull my truck up in the front. Before I even open the door,
I’m approached by three of my animals. Scout, who usually appears
from under a bush with his tail wagging a million miles an hour, stops
for a quick scratch behind the ears before continuing a search for moles.
Then there is my big cat, Mosby, who typically suns himself on the front
railing. He purrs so loudly that, I kid you not, I can hear him when I
get out of my car. And finally Havoc, my huge male Golden Retriever that
sleeps on the front porch. He usually raises an eyebrow and gives a little
wag of his tail as if to say, “How was your day today? Why don’t
you take a seat right here and tell me about it. You can also scratch
my head while you’re at it.”
There are many benefits of owning a pet. Whether you are at your best or
feeling your absolute worst, pets always remain right by your side for
comfort and support.
Here are a few benefits of having a pet:
Relieves Stress: Just spending a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure
while increasing the level of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals
that play roles in staying calm.
Encourages Physical Activity and Being Outdoors: Pets, especially dogs, encourage physical activity by needing time outside.
By simply walking a dog, this can have the added benefit of losing weight
and reducing stress that can boost the immune system.
Boosts Heart Health: Probably as a result of increased physical activity, dog ownership may
reduce cardiovascular risk. This may also be associated with a lower risk
of obesity, lower blood pressure, less stress and lower cholesterol levels.
Fights Allergies: There is research that if a child is exposed early to animals that it may
strengthen the immune system and help children build immunity against
pet allergens and bacteria.
Promotes Social Interaction: As we get older, it becomes harder to get out and meet people. Dogs can
help bridge that gap as dog owners converse about their dogs and branch
out socially. Actually, there is good research that therapy dogs can help
children with autism communicate with other children more clearly and
Improves Emotional Health: Pets just make you feel better. Plenty of studies have shown that by administering
pet therapy, patients report a decrease in depressive symptoms, improved
perception of quality of life and better cognitive function.
Keeps Us Present: Pets keep us in the moment. They remind us to live in the moment because
it’s the only way they know how to live. Dogs might be pretty simple
animals, but they remind us to look around and enjoy the moment.
I thought about the topic of this blog recently when my wife and youngest
son found a litter of kittens barely two weeks old. For the next three
weeks, we worked around the clock, bottle feeding and cleaning just like
a mama cat. Of the six kittens, we found a home for five. The last one,
Tiny, was the runt who tried to die on us a few times, but using an eye
dropper with formula and corn syrup, we kept her alive. Now she’s
a rambunctious, healthy kitten who believes she rules the roost. Of the
others, they all went to loving homes. As each family came to pick up
their kitten, I noticed how every family member lit up with a smile the
moment they saw the kittens. That’s what pets do. They make you
happy by providing unconditional love regardless of what type of mood
you are in. If you are interested in getting an animal, the
Humane Society of South Coastal Georgia and
Glynn County Animal Control are good places to start.
I’m going to end with a thank you to all the animals that have been
a part of my life. In some way, they were all special:
Folly, Havoc, Mosby, Truett, Tiny, Maggie, Scout, Rosie, Speedy, Orca,
Percy, Hominy, Wyllie, Tulip, Tex, Pogo, Lester, Bumpus, Libby, Holly
Bear, Buck, Scarlett, Pretty Boy, Tiki, Lucky Dog, Rufus, Daisy, Houdini,
Ziggy, Sunny, Sylvester.