Country kids make pets of most every animal that follows them home – or they manage to capture.
The first pet I remember other than the usual dogs and cats was a chicken. We weren’t always really good at coming up with names, but everybody always had one. The chicken’s name was Peep.
Peep started life in a red wagon in our living room ‘cuz it was cold outside. We gave her fresh oats and searched the yard for little pieces of gravel for her craw. When the weather warmed we caught grasshoppers and bugs for her. She became a fine hen. The only problem – she didn’t know she was a chicken, so when we put her in the chicken house she hid in the corner. Chickens are mean, you know, and they almost pecked her to death before we came to her rescue.
A baby lamb got similarly confused. We bottle fed and played with her. She learned when feeding time was and met us at the back door. After weaning age she lived in the corrals with the milk pen calf until a rancher friend took her. He ran both cattle and sheep in the same pasture. Little Josie stayed with the cattle – not the sheep. Never met a ram. Never had any babies.
The only pet we actually bought at a store was a parakeet. He was light blue with white wings and his name was Frosty. He never talked like they said he would, but we liked him, anyway. He loved to ride on my shoulder and give me kisses. We had to be sure the cat was not around anytime he was out of his cage, though, because she hungrily watched him as he sang and played in that cage.
A squirrel we named Chester the Chickaree was our most fun pet. He ate most anything offered, and liked to play. His moves were – sudden. The family cat was afraid of him because she couldn’t keep up. He’d run over the top of her then suddenly stop, nose wiggling as if to say “You can’t catch me, kitty.” He was right. She couldn’t.
When I played the piano he loved to run up my pants leg. He’d get stuck at the knee of course, but he didn’t savvy running “down” the leg. The only way to coax him out was to lie down in the floor and hold my leg up in the air. He’d appear on my foot, look around and take off looking for something else to climb.
We built a little cage for him, but one day while we were gone to town he chewed his way out of it and drowned in a toilet. We had a formal funeral for poor Chester.
Still, the best pets of all were dogs. When we asked our little mutt named Bevo, “Would you rather be a Texan or a dead dog?” he’d flop on the ground and lift all four feet up in the air. Our Texas friends were good sports about it.
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.