Long before rescue cats and dogs became vogue, the Strange family was doing its fair share to ensure full stomachs for any strays that happened to cross our threshold or beg for food at the front door. This included humans as well as cats and dogs. It rarely mattered how much food or money we possessed at the time, there was always room for one more-at the table, on the floor, in the bed.
We began our family menagerie with a pet parakeet of multiple shades of blues, greens and yellows. Tweety Bird, as I remember, resided in the kitchen in a plain square cage that housed a small perch and swing, a mirror, a small glass tube that offered daily hydration, a bowl for seed and an oval-shaped piece of cuttlebone that provided additional nutrition. The floor of the cage was covered in last week’s newspapers, positioning the Strange family as early adopters of recycling. Tweety tweeted on a regular basis with his simple “good morning” and other cocktail conversation.
Daddy carefully covered the cage each night to quiet Tweety’s verbalizations and uncovered it each morning with his first cup of coffee. We eventually added other pets to our family and parakeets became extinct in our home. Goldfish, painted turtles and dyed baby chicks periodically arrived, but it was the cats and dogs we repeatedly gravitated towards.
Our first dog was a beautiful, pedigreed, red cocker spaniel, named Ginger. We planned to breed her when the time came, but in the meantime, she was small enough to reside indoors with two children and two adults. Ginger traveled freely outdoors and ran through the neighborhood without restriction or complaints from others. Apparently, no leash law was in effect at the time and as long as a dog sported a collar with tags, none of the neighbors worried about the possibility of dog bites or rabies. At night, she stayed in the house, even though she had her very own doghouse in the backyard. Although the theft of a pedigreed dog was not uncommon in those days, I don’t believe the possibility of being stolen was the only reason she remained indoors.
Not long into her existence and on one of her carefree romps, a man traveling down our street, hit her as she ran in front of his car. He had the decency to stop and find her owners. Because of that kindness, Ginger survived the injury, but the accident did not leave her unscathed. Her rear back leg was shattered and the only way to ensure future mobility was to replace the bone with a metal pin. Forever after that, Ginger literally ran stiff-legged, just like Chester Good in the most popular television show of the times, Gunsmoke. This disability, while inconvenient, did not interfere with her ability to do anything, including breed, as she delivered several litters of pedigreed and non-pedigreed puppies in her lifetime. It was on those carefree romps through the neighborhood that occasionally found her “in the family way.”
Regardless of the father’s status on the pedigreed spectrum, when it was time for the puppies to arrive, we made certain she stayed indoors. We moved her into the small utility room that housed the washer and dryer, and made a bed for her out of blankets, with her favorite toys close by.
As small children, Sissy and I and waited anxiously for the puppies to arrive, peeking into the utility room to check on her throughout her labor. Not really understanding the mechanics of a pregnancy, labor or delivery, we were rewarded nonetheless, by witnessing the birth of her puppies, with accompanying “Ahs” and sometimes an “Ow!” as the slightly bloodied creatures arrived. Weighing about half a pound, the sleek and tiny puppies, with eyes closed, wriggled on, under and over each other as they navigated their way to Ginger’s teats. Sometimes we were present for the arrival of the small creatures and at other times, our parents awakened us with the news that Ginger had delivered her puppies in the night.
Copper, black and white spotted, ebony black or a blonde tan, we were always surprised and amazed by the variety of colors represented in her litters. Occasionally, a puppy would not survive, and after a period of tears, we ceremoniously placed the small creature in a shoebox and buried it carefully in the backyard, marking its grave with a cross made of two sticks, bound together by twine.
The year Ginger was scheduled to deliver near the July 4th holiday, Daddy kept a close eye on her and carefully guarded her during that entire evening. Each year the sounds and lights of the fireworks boomed across the sky above the cornfield separating our backyard from the state mental hospital, where the fireworks were launched. From previous years, Daddy knew the noise accompanying the light show frightened her, as she shivered and cowered in response to the booming blasts of the gunpowder-laden fireworks. He did not want any unforeseen accidents to occur if she went into labor, and accidentally crushed one of her newborn pups.
Years later after Ginger had died; George came into our world as our first rescue dog. Prior to that, we had rescued our fair share of stray cats, but never a dog. My friend David found George scavenging for food at a local McDonald’s and brought him to me. Another boy brought me a carp once, so I don’t know if the bearing of animal gifts was pre-adolescent foreplay or if these boys knew my family was a sucker for an animal in need. The carp didn’t live long, but George remained with us for years. Truly a mutt, he was one of the best dogs we ever rescued.
As time went by and we left home for college and our own lives, Mother and Daddy returned to the preferred Spaniel breed they loved and brought Oliver Strange home. He was a beautiful brown and white Springer Spaniel. Spoiled rotten, he had full run and reign of the house. At times, I jealously thought he received more attention than the rest of us, but after all, we were gone and he was there, filling a void for the empty nesters. Dublin and Lady followed in Oliver’s paw prints and both were as completely spoiled as his or her predecessor.
I cannot remember all of the pets over the years, or even what happened to each of them. Some were buried in our back yard, some disappeared and some visited the vet and never came home. What I do know is that love comes in many shapes and sizes, colors and temperaments. Sometimes love barks or mews and sometimes love makes no sounds. Mother and Daddy taught us that in how to care for those less fortunate than us, and how to protect and support those who cannot do so for themselves.
I look at my family now and this is what I see. My two cats, Belle and Sebastian, named after an obscure rock band, rescued at birth and deposited on my doorstep when Blakey went to New York. Then there is Gabby, a small loving dog, rescued from a shelter by Sissy’s family. MJ the black cat, rescued by my nephew in Texas, who is so glad to have a home, even though she now has to share her abode with the new puppy, Hank. Chee-Chee, a mixed breed cat rescued from an ignoble situation, malnourished and abused, who is now pampered and cherished by Blakey. Parti Strange, who was abandoned in Arizona and rescued by Yordy and her husband, to join their beloved Springers – Indiana and Maddie-who co-habitate very nicely with Bowie, the cat. The famous racing Daschunds of Indiana, Duke, Duchess and Reggie-adored by B.Q. and his wife. And Elvis has not left the family. Seems he is still alive and well with B.Q. and the daschunds, where he has accepted that it’s “A Dog’s Life”. And last, but not least, Bentley and Daphne-two Chihuahuas-living large in Indianapolis. From Tweety Bird to this-sixteen Strange pets in all!
Love abounds in our homes-then, now and hopefully forever. And, for that homeless, abused or neglected cat or dog,-I would imagine there might be room for one more-on the floor, in the bed, in a back yard, on a porch….. Remember those less fortunate and rescue please.