PETS by Jim Elliott (Article)
Jim Elliott and Joan Ann
Sitting watching my geriatric cat, Mr. Higgins, come to the end of a long and presumably happy life, I am driven to muse upon the varied and various pets with whom I have shared my life.
Old Higgins, the orange cat rescued from a Los Angeles pound so many years ago, has never seen fit to get on a first name basis even though, at twenty two or three, he has been around for almost a third of my life. He still enjoys his meals and treats ( and seems to enjoy even more rejecting my offerings when I fail to guess the flavour of the day.) He loves to lie in whatever patch of sunlight is available indoors or out, perhaps musing on his youthful days as a hunter. He bagged his last rabbit a year or so ago and has not had a chipmunk in years. (He cleaned out an entire chip monastery during several years in Atlanta.) He did rally a month ago to kill and eat two really rapid lizards in South Carolina, showing an amazing turn of speed in one so old.
Higgins has not been the only cat, just the latest and longest-lasting. There have been dogs as well; Boxers and Labs and various mixtures as well as more exotic “companion" animals, and even birds. My son and I were recently discussing the case of an autistic child who had been taught to talk by the repetitious conversation of a parrot. We simultaneously realized that if it had been one of the parrots from our Colombian menagerie, the kid could have gone straight from Autism to Tourette’s. In our parrot-owning days, my children were just at the right age to pass on every dirty word they knew in either English or Spanish. The birds also seemed to have an avian sense of humour, delighting in imitating the maid’s voice and calling the dogs to supper about an hour early, when they were already hungry but nothing was prepared. The dogs fell for it every time, and the parrots fell about laughing.
Colombia was undoubtedly the high or low point of our Animal Kingdom. I maintain to this day that no one can call himself a traveller unless he has arrived at Miami airport at two AM with a wife, three kids, three dogs, two parrots and a monkey....and no place for anyone to stay. The then-President of Bolivia had decided to pay a State Visit to Colombia, closing the airport for four hours on the date of our scheduled departure, putting all our careful hands into a cocked hat, or considering the Colombian Honour Guard we shared with the Bolivian, a spiked shako. The kennel we had arranged to meet us had given up long since. We were forced to leave the parrots in Miami Airport and took off with the rest in a rental car following a taxi with the rest of the tribe most of the luggage, and a Cuban driver. We proceeded to discover just how inflexible Miami’s motel owners could be on their “no pets” policy. At some point the cab-driver turned off his meter, he was having too much fun talking to the kids to charge us full fare.
Sam, the monkey, was quite a conversation piece in Ottawa, although the parrots had a great deal more to say. Some of our then neighbours are still unwelcome in Spanish-speaking lands because we told them that what the parrots were shrieking from the tree-tops at dawn was the usual polite greeting in Latin America.
Well, I could go on, perhaps there’s another column or two in some of the dog-and-monkey stories accumulated over the years. I think there were a total of nine dogs, never more than three at a time, except of course for brief periods after a litter of pups was born. Now I am reduced to one old cat, the latest, and perhaps the last in a long, long line of companion animals.
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