Monday, April 13, 2009


by Gina Sestak

Well, it's official. The First Family has finally acquired a dog.

It took the Obamas awhile to get around to choosing Bo and, in the end, they got their pet the way most of us do -- because somebody (Ted Kennedy) gave them a dog.

Have you ever actually gone out and acquired a particular type of animal after mulling the options for months? I haven't. Pets have always come to me by other means.

This was also true of the cats and dogs my family had when I was a child. My father found our first cat, Tinkerbelle. This was during one of his layoffs from Westinghouse, when he was working nights as a janitor at Churchhill Valley Country Club. She was a young stray who came scrounging for food at the kitchen door, so he brought her home.

The two cats I have now originally came to my mother as strays. She took them in. When she died, I got them -- kind of an inheritance, the kind that costs money (food, vet bills, etc.).
Dusty has been the most trouble by far. He came to live with me first, while my mother was still alive. He was a nasty, hostile cat, a cat who bit and yowled constantly. I responded with a threat -- every time he meowed, I would take it to mean, "Pet me," and I would hold him down and pet him at least 100 strokes. Lo and behold, he did mean, "Pet me!" He started to act friendly and would even purr, something my mother claimed he never did.
Then he broke a hole through a weak spot in my basement door and escaped. He was gone for weeks. My mother would ask, "How's Dusty?" and I would lie and say, "He's fine." He finally got picked up by animal control, apparently heading for her house, and I had to bail him out.
Taffy was the nice one. He stayed at my mother's home while she was hospitalized, awaiting her return. My brother Joe, with his wife and daughter, who lived a few blocks from my mother, would go over every day to check on her house and feed Taffy. I brought him to my house after my mother died.

He purrs and acts friendly, but I suspect he sees me as the monster who kidnapped him and took him from his real home. They both do.
Anyway, how did you get your pets? Does anybody out there have a Portuguese water dog? Have you ever used your pet as a character in your writing? I used Dusty for a recent class assignment at Pittsburgh Filmmakers -- it was a "moving stills" project, which means that I had to take a series of still photos, then show them in sequence as a movie. Dusty Seeks Enlightenment features Dusty with various religious items -- from a rosary to Kokopele, angels to goddess statues. It came out rather weird.


Annette said...

Skye is the first cat I ever picked out. And even so, she really picked me. I was grieving the loss of my sweet Sammie cat to cancer and wandered into the Humane Society display at Pets Mart. I was about to leave when this little gray fur puff reached a paw through the bars at me as if to say "Hey! Don't leave! Look at me!" I did and she came home with me shortly thereafter. We rescued each other.

But every other cat I've owned had been a stray who came up to me and said "I'm living here now." Or they were born on our farm from mama kitties who had been strays.

martha reed said...

Gina, hi. My two dogs, Forbes and Murray, picked me.

I was only supposed to be house-sitting for Mom and puppies but when I stepped into the back bedroom where the puppies were, nine of the eleven (!) ran under the bed and hid. Two stood their ground at about a pound a piece, defending their home against a stranger. Guess which two came home with me ten weeks later...

Joyce said...

My first cat, Shadow, showed up in the yard one day and we fed her. We figured we'd let her stay in the garage. Right. A week later, she'd taken over the whole house. More than ten years later, she disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived.

We got Layla when Josh was learning how to drive. Jerry took him out, they ended up at the pet store, and came home with a kitten. Shadow hated her. Shadow was like the cranky grandmother to Layla's rambunctious toddler.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

All of our pets have been researched and chosen. Knowing my personality, that doesn't surprise me.

Our last pet, Fraiser, was well researched and the breed of Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier was recommended by a friend of mine who is a veteranarian. And he lived up to his breeding. We still miss him.

Jennie Bentley said...

I've only ever had hand-me-down pets. Currently, a second-hand dog (we actually looked for one, and found her on Craigslist; the other two I've had were bona fide strays); a parakeet (someone didn't want to keep her and dumped her on a friend of mine, along with a cockatoo; my friend kept the cockatoo and gave me the parakeet); a goldfish my son won in a ringtoss at a carnival three years ago; and the most recent additions, two African dwarf frogs brought home from school. I've owned two kittens at different times, for three weeks each; that's when the sneezing got so bad I couldn't handle it anymore, and we found them other homes. Turns out I'm horribly allergic to cats. It makes writing the DIY books fun, since I have no cat-experience to draw on for Jemmy and Inky. My other writing doesn't tend to come with pets. Guess I don't really like to write about them that much. Or maybe I just choose characters who wouldn't naturally own pets. Single women with no strings who can go anywhere at any time...

Annette said...

I've memorialized many of my cats and horses in my writing. It's one way I can still keep them close to my heart and soul even though they've gone on to the Rainbow Bridge.

SZ said...

I believe this breed was picked for allergies of the Obamas. I would have expected shelters with this breed had been sending notes.

I foster ferals and every other month work with them at the SPCA where volunteers gather to fix trapped cats from feral colonies. The first time I worked there, 220 cats came through.

I am one of those that wished the Obamas would have taken the time to find their purebred from a shelter. Approximately 25% of pets in shelters are purebreds.

Patg said...

The very first animal, a dog, I ever owned was after I got married. And, yes, we did do the mulling and brain racking thing. That got us a pug, a breed I am very fond of. However, all our cats came from the aminal shelter or from friends.
I miss them all.