My Mother’s Menagerie

This week I welcome a guest writer to my blog. When I was a child we were lucky to spend time on Stoney Lake in the Kawartha’s in Ontario. It was a chance to reconnect with other families after a school year and hang out with cousins.

Rachel Corbett’s family had a cottage quite close to my grandparents so on occasion the families would get together for a bonfire or a meal. Her siblings were similar in age to my family and cousins so it was a nice fit. Dogs were always part of the equation as both Grandmothers’ loved them, sometimes even bringing the dogs in their boats!

Rachel approached me after reading my blog and suggested being a guest author. I was delighted; the following is her story.

“Becky and I knew each other as children, though not well. Her grandmother and my mother were close friends on an Ontario lake where our families had cottages. That would be our only connection: but connection it was because her grandmother was never without a dog or dogs, and my mother was never without dogs, cats, rabbits, a skunk, chickens, a guinea pig or two, a box turtle and even a lovely chameleon lizard that lived in our living room curtains for a few years. Growing up with this collection of wild living things seemed, to me, the most natural thing in the world.

Becky asked if I might say a few things about how we managed all these creatures, and how they got along with dogs. Funny, I recall absolutely no conflict at all, between and among any of these animals. Possibly the dogs barked in initial puzzlement at the turtle, and the large birds might have eyed the guinea pigs with some subtle interest. But for as long as I can remember there were dogs at our feet, cats warming themselves on a window sill, guinea pigs making contented chirping noises in their aromatic wood chips, puppies in newspaper-filled boxes with breath that smelled like creamed corn, kittens in the back of bedroom closets mewing in their little voices, and at night the nocturnal scratchings of a skunk and a box turtle shuffling around on our hardwood floors.

My father was mildly allergic to things furry but this did not deter my mother from providing a safe haven for any creature that needed care. He liked animals too and made the best of it. My 10-year old sister came home one day with a large, injured raptor clutched in her scratched and bloody arms. Another day a mid-sized box turtle showed up near the pool in the back yard – box turtles don’t even like water so this was a mystery! Kittens, puppies and rabbits were routinely rescued from bad situations. A neighbour had a friend who had a friend who had a skunk that needed a loving home – could we help? This was Blossom, the most affectionate, perfect pet one could wish for, although she always had a slight lingering odour. My mother was known to have transported guinea pigs in her purse on an airplane once. Our local vet in the rural area where we lived soon learned about my mother’s kind heart and more abandoned dogs and cats came our way. All of them turned out to be loyal, long-living and uncomplicated pets.

I have especially fond memories of summers when were at the cottage, living on a self-contained island, where these animals could roam freely. The skunk and the two rabbits had a super time. Blossom would sleep in a child’s sleeping bag by day and roam the island by night, digging up grubs and catching crayfish off the rocky shores. The rabbits disappeared from sight, lived off blueberry leaves and the odd scrap of lettuce we would throw them, leaving their little round turds around for us to step over. The dogs snoozed on rocks and swam when it suited them. One day my mother went off to the nearby village with Becky’s grandmother to buy groceries and she returned with a Scottish Terrier puppy (we called her “Plum Pudding Poppycock” after the name of the little island that was our summer home).

The trips to the cottage were always an adventure because we lived for a time in the United States and had to cross the border. Invariably my father was smuggling cottage goods like generators, outboard motors, and life jackets but we never raised any suspicions because the station wagon was full of children, dogs, a cat or two and more exotic creatures like rabbits and the skunk. Once we had six new-born puppies stretched out on a blanket on one of the seats. The border guard would be so overwhelmed by this, plus the fact that my mother had veterinary papers for all of her charges, that it simply didn’t occur to him to look inside the trailer full of contraband.

I think being raised in a loving home full of gentle animals makes a child more inclined to grow up to be loving and gentle. I hope I am those things, and if I am I can thank my mother and her menagerie of lovely creatures.

I am sending this blogpost along to Becky just before Mother’s Day. This is so appropriate – my mother has now passed away and I believe she is having an endless and pleasant walk through her favourite pastures on Tibbetts Hill with her many animal companions that predeceased her, and one or two still living: Heart’s Delight, Bella, Molly and Juno, Penny and Patty, Bette and Bart, Poppy, Stretch, George, Millie, Maggie, Toby, Hazel, Boozer, Susie, Pippin and Jamie. Those were just the dogs, there were also the cats: Charlie, Patsy, Queenie, Percy, Alice and Lucy (a.k.a. Crazy and Stupid), Johnson and Evinrude, Claudette and Hugo, and Jethro. And the others – the rabbits Benjy and Bianca, the skunk Blossom, the raccoon Ricky, the injured hawk Rusty, the guinea pigs Homer and Daphne, the musk turtle Sydney and the box turtle with the club foot, Grandma Moses. By the way, the box turtle was named Moses for the longest time, until one day he laid an egg.”

Rachel Corbett lives in Niagara and is the founder of the Sport Law & Strategy Group,

Rachel Corbett

About dogstwentyfourseven

Becky White is a dog walker.She and her husband live in Toronto with their two daughters.Becky has been a dog lover all of her life and feels now is the right time to share her stories, experiences and adventures!
This entry was posted in Adding a Second Dog to Your Home, Care of the dog, Dogs and Other Family Pets, Rescue Dog, Two different dogs in a home, Your Dog Gene and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to My Mother’s Menagerie

  1. Jennifer Brown says:

    Very nice piece Rachel. I remember being so excited going to Plum Pudding. It was one of the first times I met your family. I was going to meet Blossom. When we got there, we could not rouse the exotic creature from under the cottage. Bit disappointing. Your mother sat in an adirondock chair up on porch in her wonder bra and an old straw hat. She looked very relaxed. I didn’t know your mother had died. I am sorry to hear that. She comes alive in your story. I will read this to Ken tomorrow.

  2. Cherie says:

    So nice to be transported to another magical time and place! Sounds like a wonderful childhood full of chrished memories – people, places and animals that touch the soul. Thanks for sharing with those of us who were not there with you xo

  3. Patti says:

    If anyone ever thought that animals are a bother, they need to read this lovely story. So many wonderful animal souls lived a great life thanks to this family. And Yes, I do believe that animals make us more compassionate, caring and able to love the differences in everyone we encounter.
    Great story.

  4. Leslie Smith says:

    A lovely piece — especially that bit about puppy breath smelling like creamed corn. -Leslie Smith

  5. anxiety says:

    This publication has inspired me to start working on my own blog

  6. Jane says:

    What a fantastic piece! You were very fortunate to grow up this way. Your story has triggered a memory … I remember my mother once rescuing a duck by the side of the road who had been hit by a car. She brought it home and it died in her arms a while later, and she buried it in our back yard. I had forgotten all about this until now. Thanks for stirring it up!

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