“Let me see that tiny one,” I said. The small black puppies were in the back of a rusty farm pickup truck, parked at the exit of our local flea market in Jacksonville, NC with a sign that read Free Puppies. I picked her up and held her silky little body to the side of my neck. I had no intentions of taking her home until someone else showed interest. She was the size of a can of Campbells soup.
I took the free dog who was no longer an orphan, held her on my lap in the car, then went to Kmart. I snuck her into the store in my purse and got everything to care for her. Tyler, who was four at the time, was so excited. It was 1996. We had her for 16 glorious years. She was the first in a long line of non-human family members with the last name Adams.
Today, 27 of us coexist on this property in North Carolina. The number sounds high unless it is divided into groups. There are four humans, three cats, three dogs, a bearded dragon, Ringo, and sixteen chickens. There are many moving parts, but without them we’d be a little more sad.
I grew up with dogs and cats. It was one of the first things that connected me and Roger. He was a big animal lover and we both knew we’d want to have them live with us. He was loving and more patient than I was with them, especially Annie who escaped out the front door too many times and ate recliners for brunch. The border collie in her was her guide.
During our family’s younger years, Annie had friends including cats. China, we got the day before Sammy was born and Gracie was the neighborhood stray on Tarawa Terrace base housing who we officially adopted. Annie needed an ally, so we got Yankee, our big yellow German Shepherd after we bought our Shamrock Drive house in 2002, and Wally just came to our house one day. Wally didn’t like dogs. It’s like our animals are now in two groups, before Roger passed and after. Gracie was the last one who knew him. She lived until she was 16.
After we lost Roger, we rescued Zoeeee, my girl who I still can’t really talk about and check my emotions simultaneously. She was a feisty, loving shepherd with a drink-crashing tail, a reader of my moods, and the most loyal friend I’ve ever had.
“Where’s Zoeeee?” I’ve said many times.
“She’s right next to you,” a son would say. It became a running joke. I just never saw her in my peripheral because she was so close to me. Now, she’s my spirit in the sky.
Six mammals live with us now. We have Gisele, Tyler’s girl and my BFF, who joined our family due to wine and impulse. During a hurricane in 2012, someone said there was a shepherd who needed a home, so I drove to get Gronk who is now attached to Sammy. His mama was a white German shepherd. I got David when I turned 40. He’s another shepherd who needs a lot of attention, and Gary the girl, a tuxedo cat, came to live with us on Mother’s Day 2011. Salad, yes, Salad, another tuxedo, just came to the house one day. I thought he was a girl and wanted to name him Delilah, but autocorrect, for some reason, changed it to Salad. We kept it. We recently rescued T’Challa, a sleek all black female who we call Face Cat. She loves human noses and eyes. We’re trying to fix that.
Mammals aren’t the only creatures who bring us joy. Our chickens are all named, but I will spare you for now. We came here with 16, lost four since we’ve been here, and have four others who will be integrated on Sunday with their new flocks. We’ve learned to accept that chickens pass away for sometimes no reason, but we haven’t quite learned how to remove our love from them. What’s worse, is they mourn each other. One day almost four years ago in Massachusetts, I was about to eat the most gorgeous plate of chicken nachos when I learned one of my chickens had passed. I haven’t eaten chicken since.
We’ve cleaned up some gross stuff in our lives, more than most probably, and we don’t wear black much. I still can’t eat food in the presence of Face Cat and we don’t leave food out on the counter, ever. Just leaving for a trip or even for the day takes planning and concern. We sweep and wash and trip and become annoyed and spend money on their special foods and fun toys, and we suffer when they pass.
But we laugh and we play and we watch them be so cute and we have company and protection and eggs. I’m a writer, but I have never been able to explain with words what they mean to us. I’m sure they love us, too, and when it’s our turn to be spirits in the sky, we won’t be lonely.