Animals were not highly valued in our home.
Goldfish came…and went, usually by way of the toilet. Like most kids, we filled our share of Mason jars with fuzzy black caterpillars, none of which turned into butterflies. But those animals were more science experiments than actual pets.
Once, however, I won a pet turtle at the El Centro School Carnival. As sole owner, I was responsible for feeding and caring for the little critter, but I failed miserably. I can’t even remember actually feeding it. Although he was fun to play with, I soon lost interest. Worse, I lost my turtle. He escaped, and we couldn’t find him for days. In fact, we never found him. Weeks later, one of Dad’s clients found him crawling across the living room floor.
What I lacked in animal expertise, my best friend Licia Rose more than made up for. Her house was a veritable menagerie of animals. Her family kept pets inside and out: a squawky green parakeet, a couple of hamsters, a bathtub full of catfish, rabbits, dozens of homing pigeons, and her beloved mixed terrier named Yogi. When her dog got lost or one of the pets died, I had a hard time relating to my friend's fear or sorrow. They were just pets, for goodness sake, not people! In her house, they lived by the saying, “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Not so in Tanner Manor.
We were flanked on two sides of by dog owners. On the Buena Vista side, the McDonalds owned a friendly pooch named Amy. She was frisky and fun, always ready to play toss-and-fetch, and occasionally downright useful. When we lost our wiffle balls in the ivy, Amy could always find them. But poor Amy had a personality complex. For reasons I still don’t understand, Mr. McDonald always called her “Mike” and seemed to bark at her more than she barked at him.
Other dogs were to be feared.
“The Rogers’ dog” (the only name we ever called it) was vicious. He lived in the house just below the alleyway lining our backyards, which meant every day after school we had to figure out how to sneak past him. We’d be several houses away, and that dog would start yapping, and, if he ever did spot us, he would go nuts trying to pull away from his leash to bite us. He seemed to bark all the time.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
One year, after much pleading, we youngest four children were finally given our shot at being pet owners. For Christmas, Mom and Dad gave us two rabbits, a black one and a white one, which we aptly named “Salt” and “Pepper.” I was just getting used to holding the squirmy things without worrying they would run away when, within a week or so, they were gone. One night that Rogers’ dog sneaked into our yard and ate our rabbits! Daken, feeling protective, cautioned me to not go outside and look at the damage, but I disregarded his warning. All that was left was an overturned water dish and a fur-spattered cage, proof of their violent death.
Before I was even born, Mom was decidedly opposed to dogs. She had long been nursing a grudge against Duke, a purebred Great Dane given to Dad in exchange for services. For a brief stint, this dog evidently reigned supreme at Tanner Manor and embittered Mom against all four-legged creatures.
I was too young to remember Duke with his high pedigree and voracious appetite, but Mom would not forget the time he gobbled up a dozen or more of her precious hamburger patties in one fell swoop. In Tanner Manor, we were casserole connoisseurs, rarely eating meat in its pure form, but on this rare occasion Mom had carefully formed individual hamburgers for each family member. Unfortunately, she made a tactical error by turning her back for just one moment. She berated Duke, but he had taken the prize regardless.
Mom had further proof that pets were a nuisance. In spite of early enthusiasm, none of the older siblings had been willing to take Duke out for walks. So, pregnant to boot, Mom would have to lope along behind him through Arroyo Seco Park. “I was almost nine months pregnant,” she complained, “and Duke was nearly as big as a horse!”
As far as I know, Kaye was the only animal lover in our family, and she looooved Duke. Too young to take him on proper walks but small enough to ride on his back, she would go around the neighborhood perched atop our Great Dane. Alarmed to see such a little girl trying to manage such big dog far from home, the neighbors called Mom so she could retrieve the two of them.
So, that’s how our family philosophy of pets evolved. We were led to believe the work of having pets far outweighed the fun.
I'm the twelfth of 13 children. I was born into a poor family living in a big house on top of a hill in South Pasadena, California. We called it Tanner Manor, and these are my stories of growing up there.