Humans and animals have had relationships for a very long time, about 19,000 years. What pulls us together? What makes it binding? Something mutually beneficial must be happening. I count myself blessed that I have experienced some enriching cross-species relationships.
What holds these relationships together? At least part of the answer is the development of emotional ties between the two species representatives. In their own way, each participant finds many benefits—companionship, affection, excitement, comfort—and all are binding factors. With love I think of my beloved animal friends, starting with a sheep.
“A sheep?” I hear someone exclaim.
“Yes, a sheep. Let me introduce you to . . . Peggy, the only sheep I ever knew.”
We did not raise sheep on our farm, but a friend of Dad’s did, and gave him a newborn lamb. Her mother had died, and none of the other ewes would accept the orphan. Our family welcomed her in. We took turns bottle feeding Peggy, and she bonded with her new family, happily and completely. As far as she was concerned, she was a human too.
Fast forward and meet a full-sized young sheep. Just as humans have different personalities, so do animals, and Peggy certainly had hers: happy-go-lucky, strong-willed, full of fun and mischief, a loyal friend, and something of a troublemaker. We were forever trying to get her to do something, or to stop doing something!
My sister Doris and I often sat on the steps of our little back porch. Peggy wanted to do so also. To her chagrin she always slid off. She had to settle for sitting on the wooden sidewalk at the bottom of the steps. Mother sometimes gave us jelly beans as a treat. Peggy begged for some, and we obliged. Then we were convulsed with laughter watching her trying to chew them. A sheep’s mouth is designed to crop and eat grass, not candy! Peggy’s persistence and stubborn efforts enabled her to get them down.
Inevitably, as she grew older, her troublemaking qualities became more serious. She kept the horses from drinking at the watering trough because she thought it was hers. The horses were fed grain in manger boxes in their stalls. Peggy sneaked into the barn and stole their feed – and so things developed.
The final blow came when she started to entertain herself by jumping a fence and chasing the little pigs around their enclosure. This is not the way to put weight on young pigs headed for the butcher shop. My sister and I knew there was trouble ahead. Still, it was a blow to return from school one day, and not be met by Peggy.
Dad saw us and called, “Sorry girls, but it had to be. I sold Peggy to Ed (the butcher) today. Her troublemaking was getting to be too much! I know you two know that we must sell our pigs to make money to help buy groceries. It is too much for little ones to understand, but times are hard – little rain, dust storms, and what big people call depression. If I could have trained Peggy she could have stayed – but that I couldn’t do. Now go and see your Mother. I saw her making hot chocolate.”
To this day I don’t eat lamb chops.
I have a coaster on my desk. It shows a happy looking woman wearing a crazy hat, and heading across a grassy area. In clear sight is a sign saying “Keep Off The Grass”. The caption on the coaster says, “Ever notice that ‘What the Hell’ is always the right decision?”
Peggy is long gone, but every time I use this coaster, I remember my much-loved friend. That “What the Hell” saying reminds me of the way Peggy lived her short, tumultuous life. Here’s to you, my little friend! I will remember you always.