Beloved Animals Who Have Shared My Life

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.


Filed under Prairie Childhood

14 Responses to Beloved Animals Who Have Shared My Life

  1. Jim Taylor

    Dear Marjorie, I’ve been reading the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Harri. He suggests that domestication may have benefited humans because they didn’t have to go hunt for their prey any more, but it did not benefit the animals — especially chickens and veal calves raised in confining pens. Peggy sounds like an exception to his theory!
    He suggests that the only animal whose life has been better by being domesticated was the dog, which predates the Agricultural Revolution by about 10,000 years. I write all this because I think you might enjoy Sapiens, though you probably won’t agree with all of it.
    Jim Taylor

    • Marjorie

      Jim – I will ‘Google’ Yuval Harri, and will also see if “Sapiens etc” is available. Sounds interesting. I would have to agree with his distaste for the conditions that animals of all kinds sometimes live in when raised commercially. Remember, the setting for my story about Peggy was an Alberta farm about 83 years ago!

  2. Alison Uhrbach

    When I read the title “Beloved Animals” I immediately thought of “Rocky”! When I was growing up, as you know, I couldn’t have any furry animals because of my mom’s asthma. I so WANTED to! Rocky was one of the first dogs I knew, and I remember him to this day. He was so sweet, and I liked knowing him. Many many years later, and after my parents had moved to BC, we got our first dog “Molly”, and Australian Shepherd, and had 13 wonderful years with her. She died a month after my dad did – and a month later – we adopted a new dog “Emma” who now shares our lives. We’ve also had our share of budgie birds, guinea pigs, gerbils etc. and each and every one has taught us some life lessons, and enhanced our lives. Thanks for your story, I always like hearing from you!

    • Marjorie

      Alison – I’m so glad you remember Rocky! You will meet him again, probably in the next blog. You have it right – they do teach us lessons, as well as give us love. Good to hear about your pets too.

  3. Doreen Tischer

    Dear Marjorie: You have such interesting blogs. You are such a good writer. I miss you here in Calgary. Hope you are well. Keep up the great job.

    • Marjorie

      Hi Doreen – Growing up on a farm does provide a lot of experiences that are harder for urban folks to experience. Dogs may be an exception. I swear that Vancouver has almost as many dogs-on-leashes as its human species!

  4. Ralph Gibson

    We may need a psychologist to explain why we form these bonds with other species, but we don’t need one to know how profound they can be.
    Well done, once again.

    • Marjorie

      Ralph – Yes, I agree. If we have been lucky enough to bond to an animal, the resulting relationship can be long – and the memory and the effect of it deep. Do you remember your 8th birthday, and the choice we gave you? A bicycle or a dog as your present, and you chose a dog. Read Alison Urbach’s (nee Rogers) comment regarding this blog. She talks of your “Rocky”.

  5. Ian H.

    This is a fascinating blog, Mrs. G. In a similar vein – I recently read that dogs were not domesticated by humans, but rather co-evolved with us. Evidence was presented that showed that the brains of domesticated dogs have changed over the eons to reduce the size of those parts that deal with organizing and planning, while the part of the brain that deals with sensory data has increased. The changes are reversed in humans. It makes perfect sense to me!

    • Marjorie

      Ian – Very interesting theory – about the co-evolving bit. It does make sense, knowing what we do about dogs as they are today. The trick would be to know how we could ever determine the data to prove this theory? This is what Sheldon used to say – that science comes up with a theory that “proves” something, and it is accepted as the truth until someone else develops a theory that takes one a step further. By the way, one of my next blogs will deal with my association with dogs. Always nice to hear from you.

  6. Your moral tale about Peggy takes me back to the ancient Hebrews’ attempts to sort the issues in blood sacrifice, of animals including humans. One of God’s great gifts to me is this rural land where we have cared for the animals that have showed up and where we have learned not to take for granted the sacrifices that put food on our table. We have delighted in pets, from gerbils to goats, that have arrived as gifts, donations, or rescues. I have learned more about their ways than I ever could in an urban setting. As you say, their gifts to people are important. Pet birds have helped a sick child to recover; dogs have given isolated children companionship; puppies and kittens are dependent friends that allow the powerless and marginalized to grow in self-esteem. I could write an entire book about the things cats have taught me. The birds at the feeder have brightened my perspective on the coldest February on record. The heart longs for that peaceable Kingdom where the lion and Peggy will lie down together.

    • Marjorie

      Laurna – Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do agree that there is much we can learn from animals in general, and especially if one is able to establish a bond. My memories of them stay fresh and precious. It is always good to hear from you.

  7. Great post, Marjorie! Looking forward to the next instalment. I know that my experience with cats and dogs persuades me that mammals at least have kinship with each other, if the survival pressure is low enough.

    • Marjorie

      Glad you enjoyed it, Bruce. Animals are often way more complicated than we give them credit for, and given the right environment, form strong bonds with selected people. Most interesting to observe or be a party to this. Thanks for your interest.