There are quite a number among you, I suspect, who have in their collection of photos, one or two pictures of the family pet. Whether it be a prize-winning pooch or a lovable mutt, fantastic feline or plain ginger tom, they all make excellent subjects for those candid shots that always seem to evoke such sympathetic cries from the audience when seen in competition.
Many years ago, when my child’s teacher asked the angelic tots in her classroom whose mother would be willing to baby-sit the class pets over the summer vacation I was immediately volunteered, and before I knew what was happening or could lodge any kind of protest, a garter snake and salamander were installed in our living-room. They weren’t the first pets to find their way into our home and the family albums, but they were certainly the most unusual.
Up until then we had merely shared our living quarters with a giant white rabbit called Snowy who considered the wallpaper and my best lace tablecloth as a legitimate part of its diet, and a tank-full of sex-crazed guppies – not the easiest things in the world to capture on film.
The only time we’d had a dog in the house was on the occasion when, in a fit of desperation I’d borrowed my in-law’s terrier – a feisty animal that had forced its way on more than one occasion to the forefront of our family’s group photos – in the hopes of quelling an unexpected insurgency of mice brought about by the clearing of an empty lot two doors down from us. The perfidious creature took one look at what it took to be an exceptionally belligerent mouse, promptly threw up on the carpet and was instantly sent home in disgrace.
There eventually came a time, however, when we were pet-free, which was when our youngest child asked if we could get a monkey.
“You could take pictures of it,” I was told magnanimously.
My reply, if I remember rightly, went something like this.
“If you bring anything else into this house, it will immediately be slung out on its ear. When you kids grow up and move out you can get whatever you want.”
Strange the way things work out. The kid who brought home the class pets and wanted a monkey has, until only recently, never kept anything more demanding than a houseplant, and even that was handed over to me with a request to “make it better,” and is still taking up large amounts of space in the family room. I have pictures to prove it.
Our second-born was slightly more adventurous and at one time shared rooms with a friend who owned a Doberman, a ferret that learned how to open the fridge door, and an electric eel.
Some years later she branched out on her own and bought an aquarium, but as she traveled extensively on business and her home was too far for me to conveniently visit on a regular basis….you guessed it. Other children come back home with laundry. Mine came back with a glass tank and two buckets full of tropical fish, all of which took up large amounts of space in the family room. Not wishing to let the opportunity go to waste, however, I took so many picture of fish swimming about that I could have probably given Jacques Cousteau a run for his money.
Our eldest daughter, on the other hand, took me at my word. When she moved out, got married and had kids of her own, their home took on all the characteristics of Noah’s ark. For a pet photographer it was absolute heaven. I couldn’t load film fast enough!
Dogs were just the beginning. Everything from a hyper-active Chihuahua to a deaf Great Pyrenees found its way to their door. They bred Boxers and gave house-room to a variety of waifs and strays including a St. Bernard, a Basset Hound, a Neapolitan Mastiff, and a Shih Tzu.
Cats were soon added to the mix and from then on every visit became an adventure. One never knew what to expect. You were just as likely to find a rooster wandering around your bedroom first thing in the morning as you were a kitten hiding in the picnic basket in the afternoon.
A Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, that in a burst of porcine exuberance blundered into the pantry and consumed an entire loaf of bread before it could be apprehended, was introduced into the family, much to the boys’ delight and after a while a lame Shetland pony and a blind horse quickly joined goats, ducks, chickens, boa constrictors and iguanas.
It’s a far cry from those early days when a rabbit took center stage in our house but even now, with all this great variety of livestock on hand, when we get together to discuss the latest antics of the gerbils, guinea pigs, monitors and bearded dragons, someone invariably says wistfully, “Remember that salamander we used to have?” I wish now that I’d taken a picture of it.