Like most families, our kids had their fair share of pets over the years. For a few years, they tried to one up each other in the variety department. Iguana, hamsters, gerbils and a parakeet named Don that lived for about a decade in Joshua’s room. Most with success and love. Others, not so much. We tried a gorgeous Quaker parrot. Horrible little snot. That dude could fling his poop about 10 feet across the room. And he did it on purpose. Our dog Chico was petrified of him. I was too. And a bird was my idea. I should have known better. I am the least pet person in our family.
|Barely visible Max and Adam. Camouflage among the leaves, 1985…|
At different times when the kids were young, each one asked for a snake. I didn’t have to be the bad guy when this occurred. John has a pretty irrational fear of snakes. He got this fear from his dad. So it was always a fast no concerning snake ownership. John and Josh were fishing one day when Josh scooped up an inch long bullhead. At the time, we had a really nice fresh water tank set up. Josh named the bullhead Barney, and plopped him in the tank. Where Barney grew and thrived for years. When it was moving day, Josh didn’t think it was safe to use a plastic bag. He stowed Barney in a glass peanut butter jar for safe keeping/moving. We should given Barney a heads up and written instructions to remain upright in the jar. Call Barney the slacker. He holed up on the bottom of that PB jar for about a day before we could set the tank up and get Barney in his new home. Poor little bottom feeder. He was so stiff and crooked when Josh got him out of the jar, he swam in tight little circles for about 6 months. Might have given him a complex. He was bull-headed.
|Not Barney’s tank. This one was saltwater, 1980…|
Our first dog was the cutest little thing. A Maltese named Tina. Shannon was a toddler at the time. It was the early 1970’s. Shannon had been sick. At the time I don’t think they had safety caps on medicine bottles. I walked into the kitchen to find Shannon sitting by Tina’s food and water bowls. Both Tina and Shannon’s mugs were covered with pink antibiotic goo. What medicine wasn’t smeared on their little smiling faces was in Tina’s water dish. Though most of that was gone too. In a full blown panic, I called our pediatrician. Dr. Stauch calmed my fears. “Have John stop after work and pick up a box of Pampers. You’re going to need them. My suggestion for Tina would be that she remains outdoors for a day or 2.” A few months later Shannon, a typical toddler (not prone to sharing) sacrificed much by sharing a piece of her chewed gum with Tina. Which Tina thoroughly enjoyed until it slipped out of her mouth and promptly lodged in the fur on the side of her mouth. Tina walked around for a couple months, a buzz-cut on one side, normal and cute on the other.
|Tina’s gum incident hair cut still visible. With Shannon, 1972…|
This is about the time we got our German Shorthair Pointer, Anja. Such a smart, well-behaved little hunter. She would live to hunt with John for over a decade. She never was the family dog though. She lived in a kennel outside. Only came in the house occasionally at night when the Iowa winters were so brutal it was dangerous for her to stay outside. Soon after we’d bring her in the house, she’d start panting. Wasn’t used to all that warmth. Anja’s mom was from Denmark. The Shorthairs in Denmark are bred to kill cats. It’s actually on their papers how many cats their parents have eliminated.
|Vigilant Anja watching Max just out of reach, 1985…|
Well, you guessed it. A few years later we got a cat. Probably should never have let Shannon have one. She has pretty severe asthma. Cat fur and dander were hard on her. But she loved that cat. It was a tom named Maximilian, Azrial, Lucia, Machia, Van Berkum. Or Max. He spent a lot of time outdoors hunting. Always sharing with us the fruits of his labor. Squirrels, voles, shrew. Placed neatly on the porch by the front door. He’d be a little worse for wear after he stayed out for any length of time. Wild, little bits of ears or his tail missing. He was scrappy. He’d always come back to Shannon. Soon he’d calm down. But he always got restless again. Just could not stay home or in the house very long. He was crafty too. It was a constant battle to keep Anja and Max separated so they didn’t kill each other. Yes, Anja outweighed Max by 40 pounds. That wasn’t an issue for Max. Max intentionally teased Anja to the brink of insanity. The bottom 5 feet of our house in Davenport was brick. Above the brick was a small cement shelf all the way around the house. The top part was stucco. Max’s favorite pastime was scampering easily on that shelf. Staying about a foot out of range from how high Anja could jump with her mouth open wide. Ever ready. Anja stalked Max. Max would just let Anja get close enough to give her a friendly swipe of his paw across her snout. Anja had constant claw cuts on her face, which never seem to faze her. She wanted that darn cat in the worst way.
|Max and Anja tormenting each other, 1983…|
This is about the same time I earned “worst mom award.” It was about 30 years ago, and I still feel really bad. I am a horrible, horrible person. Ugh. All part of the uglier side of Neese. It started in the mid-80’s. As a surprise Christmas gift to the 3 kids we bought a miniature Schnauzer. The kids were so excited. Took us awhile to settle on a name. I think we threw about a hundred names in a jar. Don’t know how we decided on the name Bix. Bix Beiderbecke was a famous composer, musician, coronet player, born around 1930. There was an annual week long festival, culminating with a race, celebrating and honoring Beiderbecke. Don’t want to really go into the whole Beiderbecke thing. That might fodder for another day with the blog. Anyway we got this awesome pup. We trained him not to go in the rooms with carpeting.
|Christmas Bix, 1983…|
When Bix was about 2, the Quad Cities suffered a severe downturn. John was one of several hundred engineers laid off during this dismal period. We were so bummed. We all loved living in Davenport. Our fabulous house sunk way below in value compared to what we still owed. Shannon was a sophomore, Joshua was a 6th grader, Adam was in second grade. Most of Iowa was in slump. John finally accepted a position in Jackson, Michigan. It was about 350 miles away. For about 6 months, the kids and I traveled to Jackson almost every other weekend. Looking for housing, staying at a hotel with John. Every time we were gone, a lady from our church kept Bix. She was going through a tough time too. She was a single mom and had leukemia. When she was nauseated from treatments, Bix would lay outside her bathroom door, whining quietly. Waiting for her to feel better and sit on her lap. I didn’t think we were going to be able buy a home when we moved. Market was not good in Jackson either. I was a mess. I hated being a part-time single mom of 3 after John started his new job in Michigan. Shannon all but refused to move with us. She was most unhappy. The boys weren’t much better. All I could think of was a family of 5 miserably scrunched in an apartment for months. A few weeks before we moved, I made the decision to let the lady keep Bix. She just sobbed while thanking me over and over. Skinny, frail, and so sick. Her son stood by crying too. But so did our kids after I told them. It was a terrible thing. Even worse because at the last minute, we sagged a house in Jackson that was a steal and affordable. Not one of my better mom moments.
|Josh 8, Shannon 13 w/Bix, and Adam 4, 1983…|
Not long after we got settled in Jackson, getting another dog was frequently discussed in our house. I stayed out of those discussions. I wasn’t going to say anything if they wanted to buy a whole litter! I think Shannon might have started researching dogs and decided maybe adopting one from the Humane Society might be the way to go. They did this a different way in Michigan. Connected you to a family that was getting rid of their pet. The Humane Society didn’t have a facility for keeping animals. John, Shannon, Josh and Adam drove to Mason, about 30 miles away to meet an elderly couple who were no longer able to care for their dog. His name was Chico and he was about 2. A cockapoo. Well of course all 3 kids fell in love with him. An hour later they arrived home with this rather homely, chubby, white dog. Fighting all the way home who Chico would sleep with that first night. Adam or Josh. He might not have been much to look at, but he was unbelievably smart. He knew so many tricks. He fit into our family perfectly. And you’ll never guess who his favorite person in the family was? Yup, me. Sigh. But I was with him most of the time. By time time he lived with us for a month, Chico could determine from inside our house, which one of about 8 busses zipping down McCain Road or Pioneer Drive after school held his 2 beloved boys on board.
|Chico searching for that one elusive morsel of dog food, 1988…|
A couple months later I got a phone call from the couple who had us adopt Chico. She and her husband were kind of lonely without him. Would it be possible to get him back? Sorry lady, not in my lifetime. This little dog was staying in our house. Forever. The boys soon taught Chico to play a new game. They had me hide somewhere in the house. Behind a curtain or door, while they were playing with him. All of a sudden one of them would say, “Chico, where’s Mommy?” Chico would eagerly look around for me. And the search was on. He resolutely, carefully went through each room of the house. Slowly at first, but going faster and faster. He was beside himself with joy when he found me. What a goof. My best hiding spot was in the shower. He might have to check the bathroom a couple times before he squeal with joy after spotting me. His mommy was found at last, safe and sound. Oh Chico.
We thought the move to Muskegon might be hard on him, but it wasn’t. If we went away for any length of time (to and from Iowa) we’d first haul him back to Jackson. My former neighbor, Mildred adored him and he liked her too. She took wonderful care of him. And it wasn’t very stressful for him.
|Spitzy, Larry, 11, Neese 6, 1957…|
Chico liked living here on the water. Even went fishing with John and the boys on the boat a few times. He went berserk when he’d spot ducks swimming on the lake. By the time he was about 17 he was slowing down. Hearing was gone, eyesight was poor. He still lived for a couple of things. Loved it when either of the boys or Shannon and Ari came to visit. Second, John started doing something special for Chico when he came home from work. I would buy a package of cheap hotdogs. Like clockwork after arriving home, John would go to the fridge and get a half hotdog. Break it into bite size pieces and feed Chico. Chico could sit up and beg for hours. On weekends, Chico knew within a few minutes when John should be arriving from work. It was of no consequence that John had been home all day because it was Saturday or Sunday. Chico still required that hunk of hotdog. Didn’t matter if John and I had urgent matters to discuss. Impossible to carry on a conversation until Chico got his hotdog. He had to have it first. Everyday.
|Chico loved his bed, 1992…|
At the time there were only 5 houses in our little private drive. All of the neighbors knew and loved Chico. There were several dogs among the 5 houses. But Chico was kind of the elder statesmen of the group. And generally left alone by the rest of neighborhood pets. He’d spend part of the day just putzing through his little kingdom. The human neighbors also knew he was failing. Often Chico would stand smack dab in the middle of the private drive for all 5 homes. He didn’t hear or see a car coming. Eventually he would turn around and notice the car, UPS, or mail truck behind him. Chico seemed almost embarrassed and apologetic when this happened. “Whoops, sorry bout that. Didn’t see ‘ya there. Let me mosey (slowly) out of your way.” He’d meander to the side of the road. One day he was standing in the road when the mailman was trying to deliver the mail with his truck. He stopped and waited for Chico to notice him. And move. Finally Chico did notice and slowly walked up the neighbor’s driveway. The mail truck started moving, Chico turned right around and walked right under his back wheel. A very bad day. We would have had to make a decision about him in the near future. His quality of life was decreasing, but all in all seemed happy, and not in pain yet. What an awesome pet. Still loved and missed by the whole family. Especially me…
|Chico, a wonderful family pet for over 15 yrs…|
One thought on “Dog Days…”
Chico: a touching story. My first dog, Butchie, lived in a NYC apartment. Then his parents moved to the country, next door to us. A couple of years later they were going to move back to a NYC apartment. No way Butchie was going to like that after enjoying living in the open so his parents agreed to let me have him ( I was 8). I can still see the lady bawling as the drove away – don't blame her.