Anthropomorphism is not encouraged on farms where livestock is the livelihood. How cuddly a lamb is doesn’t pay the mortgage or feed the family.

Considering most farm species would be extinct if they weren’t bred for consumption, slaughtering the herd isn’t that cruel. That will change the day they learn to domesticate Herefords.

This harsh agrarian outlook once skewed my view of pets. As a kid, the care of our dogs was left to my brothers. It drove them crazy when I’d walk through the yard oblivious to the frisky critter bouncing at my feet. They’d yell, “just pet him!” or “all he wants is a little attention!” I kept my emotional distance fearing another harsh winter and the dreaded Pepper Pot Stew, Laotian Style.

My cat Sheena in Bloomington was the only pet I’ve had as an adult. Named after the Queen of the Jungle TV Series (later a Ramones’ song too), Susan misunderstood me and called it “Cheena.” That sounded more exotic, so Cheena it was.

Raising a cat was not without its challenges. Especially after she started hanging out with Tom down the alley. She became laden with kitty. We prayed and read the scriptures together then sought counseling from our pastor. In the end, Cheena chose life and was delivered of three adorable kittens.

Hitchhiking was the way we handled long distance travel back then. When I hitched the 150 miles between home and campus, rarely would one lift go all the way. It usually took 2 or 3 rides and about 3 hours.

I often hitchhiked with friends who kept me entertained.  Marilyn was very aggressive and stood nearly on the edge of the asphalt. When she saw a vehicle wasn’t stopping she’d abruptly pull in her arm then turn her head in the opposite direction as if to say, “Me? In a Dodge Dart? Keep moving.”

Dale focused more on the truckers.  Once the driver could spot him he’d suck his thumb. As the rig drew closer he languidly slid it over his lower lip, slowly unfurled his arm until it was outstretched, and then gave the digit a wiggle. Subtle.

Me with Jim and the enigmatic hitchhiker. 1975.

The last kitten in Cheena’s litter was to go to my Mother. The only way to get it home was to hitch. I made a leash of rat-tail satin that had a purring white fluff ball at its end, then assumed my place by the interstate. That trip took 5 hours. Not from a lack of rides but because so many wondered what I was up to. I had 9 short hauls that day.

The weirdest was a salesman who picked me up near Anderson. He wore his thinning hair in an unconvincing comb over and a cheap polyester shirt that barely contained his paunch. His plastic pocket protector proudly displayed an impressive array of ball points. With a lecherous smile he said he never picked up hitchhikers. But he was curious about me. “I just wanted to see your pussy.”

That was too creepy even for me. I asked to be left off at the next exit. We’ll never know for sure but I have a feeling if I’d been more compliant I might have ended up a major shareholder in Miramax.

I didn’t live with a pet again until I moved here two years ago. My roommate’s 17-year-old bichon frise was defying all longevity records and still going strong. I had known Mr. Puppy for a few years and dog-sat him a couple of times. But I don’t think he was particularly fond of me until he realized what a sloppy cook I was.

I’d like to think everyone gets excited when I decide to make something  But nobody’s enthusiasm rivaled Mr. Puppy’s when he heard me go into the kitchen. I was the best dietary supplement he ever had.

His last morning I took him out first thing. The surroundings were still new to him and his sight was failing so we’d carry him downstairs to the front door then place him on the sidewalk. That was his signal he was en plein air. Otherwise, like many seniors residing here, he confused being out of the apartment in the hallway with being outside the building where he could do his business.

There was no indication at the start of that day it would be different from any other. When his paws hit the pavement he squared his haunches, threw back his head, then launched his Westminster prance. A champion until the end.

Today he is remembered in his favorite room on the back splash. With apologies to Ethel Scull, here is Mr. Puppy Dog 15 Times.

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