Farm Pet Sounds

The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was released 50 years ago, but I wasn’t paying much attention. I was 4. Instead I was listening to the sounds of pets and other animals on my family’s farm.

Laura-and-puppies-1966

In 1966 we had a yellow Collie mixed breed mutt named Sheppy, countless cats, and some 70 Holstein cows and their offspring. At about that time we also acquired a pregnant German shepherd who gave birth in our bull pen. (No bulls were penned there at the time.) The puppies were cute and I liked them well enough, but I was a bit afraid of their mother. If memory serves, we kept one of the pups and found good homes for the rest of the family. But the puppy grew up to chase cars and eventually was taken out by a milk truck.

Sheppy, however, lived to be an old dog. At 13 the old cow-herder died in his sleep, in his usual spot just outside the back door of our house. My dad, always the first one up, found him the next morning and took care of the mess.

Sheppy was replaced by a series of strays, and eventually a new puppy my older sister won, thanks to the 25-cent raffle ticket she bought at her high school. (We named that dog Raffle, obviously.)

Barn cats came and went. Every year there were batches of new kittens. When the kittens were old enough to learn, my brothers and sisters and I taught them how to drink milk from a pan. We named them and played with them, held them and cuddled them. Some seemed to have the proverbial nine lives, others did not. A kitten reclining underneath a standing cow doesn’t have much chance when that cow lies down. Neither does a cat that decides to sleep unseen above the wheel of a car and then jumps down at an inopportune time. On the farm we understood the circle of life — and death.

Now I live in town and for the past 12 years have had an in-the-house dog. Old Blue is a Black Lab/Blue Healer/Doberman mixed mutt. My husband, kids, and I adopted him from the animal shelter when he was a puppy. His are the only pet sounds I listen to these days. Sorry, Beach Boys.

Laura Sternweis

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