Entertaining Articles

  • A Circus Affair

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Now if you are a close friend or a relative of mine and I ask you, no matter how sweetly, to help me out with a little animal job I have coming up, just say no.

    At least that is what my poor Aunt Lois will tell you after learning the hard way.

    It was many years ago. I had just started my animal actor business and I received a call from an event planner asking if I could provide a bunch of animals to be in a small circus parade for a big fundraising event.

    Visions of lions and tigers and bears raced through my head as I thought of the animals I could supply and how wonderfully big the job would be.

    And then the planner said, “Oh, and…we only have a real small budget for this, of course.”

    The visions of the big circus animals quickly dissipated as smaller and far cheaper ones took their place. “Let me see what I can do.” I said. A horse would be easy and that could be considered somewhat circusy, I thought. I had a goat, some chickens and a few ducks on hand. But what else would say “Circus” and still be affordable? I then remembered a woman I had sold a horse to a while back that had some exotic animal connections, and so I gave her a call.

    I told her my sad story and how it was for a charity and asked if perhaps she knew of some smaller exotics that might work in the parade. She said she had a cougar cub she was raising and mentioned that a friend of hers, an animal trainer from the coast, was bringing her new chimpanzee to visit during that time and asked if I would I like to use that also. “Would I! Sure!”

    Before you get on your high horse about exotic animals being used for display, let me stop you right now and say, “I agree”. This happened many years ago and I wasn’t aware of the controversy related to animal exhibitions. Both of these people were licensed by the USDA and took very good care of their animals. Since that time I have stopped using exotic animals in my work.

    The event was to be held in the ballroom of a fancy hotel in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Since the event was very upscale and I wanted to make a good impression, I even went so far as to buy a new outfit to wear. It was pair of beautifully tailored wool pants and a burgundy velvet jacket.

    All I had to do now was make sure that I had enough people to hold or lead all of the animals. My dear husband Kevin could lead the horse. The two trainers could hold the cougar and the chimpanzee and event volunteers could hold the chickens and the ducks. That just left the goat. I could lead him but I wanted to keep my hands free in the case I needed to step in and fix a problem.

    This is where my poor Aunt Lois came in.

    I asked my sister, Lou Ann, if she would be willing to lead a goat in the parade and, being a good sport, she agreed. Then she said, “Maybe Lois would like to help?” My Aunt had just moved back to the area after living out east for many years. She had given up her position as “Curator of Rights and Reproductions” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to come back and to take care of her elderly parents and reconnect with family.

    My sister told her about the event and my Aunt Lois must’ve thought it sounded pretty good. She would be able to have some fun with her nieces and perhaps even meet some new people.

    The big day came and we groomed and we loaded the horse and goat, crated the ducks and chickens and headed off to the hotel. When we arrived, we met up with the cougar and the chimpanzee and found our spot in line. The horse was much more concerned about the chimpanzee than the cougar but soon settled down. The planner had told me that she would provide clown costumes for my helpers to wear and so I went to find her and get everyone suited up. When I finally located her, she said, “Oh, we are out of costumes. So many volunteers showed up that we ran out, but here are some clown noses and face paint that your people can wear.”

    I went back and explained the situation to my sister and my aunt who had shown up in shabby clothes because they were supposed to lead a goat and they thought they would be covered by the costumes so no one would ever recognize them. I am sad to say that the red foam clown noses and the garish make up did nothing to help in their quest.

    I fully expected that our little parade, which was to start in a service hall, and make it’s way through the ballroom and then back out into the hall, would go off with out a hitch. Everyone was ready. The chimp was nestled in his trainer’s arms and the young cougar was sitting quietly in his harness by his trainer’s feet. The horse up ahead had almost fallen asleep and the goat was nuzzling my sister’s hands looking for treats.

    I had been told that we were to begin when I heard the music start. All was quiet, even the chickens had stopped cackling, as we waited for our cue. Then all of the sudden, right in front of us, a side door flew open and a drum major in full regalia burst out to the sound of a booming bass drum and blaring trumpets! It turned out to be a complete 120-piece high school marching band, playing Sousa as loud as they could as they proudly marched past.

    Now, I have never seen a cougar fly but fly was what this cougar did when it leapt up into the air and came back down on the trainer’s head. The chimpanzee began to screech and jump up and down. The horse pulled back and tried to rear, but Kevin was able to calm it enough to let the band pass by. The volunteers dropped the chickens and ducks that squawked and quacked as they ran and hid under the nearest table.

    I tried to help the cougar trainer by pulling the cougar off of her head, but the terrified animal scratched me, leaving a ten-inch scar in my beautiful velvet jacket. Once the band had passed, the event planner excitedly ordered, “GO!”

    Kevin began to lead the horse but we were brought to a screeching halt when the goat planted all four of his little cloven hooves into the rubber-matted walkway and refused to move.

    “Push it!” I shouted to my aunt, who being a lady of some class and distinction, had never been told to do such a task before.

    “Push it where?! “ she shouted back over the din. “On it’s butt!” I cried. “Get it going!” She bent down, and as gracefully as she could, she pushed on the goat’s butt while my sister pulled on the lead. The goat held off a moment longer and began to go. We proceeded into the ballroom to and to the amazement of the guests, managed to get through with no other incidents.

    Afterwards, we caught the stray chickens, cleaned up after the horse, and checked to make sure that neither man nor beast was hurt. Everyone was okay and we all went home a little wiser than before. My aunt still jokes about that day at family gatherings, telling of she how she sank so low so fast, from curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to pushing a goat’s butt down the service hall of a fancy hotel and I remember that brass bands and cougars don’t mix.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.omegafields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS® -- NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • Cats and Couches And Settling In

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Kevin and I eloped on a Friday 13th thinking we were already taking a chance on the marriage, why not take a chance on the day. When I told my boss that I needed Friday off because I was eloping, she took pity on me and pressed a $100 bill into my hand. She wished us the best of luck and asked when I would be back. “On Monday, of course” I told her. I wasn’t going to miss any work.

    We were married by a bemused Clerk of Court and then went to a pizza place for dinner.

    As our apartment in the farmhouse was empty, we gleefully took the $100 and spent it at Target, stocking up on cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and towels. We also made a trip to the grocery store to get some food.

    We hauled in a twin mattress that Kevin had commandeered from his house and taped some boxes into a makeshift dresser for our clothes. We put the few groceries we had away and looked around with satisfaction at our new life together.

    This was all well and good, but something was missing. I finally was able to live out on the farm. Babe, the horse I had loved for so many years, was right outside my door.

    There were sheep and chickens and goats and cows to care for. What more could I want?

    I knew what I could want. A cat. All of my life I had been denied a cat because of my brother’s allergies. The next morning I set out to rectify the situation. Like most farm owners, Mrs. Villaume had a wide selection of barn cats that would like nothing more than to be upgraded to the life a pampered house cat.

    I had been going to the farm for years, so I had a pretty good handle on the cat population. I would have preferred a kitten but it was mid November and too late in the season. The closest thing was a six-month-old calico that had been raised by Mrs. Villaume’s grandchildren and was already tame and friendly.

    She had round copper colored eyes that were bigger and brighter than the rest of the cats. Her fur, although dirty and matted, was still thick and soft. She was brown and orange and black with four white socks and a bib that stretched up to her nose. Mrs. Villaume believed that calicos were good luck and called them money cats.

    I took her into the house, gave her a bath, and carefully combed out the mats and burrs from her coat. When I was done, I laid down on the mattress on the floor with her. I petted her and she blissfully rolled onto her back to have her belly petted. She purred and purred and seemed quite content with her new life.

    I named her Wolf because of her copper eyes and her fierce hunting skills.

    Within a few days, after the shock and surprise of our elopement wore off, our families began to donate furniture and dishes for us to use in the apartment. We now had a folding table and chairs, a real bed, and a bookcase. We had everything we needed except for a couch.

    Mrs. Villaume heard about our dilemma and mentioned that there was a couch in the shed that we could have if we wanted. We found it covered with tarp and more than a few cats. It was an old Victorian couch with carved wooden legs, a tall graceful back and arms that looked like a Victorian lady herself. It was old and heavy and really cool. Kevin and I grunted and groaned as we pushed it up the steps to our apartment.

    Now we were truly settled. We had our home, each other, and our little calico cat.

    We spent hours on the couch with the cat in our laps, watching the screen of a little black and white portable TV while receiving the sound from a larger wooden console TV below. Beggars can’t be choosers, you know.

    After a week or two of a marital bliss we began to notice little red bumpy marks on our ankles, calves and across our stomachs. They itched like crazy and would scab over if you scratched too hard.

    We could not figure out what was wrong. Every time we sat on the couch, the itching became worse.

    The next day we were to go to my grandmothers for dinner. This excited us because she was making my favorite meal and we were running out of food.

    As we were getting ready, we noticed the red marks had become more numerous, now spreading to our arms and legs. Then I spotted it. A little brown dot leapt from Kevin’s knee to the floor.

    It was moving. We had some kind of BUG!

    We stared at each other. It took a moment but then at the same time we said FLEAS! We looked at each other again and then, we looked at THE CAT!

    Wolf, who was curled up in the arm of the couch, looked at us with amusement.

    We stared at the couch and we were able to see little brown specs moving about in their own little flea circus. I watched one jump on the cat and disappear.

    Kevin reached for Wolf and announced loudly as he carried her down and outside that she was not coming back in until she had been rid of fleas. He came back up and picked up the end of the couch and began dragging it across the room to the stairs. I grabbed the other end and we pushed, and pulled, and carried it until we had put it back into the shed where we had found it.

    Because we had to stop at the pet store to buy flea shampoo for the cat and spray for the house, we were late to dinner with my grandmother. She was upset with us, but we were too embarrassed to tell her the reason why.

    We learned a valuable lesson that day. Never bring in a barn cat without checking for fleas and beware of really old and really heavy couches that that have spent their last few years in a shed.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.omegafields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 2

    Blue-filtered horse, runningWritten By Barbara O'Brien

    In my last column I told you that my parents had finally given into letting me take riding lessons. The farm was owned by an elderly widow named Lois Villaume who had been teaching area kids to ride for years. It was originally built as a summer home for a prominent St. Paul businessman, but it had seen better days. The out buildings were a faded gray and the riding ring fence had not seen paint for some time. The house was a big old farmhouse with bay windows and huge oak trees. Looking back, it was like a woman who lost the beauty of her youth but still maintained her dignity. It didn’t matter to me. All I could think about was horses.

    We pulled up to the house and three kids tumbled out, followed by Mrs. Villaume herself. She was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt with a men’s plaid shirt over that. She wore her long gray hair in two tight braids that she coiled, Swedish style, around her head. I was a little frightened of her at first, she seemed stern and gruff but then she smiled and her blue eyes sparkled. “You must be Barbara” she said and welcomed me to the farm. She introduced the kids, who were her grandchildren, and then dismissed my parents.

    She led me to a small bay mare that was tied up to the white fence eating grain out of a black rubber bucket. “This is Babe,” she said, “she is thirteen years old and she is a Morgan. Now, I have two other girls riding her this year so don’t fall in love with her."

    She could have not made a more ridiculous demand of me. Not love her? How was that possible? The moment I felt her smooth shiny coat and scratched her under her chin I knew that I was completely, hopelessly in love.

    So it began. From the summer before seventh grade until well into high school my dad dutifully drove me to the farm every Saturday where I would work in the morning doing chores in exchange for riding time in the afternoon. I learned to build fences and take care of all kinds of livestock ranging from chickens, cattle and sheep to three very naughty goats that always seemed to be getting out of the fence I had so painstakingly fixed the week before.

    I knew in my heart that Babe was not truly mine. But for those few golden hours every week when I got to ride her, it felt like she was.

    Like most kids I had my share of crisis, both real and imagined, and the farm was my place to escape. I couldn’t wait to get Babe out of the pasture, feed her, brush her, and tack her up, all the while telling her about my week. As you fellow horse people know horses really do listen and understand. In school I felt big and clumsy and rather foolish but when I was riding Babe it was like I was finally graceful and perhaps even beautiful as we floated over the ground, her mane brushing my face as she carried me away to a better place.

    As I grew older and had more school and work responsibilities, I had less and less time to go out to the farm. I was working as a waitress and involved in speech and theatre at school. I missed Babe and the other horses. It seemed like a part of me was missing when I wasn’t with them, but I had to grow up, right?

    Now this is the part of the story where the paths of most horse crazy girls split. The true devotees never give up. They work hard and their parents let them get a horse and they just manage to hang on all the way through. Some of them even go on to become trainers or breeders or vets. The vast majority of them have to let go, as school, work and college become more pressing. They just do not have the time, money, or in some cases interest, to put into horses anymore.

    I clung to what I could. Although my visits to the farm were few and far between my senior year, I still managed to get out and see Babe at least one a month. It was like nothing had changed when I was there. Babe was still herself, a chubby, somewhat cranky, Morgan mare that loved to toss me by stopping too fast when I was riding bareback and Mrs. Villaume was always the same, her long gray hair neatly parted and wrapped in two long braids around her head and her face filling with laughter as we discussed boys and life and the future.

    On the first day of college I saw a boy in my Minnesota History class that I just could not take my eyes off of. He was tall and had green-blue eyes with a shock of black hair that would not stay in place. He wore a forest green turtleneck sweater and jeans and appeared to be older than the other freshmen in the class. Of course I chose a seat next to him. I kept stealing glances at him hoping he would notice me so I could talk to him.

    He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t look at anyone else that day for that matter, so I didn’t get to talk to him. I figured he was older and already had a girlfriend so I tried my chances with two other boys those first few weeks of school. The first boy told me was already taken and thanks but no thanks and the other boy, who was better looking than he deserved to be, looked at me aghast and loudly said “No!” when I asked him out.

    That rejection got me thinking about the cute boy in the green sweater in my history class. I soon discovered that he wasn’t stuck up at all like I had first thought, but was instead, incredibly shy. He was 20 years old and worked nights and weekends at a hardware store. His name was Kevin, and yes, he would love to go out with me sometime, and, oh yeah, what is your name again?

    Now let me stop right here. I suppose some of you are thinking: Hey? Isn’t the guy supposed to ask the girl out? Well this was the eighties, you know, and if Mrs. Villaume did teach me only one thing it was to ask for what you want. There is no harm in asking, she said, as long as you were willing to give back when asked yourself.

    So I started dating that boy with the black hair and the green sweater. He came from a family of dog and cat lovers, so fitting in was really easy. I remember the first time I had dinner at his house and his dad fed the dog the food off his plate with his own fork. These were my kind of people!

    Kevin had never been around horses, but I quickly remedied that with trips to the farm where he grew to appreciate the horses and especially, Babe. Mrs. Villiume liked Kevin too and thought we made a good couple. His feet were always firmly planted on the ground while I was always up in the clouds. He was stable and steady while I was erratic and impulsive. If we were dogs, I would be a Border Collie racing from chore to chore always wondering what is around the corner. He would be more like a German Shepherd. Fiercely loyal, protective, always ready to do what needs to be done, but not wasting energy on foolish things. It’s no coincidence that all these years later I have both a Border Collie and a German Shepherd.

    In the fall of my junior year in college, after Kevin and I had been dating for about a year, Mrs. Villaume approached me with the idea of moving into the upper apartment in her big farmhouse. Are you kidding me! I could actually live at the farm. I could see Babe everyday if I wanted. I would have to help out with the chores once in awhile but I was used to that. “I’m in!” I said.

    She laughed and shook her head. Not so fast. I don’t want you and Kevin playing house up there. You are going to have to get married if you want to move in.

    Married? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the guy, but I hadn’t finished school and was only employed at as lowly assistant manager at a boutique cookie store. I wasn’t really ready to get married.

    Thinking about it now, it was all Mrs. Villaume’s fault. She dangled the thought of independence from my parents, horses, the farm, and dear sweet Kevin in front of my face like a bucket of oats in front of a fat pony.

    How could I turn all that down? Here was my chance to be free. To live my own life, make my own choices. I could even decorate the apartment the way I wanted.

    It all, of course, depended on if Kevin wanted to marry me in the first place.
    I knew he loved me and we had talked about marriage, but it seemed years away. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career yet and he was still working as a clerk at the hardware store.

    We met after work that day and we went to our favorite place to eat, a little restaurant called Chesters. Our conversation went something like this.

    Me: Hey, I can move out to Mrs. Villaume’s if I want. She says I can have the little apartment upstairs. The rent is $250 a month, so that’s not so bad.

    Kevin: Cool.

    Me: There is just one thing, though.

    Kevin: What’s that?

    Me: She says we have to get married.

    Kevin: OK. And then a moment later, When?

    I almost spit out my coffee. He would marry me? Just like that?

    “How soon?” He asked.
    “How soon, what?” I replied, still a little shocked.
    “How soon do you want to get married?”
    “Right away. I can move in right away. It’s empty right now.”
    Kevin looked at me, “Now?” he said. Reason was beginning to creep across his face and I was waiting for the reality to hit us that this was really a crazy idea.

    “Well”, he said slowly, “I love you and I would marry you tomorrow if you want, but that wouldn’t be fair to you. You should have a real wedding, you know, with a dress and a reception and presents and all that.”

    I thought about it for a moment and then I realized that all I really wanted was to marry him, ride horses everyday and live at Mrs. Villaume’s farm forever. I told Kevin that and once again he said “OK."

    So right then and there we made list on a napkin of pros and cons on whether or not to get married as soon as possible.

    Pros: We love each other and why wait to start our life together. They say two can live cheaper than one, so we had that going for us. I would get to be around horses all the time. We would get to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own.

    Cons: People would think we got married because I was pregnant, but that would prove to be false soon enough. Our parents would be upset, but we felt they would get over it. We would have to work more hours to make the rent but we could do that. We would have to move out of our parent’s houses and be on our own. That part was scary; I had never lived away from home before. But I loved and trusted Kevin so I felt it would be ok.

    And so it was decided. I imagine we could have told our parents about our plans, but we feared they would try to talk us out of it. We were, after all, only 19 and 21 years old. Did I mention before that I could be impulsive? We went to the county and applied for marriage license and a few days later we were married by a clerk of court with my older brother, who was sworn to secrecy, and his wife as our witnesses.

    We moved into Mrs. Villaume’s house that night with only a twin mattress to put on the floor and a few boxes of clothes between us. It didn’t matter. We were together, we were in love, and I had the horses. Now, 28 years and four sons later, we are still together, still very much in love, and I still have the horses.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.omegafields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS – NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • I Eloped So I Could Have A Horse, Part 1

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I was 19, I eloped so I could have a horse.

    Now when I tell normal people that I eloped so I could have a horse their eyebrows go up and a question forms on their lips, “you eloped so you could have a horse?”

    When I tell horse people that I eloped so I could have a horse they shake their head in agreement and murmur, “well of course, I understand that” and hardly ever ask any more about it.

    Two horses, runningLet me start at the beginning. As I have mentioned before, some of us are just born animal people and we will do everything in our power to be around animals. I was no different when it came to horses.

    I can’t tell you when this fanatical love of horses begins. It is like it doesn’t have beginning and it certainly has no end. I just always remember being in love with horses. No one in my family was particularly horsey. We lived in a little suburban ranch house with a tiny back yard many generations removed from the farm. My grandparents had grown up with horses, but were now all city people and horses were no longer part of their lives.

    So how does this happen? Is there a special part of our brain that says, this is it. This is the animal you are to devote all your time, all your money and all your undying love to?
    It starts with picture books and learning what horses say. Then perhaps Breyer horse statues and library books. For me it was, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry and Little Black by Walter Farley.

    My love was so intense that I even resorted to stealing, although I like to think of it as borrowing as I had every intention of returning what was not mine. My older sister liked horses also, although looking back, I sense she liked cowboys way more than the actual horses. She was lucky enough to have a set of dime store porcelain horse statues. They stood about six inches tall and came in five different poses. One was bay, one was gray and one, chestnut. There was a palomino and a black. How real they looked. How shiny and smooth their coats were. The detail of their manes and tails and the expression in their finely sculpted face made me believe they could spring to life at any moment and I would be free as I leaped on one’s back.

    Needless to say, I was not allowed to touch them. My sister prided herself with this collection and they were very fragile, she said, dragging out the word fragile so I would be sure to understand. They could break and she didn’t want them broken.

    Oh how I envied her. I only had a toy stuffed horse that had seen better days. I had had him forever. His name was, originally enough, Pony. His mane and tail was mostly gone and his red coat was threadbare in places. He was nothing like my sister’s realistic beauties.

    One day when I knew my sister was gone and the other members of my family were distracted, I took the statues down from their display shelf. I tucked them in my arms and spirited them off to the dark privacy of our living room. No one spent much time in there during the day and I knew I could be alone.

    When I set them down, our olive green carpet instantly turned into the grassy plains of Wyoming. The black horse came alive and began to quickly herd his mares to the safety of a narrow canyon. Which in reality was the space between the couch and the wall.

    The herd galloped across the plains, stopping only to graze or to prick their delicate ears and sniff the wind looking for any danger that may threaten the herd.

    I was so lost in my reverie that I almost did not hear my sister come in the back door. I quickly stuffed the horses under the blue Lazy Boy rocking chair so as not to be found out. I meant to sneak back in later and return the horses to her display shelf and my crime would go undetected.

    Being a child of only eight or nine, I completely forgot about them until the family gathered that evening to watch TV and my dad sat down in his favorite chair, the blue Lazy Boy rocker. The moment he sat down there was the tell tale sound of breaking glass. I stood by in shock. Oh no! The horses. My older brother began to pull out what was left of the horses from under the chair. Each had suffered at least one broken leg and the bay had lost her head completely. It was awful. I was sorrier than I had ever been. I just wanted to see them. They were so beautiful.

    When I was ten a local Coca Cola bottler ran a contest to win a pony. A real live pony! They even had an illustration of it on the entry form. It looked to be a pinto pony complete with saddle and bridle and bushy mane and tail. The pony seemed to be smiling at me. As if to say… I could be yours.

    My best friend, Gabrielle, and I dutifully saved our nickels and dimes to buy the pop which gave us an entry form that we could fill out and mail in that would surely be the winner. We agreed in advance that once we won the pony we would share him 50/50 since we were, after all, best friends and that is what best friends do.

    Many dollars, and I am sure, a few cavities later we waited and waited for the phone call or letter that would tell us we had won the pony. Months passed and we slowly became resigned to the fact that we didn’t win.

    When I was nine my parents gave in and took me to a rental stable for my birthday. Here was my first chance to ride a real horse. Not the merry go round horses at the fair. Not the mechanical horse in front of the drugstore. No, a real live horse. When we drove up the gravel road to the stable I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were horses everywhere. In pastures, in pens, in stalls and others who stood tied to a rail, patiently waiting for the next group to go out. The smell was intoxicating. The sights and sounds, miraculous. In my eyes, the horses all looked like they were meant for a king. Bays and grays and blacks and pintos. So many horses. All at the same place. It was heaven.

    The trail boss put me on a big black horse named Ringo. He was as gentle and slow as the day is long. I can’t explain the happiness, the joy, the unmitigated splendor of the moment. I was actually riding! Ringo’s smell, his movement, the view from up in the saddle. Incredible! When we trotted I bounced but stayed on and when towards the end of the ride we cantered and I knew that this was it. I would never be the same again.

    For months afterward, I begged my parents for riding lessons and they feigned ignorance saying the stable was too far away and they had no funds for such things. Horses were wishes and that was all they could be for me at the time.

    Oh but what wishes they were! I read every book in the library I could find. I learned all the breeds and colors and how to take care of them. If you were to give me a present it had better be horse book or better yet, a Breyer horse.

    The Breyer horses became the bedrock of my friend’s and I horse fantasies. We gave them long fancy names like Willow Hill’s Showboat and drew up impressive pedigrees. We made string halters and bridles and made mangers out of twigs and fed them tiny homemade bales of grass hay.

    I tied leather dog leashes to our bike’s handlebars and pretended it was a horse while we rode no handed steering only with the “reins”.

    We even were horses once in a while. We would gallop through our adjoining back yards, neighing and whinnying and tossing our manes and stomping our hooves, warning each other of danger as we protected the rest of the herd.

    I ran into an old neighbor not too long ago who recalled that I was always a little bit different and she mentioned how she had observed me trotting down the middle of our suburban street swinging a makeshift lariat and crying, “Ho cows! Move on doggies!” as I rode my imaginary cow pony among my vast herd of longhorns.

    High Chaparral was my favorite TV show closely followed by The Virginian. Cowboys, yes, horses, even better. In grade school I put a pencil in my mouth pretending it was bit and cantered up and down the halls until the peer pressure forced me to conform. I must admit that a few boys continued to call me names like Horse Face Harry until at least Junior High.

    All this longing would finally be fulfilled one day in late summer before seventh grade.
    I heard that a neighbor boy that lived down the street was bragging about taking riding lessons to his friends. Riding lessons! Where! Who!

    I quickly found him and pressed him for him for information. Yes, it was true he and his little brother had taken a riding lesson from his great Aunt who had a small stable in a nearby township.

    I gathered up all the details and ran home as fast as I could bursting in the door announcing Pat Forsythe is taking riding lessons from his great aunt, an old lady named Mrs. Villaume who has a farm in Sunfish lake and that is only 5 miles away and I can take lessons every Saturday for $30 a month and she has lots of horses and I can work real hard to earn the money and isn’t it great that she is so close and so can I take lessons, please, please, please, please!

    With the discovery of Mrs. Villaume’s farm I began my real journey into the world of horses. And that is where I have to leave it today.

    Next time: Part 2: I ELOPED SO I COULD HAVE HORSE


     

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    OMEGA FIELDS – NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • The Making of an Animal Person

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Part 1: MY FIRST... NOT REALLY, BUT WISHING HE WAS... PET CAT.

     

    By Barbara O'Brien, Animal Actor Trainer and Photographer
    - Omega Fields® Advisor and Spokesperson
    (www.omegafields.com)

    Some people just know. They know right from the start that life without animals is just not possible.

    Oh my parents tried all right. They refused all of my requests for a cat or dog or most of all, a horse. They explained over an over again, in patient quiet tones that my older brother was allergic to fur and having a horse in the city of South St. Paul Minnesota was not only against city ordinances but also not very practical. What would it eat? Where would you keep it?

    This made no sense at all to my five-year-old mind. Couldn’t I keep a cat confined to my room? Surely I could keep my nosy siblings out. And even though our back yard was small, couldn’t we fence it and let the horse graze, as long as it stayed out of the garden? And as for my brother’s allergies to hair and fur, couldn’t he just not breathe if the dog was around?

    So it began, my childish attempts at secret pet ownership and my parents half-hearted attempts to appease me with trips to the zoo and visits to my uncle’s farm. The zoo was okay but I couldn’t touch the animals and I didn’t want any of them for a pet. I loved my Uncle’s farm but we only got to visit him once a year since he lived so far away and for an animal-crazy kid, that was not near enough.

    It wasn’t until a few years later, on that one glorious day, when a stray cat ventured into my yard and began rubbing against my legs, that I thought all of my wishes had come true. I bent down to pet this wonder, a friendly well-behaved cat, who stayed right at my feet and was letting me pet him. Amazing! The cats on my Uncle’s farm were skittish and ran away at the sight of us and they also scratched and bit, which I had learned the hard way, when cornered. But this cat, with his handsome gray tabby striped coat and white chest and paws seemed to truly like me. His whole body vibrated with his throaty purr and he arched his back and raised his tail as I stroked him.

    I asked him his name and when he didn’t say I decided to name him Jerry after the clever mouse from the Tom and Jerry cartoon. I asked him if he wanted to be my cat forever and ever and he completely agreed. I scanned the street and side yards making sure there was no one looking for him and then tucked him into my jacket and snuck him into my room.

    I stashed him in my closet and quickly closed the bedroom door behind me as I headed to the kitchen to find him some food. One of my older sisters eyed me suspiciously for a moment and then went back to her portable hi-fi, turning up “Hey Jude” even louder than before.

    I climbed onto the counter opened the cupboard door and looked at the possibilities. Cheerios, noodles, cake mix. None of these looked like things a cat would eat. And….. definitely not Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Even I wouldn’t eat that. Then I spied it. It’s bright red label with the long silver fish leaping from a mountain stream shone like a beacon in the dark recess of the cupboard. Salmon! All cats like fish, especially premium red sockeye salmon from wild Alaskan streams.

    I would have to be careful. We all knew the salmon was off limits. It was my mother’s special treat that she would occasionally have for lunch with slices of lemon and saltine crackers. She would always share it with me since we were the only ones who liked it. It was our special little thing together in a house full of brothers and sisters vying for her attention.

    I stuck the can of salmon under my shirt and grabbed a can opener out of the drawer, along with two small bowls from the dish rack. It was then my other older sister came in the door and saw me sliding off the counter to the floor.

    She demanded to know what was I doing. I quickly turned to hide the evidence and darted out, pretending not to hear. Thankfully she didn’t come after me as I ran down the hallway and into my room.

    I waited for my heart to stop pounding and listened to make sure the coast was clear. My dad was at work and I could see my two brothers out in the yard, both of my older sisters were now in the kitchen singing along to the “Beatles” and my Mom was hanging clothes out on the line. Relieved that no one would bother me for a while, I opened the can and scooped some salmon into one of the bowls. I had forgotten a spoon so I used my fingers and licked them clean to cover my crime.

    Jerry began to meow and started to scratch the closet door. He jumped out when I slid the door open and made a beeline to the salmon. He began to gulp it down like he hadn’t eaten in days and only stopped for moment when I left to get him some water. I filled the other bowl in the bathroom sink and pushed both bowls and Jerry under my bed in case someone decided to come in.

    After Jerry had eaten his dinner I tucked him back in to the closet for safekeeping. Not wanting to draw attention I went out to play with my brothers and didn’t go back to my room until it was time for bed.

    Jerry was catnapping when I opened the closet and happily leaped onto my bed like he belonged there. I turned out my light and brought him under the covers close to my chest. He rumbled with pleasure and as I petted him. I caressed his silky ears and scratched him under his chin. He rolled over on his back as I massaged his belly and ran my fingers through his thick velvety fur.

    How heavenly to have a cat for my very own. Someone to tell my secrets to, someone who would understand how difficult it was to be me. I fell asleep to the sound of Jerry’s purrs and comforting warmth.

    The next morning I stuffed Jerry back in the closet and was getting dressed for school when my mother stepped into my room. She greeted me cheerfully as was her way when suddenly her nose twisted and she turned her head to take in what could only be the result of an indoor cat without a litter box.

    She began to sniff the air as I vainly tried to distract her with small talk and questions about breakfast. She ignored me as she continued her search for the source of the SMELL. I positioned myself between her and the closet door as she picked through dirty clothes and scattered toys. She saw me by the closet door, my eyes wide with feigned innocence and asked me to please move away. I did as told and held my breath as she slid the door open.

    What she was expecting to find, I do not know, but I do know she did not expect a gray furry creature to leap out like a shot and scurry under the bed. She shrieked in surprise but quickly composed herself after I told her that it was just Jerry, my new pet cat.

    My brothers and sister, tuning into the strange noise coming from my room, all seemed to burst through my door at once, excitedly crowding around my mother wondering what terrible thing had happened to cause me to cry out No! No! No! My mother quickly told them of the cat contraband hiding under my bed and what happened next is the only possible thing that could have happened when five exited children and one harried, overworked mother try to catch a determined cat in a small one-level rambler.

    Cat runs under the bed, children try to reach cat by poking at it with a broomstick. Cat tears out of bedroom door between the legs of the youngest child and finds refuge under the large queen-sized bed in the master bedroom.

    Loud, highly excited children swarm into the room and the cat darts out and down the hall into the living room, where it finds refuge behind the large blue Lazyboy chair.

    When my mother had finally had enough, she called for silence and for everyone to stop. She calmly told me to retrieve the cat and in spite of my tears and that I would just die if she got rid of my only pet, she calmly took Jerry from my arms and handed him off to my older brother who gleefully took Jerry to the back door and without ceremony dumped him onto the back step.

    I wailed and rushed to the door but my mother gently took me in her arms and explained once again that we could not have cats and Jerry most likely belonged to a neighbor who was probably at this very moment out looking for him.

    It just wasn’t fair. Why did I have to be born in a family that couldn’t have pets? Didn’t they understand I just didn’t want a cat I needed one to live. My mother reminded me that I was still breathing and we all had to get out the door to school. She hugged me and wiped my face and left to go clean up the mess that Jerry had deposited on my closet floor.

    I was feeling pretty peevish when I finally left for school and even though I called for Jerry and searched for him as I walked, I never saw him again. I imagined a joyful reunion with an elderly owner who was grateful that some anonymous 9 year old had kept Jerry safe for the night.

    And as I type this with one of my many cats nestled in my lap. I do remember getting some satisfaction out of the fact that my older brother’s face swelled up and his eyes watered uncontrollably due to the cat dander and that he was miserable for days.
    Thank you, Jerry, wherever you are.

    Next Time: Part Two: THE MAKING OF AN ANIMAL PERSON.
    How a big German Shepherd, an anxious Siberian Husky and a rogue Collie helped me get my first dog.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for cats in all life stages – please click on Cat Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.omegafields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, swine, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS – NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!  

     

  • Entertaining Articles

  • Right Where We Belong

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Sometimes we get lucky in life and end up right where we belong.
    It all began in early spring of 2002. I, my husband Kevin, and our four sons had been living in my hometown of South St. Paul, Minnesota, for the previous ten years. We both had our work and the kids were more or less happy in school. We had moved there from our small farm in Hastings, Minnesota to be closer to Kevin’s job and our extended family. I loved our little rambler in town but as the traffic grew on our suburban street and it became unsafe for my youngest to play in the front yard, I began to yearn for a place in the country to call our own.
    And then there were the horses. One free horse grew into five. The older boys were showing in 4H and we were paying a large bill to the boarding stable each month. It occurred to us that the cost of our current house payment and the boarding of five horses really added up. Perhaps we could afford a place in the country.
    Thus began my obsession with finding the right farm for us. I became familiar with the Multiple Listing Service ads, and I pestered all the local real estate agents for their latest hot listings. We wanted to stay within driving distance to Kevin’s job, but far enough out to really be in the country.
    We soon learned that any plot of land (no matter how small) in the seven county area surrounding Minneapolis/St. Paul was completely out of our range. Even five-acre homesteads were priced way too high for us.
    It was not long after that, when a friend’s father (a longtime farmer) suggested we look across the river at western Wisconsin. “Wisconsin?” we said, “that is too far away and we don’t know anyone in Wisconsin.” “There is still good land there,” he insisted. “And the prices are not too bad, either.”
    And so I began my quest anew. I scoured the Internet and asked on the online horse forums I belonged to, if anyone knew of any farms for sale. We even looked at a few places. One was right on the road and not safe for children or animals. The other was a cute little house set on 10 acres that we liked. But in the neighboring yard, not more than 300 feet away, there was a large circular concrete pit of liquid manure, which belonged to the neighboring farm.
    In early April, after I had just about given up all hope, a small quiet voice said to me, “Go to Prescott and pick up the Shopper.” The Shopper is a little local ad paper that covers Pierce County, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. I loaded my youngest child up in the van and drove across the river to get the paper. I brought him a treat and he ate it while I glanced at the ads.
    There was a new listing for a 40-acre For-Sale-by-Owner farm with a house and outbuildings. It was over an hour away from our home, but at this point, we were willing to give anything a try.
    I called the number on the ad, and talked to a nice fellow named John Larson. He told me he had inherited the house from his aunt. She had died the previous fall, and now that the estate was settled, he was putting the place up for sale. I made arrangements to take a look at it that weekend, and I eagerly called Kevin to tell him the news.
    He suggested that we drive there after work. “Just to take a quick look at it,” he said. “That way, if it’s no good, we won’t be wasting anyone’s time.”
    The farm had a long driveway that led to a house flanked by a few large, but ramshackle, barns. Faded yellow paint and a cracked window or two belied the house’s real beauty. From what we could see, the walls were still square and it had a new roof.
    I couldn’t help feeling that there was something sad about the place. The house reminded me of a shy young woman at a dance who was waiting for just the right man to come along and take her hand.
    Kevin and I walked around, peeking into the barn and outbuildings. The large granary still held the remains of an oat crop from years ago. The barn walls were tipping dangerously to one side and full of hay that must’ve been baled in the 70’s. We saw that many generations of raccoon families had lived there and there were numerous holes in the tin roof from long-ago shotgun blasts.
    Sunlight streamed in the cracks of the century old barn boards and I was struck by its beauty. Even now, all these years later, when I think of the farmers who came before us -- their lives, their hopes, their dreams, what it was like for them to be here -- it feels like a sacred place to me.
    The paddock fences were overgrown with weeds and the fields were lined with old barbwire that would have to be pulled, but we knew that with a little hard work (ok, a lot of hard work) our horses would be happy here.
    We surveyed the house by peeking in the windows, and our excitement began to grow. I knew in my heart that this was it; this was meant to be our home.
    “We have to find John…before it gets too dark,” I said, as I dashed off to the car. A bemused Kevin followed. “We can’t bug him," he protested. “He doesn’t even know we are here.” I started the car and said, “I know where he lives, he won’t mind.”
    A few minutes later we pulled into John’s old home place. I knew I would find him in the barn, as it was chore time. I quickly swung the milk house door open and as John likes to tell it, “And in walked Barbara” I introduced myself to a startled John and his son, Randy, and John agreed to show us the house.
    As we toured the house, John showed us the oak floors, the beautiful china hutch and untouched woodwork. The house, with the exception of the kitchen, was just as it was in 1931 when it was built. The light fixtures, the floors, the windows, everything was original. Even the walls retained their original paint and wallpaper.
    I grabbed Kevin’s arm, trying to hide my eagerness from John as I whispered, “I want this house. Please, God, help us get this house.”
    We went outside and John pointed out the boundaries of the 40 acres that the house rested on. While he was doing this, the wind picked up and I covered my ears with my hands, as they were getting cold. Without a word, Kevin removed the warm winter hat from his head and placed it on mine. Little did I know that this little act of love and care would make all the difference.
    We told John we wanted the farm and to given us a day or two to make an offer. John agreed and told us that although he had several different people who wanted to see it that weekend, he would hold off until he had our offer. Within a few days we came to an agreement and the farm was ours. Within 45 days, we had sold our house in town and moved out to the farm. I have never felt more a part of a community than I do here. All of our neighbors, including the Larsons, have turned into good friends and there is no place that we would rather be.
    In the weeks that followed, I found out from a neighbor that John had been offered much more for the farm than we had settled on. When I asked him why he chose our offer over theirs, he smiled and said, “When I watched Kevin give you his hat, I knew that you were the right people. Any man who takes such good care of his wife, will surely take good care of his farm.”

    And I am happy to say that John was right.

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  • The Animal Connection: How it All Began

     Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I had seven (count them, seven!) jobs in one year before I started my own business, the Animal Connection.
     
    Ok, I was young. Twenty-one to be exact. Kevin and I had been married for three years and we had moved at least that many times. We were now renting an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Woodbury, Minnesota.
     
    We met in college and eloped the beginning of our junior year. We soon discovered that we both needed to work full time, and then some, to make ends meet. Something had to give and, sadly, it was school.
     
    So began the year of many jobs.
     
    Even though we were in the middle of recession, low paying jobs were still easy to find and I was quickly hired as a waitress at a hotel restaurant. I enjoyed meeting the business people and families that were traveling but I hated the lack of hours and even more, the lack of tips.
     
    My sister hosted a Tupperware party and as I watched the demonstrator, I thought, “I could do that”. I talked to her after the party and within weeks I had immersed myself into the world of party selling.
     
    The first few months were great. My friends and families hosted parties for me and sales were good. But it didn’t take long before everyone I knew had purchased all the Tupperware they could possibly use. Finding new customers was really hard so I even tried what they called a fundraising party. I took my little sales pitch a meeting of my local high school band backers meeting. They were polite at first as I explained how they would get 10 percent of the sales from their party but after a few minutes they began to get irritated with me and pertly much booed me from the podium. I was devastated. I was just trying to help them and they thought I was a joke. Maybe I was a joke. 

    “What a loser! I can’t even sell Tupperware.” I was crying so hard I could barely see the road.

    I started to cry as I was driving home. “What a loser! I can’t even sell Tupperware.” I was crying so hard I could barely see the road. What I did see was a police car flash his lights, signaling for me to pull over. I did and the police officer came to my window. I rolled it down, and choked out the words, “Yes…what did I do?”   He shined his flashlight at me and into the car and asked, “ Have you been drinking tonight?”
     
    “No…no…!” I sobbed. “I am a Tupperware lady and I had a really bad night.” He must’ve pitied me because after of few minutes of making sure I wasn’t a danger to others he let me go. Thus ended my career as a Tupperware lady.
     
    I answered an ad in a newspaper for a survey taker that paid five dollars per completed survey. It was a fun job. All I had to do was go into small main street type businesses and ask them to fill out a questionnaire about their insurance needs. The people in the small towns I visited were kind and most of them took the time to answer my questions. I liked seeing what they were doing and they seemed happy be running their own business. I liked the job and completed over 30 surveys in the first two days. On day three when I went to pick up more surveys the doors were locked and the company gone. I found out later that the Minnesota Attorney General booted them out of the state for fraudulent business practices. Apparently you couldn’t use false surveys to generate insurance leads.
     
    I then talked my way into a desk job at the Minnesota Humane Society. It was not a shelter but more of a legislative and enforcement agency. I did paperwork and accompanied the humane investigator when she went out on calls. It was a great job but after a few months a new director came and, "in with the new and out with the old." I was part of the old.
     
    After that I tried to make a living as an artist and sold some of my animal designs to stationery companies but that wasn’t moving fast enough to pay the bills. I took another restaurant job but, again, not enough tips and hours. I tried to work as a fitness instructor but I have to tell you, I almost died. How do those people do that?
     
    It was then that I was hired as a receptionist at a one-man construction company.  The company built waste treatment plants. And since the company only built one plant at a time there wasn’t much to do except answer the phone and water the plants. The owner was rarely in, so I entertained myself by reading whatever magazines came in the mail.

    "It was full of local-boy-makes-good stories and small companies that were making it even during tough times."

    My favorite was the Minnesota Business Journal. It was full of local-boy-makes-good stories and small companies that were making it even during tough times. I was inspired by these articles. If someone else started a business and succeeded why couldn’t I? I certainly wasn’t going anywhere sitting in an office and just wishing it was so.
     
    One day as I paged through the new business section, I spotted a piece about a modeling agency that had just opened in Minneapolis. It said they represented adults, children and most importantly to me, animals.
     
    Animals as models. That was something that I had never thought of. I have a dog, I mused. She is relatively well trained and of course, really cute. She could be a model.
     
    I picked up the phone and dialed the number. A young voice answered and I said, “Hi. I am Barbara O’Brien and I have a dog that could be a model.” “Ok,” the voice said. “Send us a picture and we will call you if something comes up.” I thanked her and hung up as I leaned back in my chair.
     
    I sat there a moment and then suddenly it occurred to me, I know lots of animals. Through my years of showing in 4H, my stint at the Humane Society and selling my animal art, I had developed a list of animal people contacts. I knew where everybody was and if I didn’t, I knew how to find them.
     
    I picked up the phone and dialed the number again.
     
    “Hello, it’s Barbara O’Brien again. I was the one with the Airedale. I was just thinking. I know lots of animals. I can help you find whatever your clients need.”
     
    There was a pause and then the voice said. “Ok, why don’t you give me your number?”
     
    A few days later there was a message on the answering machine from Sue Wehamn, the owner. She was wondering if I could provide a kitten for a photo shoot the next day. I called her back and told her I could. She told me the studio’s name and the time they needed me and when it was all done, I thought to myself, I just booked my first assignment.
     
    I called a friend of mine that worked at a vet and asked her if she knew of any kittens. She did and put me in touch with the owner. I called the owner and asked her if she would like to bring her kitten to Minneapolis for a photo shoot. She agreed even though she didn’t know me, but she knew my friend and that was good enough for her.
     
    Since I was still working for the construction company, I couldn’t go to the studio myself but from all accounts the kitten performed beautifully and soon was on the package of Purina Tender Vittles Cat Food.
     
    A few weeks after the kitten shoot the agency called and wanted to know if I could get my hands on a bunch of rabbits for a major department store chain called Daytons.
     
    I quickly located seven white rabbits and sent the owner to the shoot. The session went well and, as agreed, the agency sent me a small finder's fee for my efforts.   This was really cool but still not enough to live on. It was then I decided I should run my own animal modeling agency.

    "To this day, whenever I am stumped by a business problem, I ask the smartest man I know—my Dad."

    I called Sue and asked her how she felt about me starting my own agency just for animals and she said, sure. She was focusing on people and didn’t really want to bother with animals anyway.
     
    Now that I had Sue’s blessings I figured there was only more thing I needed before I could start my business—a name.
     
    To this day, whenever I am stumped by a business problem, I ask the smartest man I know—my Dad.
     
    I told him about my plans and that I had booked a few first shoots already and what should I name my company. He smiled and said, "Start it with an A. You will be first in the phone book."
     

    I laughed at first but the thought, why not? And it only made sense to have the word animal in the name. My job was to bring people and animals together and that is how, in 1984, the Animal Connection was born.

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  • How A Big German Shepherd, An Anxious Siberian Husky And A Rogue Collie Helped Me Get My First Dog

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    Now I am only going to tell you once. If you happen to be the parent to a horse crazy, dog crazy or cat crazy kid and you try to keep them from having a pet they will do everything their power to find animals on their own. Once they leave you and start their own lives, they may end up with a houseful of stray cats and dogs a barn full of horses and chickens and sheep and an always empty pocket just make up for lost time.Or at least that was the way it was with me. If you remember from my last column, my parents were not keen on the idea of letting me have a pet so it became my mission to be around animals no matter what.I remember being only about eight or nine when I began searching the neighborhood for houses that had dogs. There was a dog a block or so away that I could only catch glimpses of between the boards of their 6 foot privacy fence. From the pieces of it I did see, I could tell it was big and yellow.It would run to the fence and try to press his nose through the boards while I lay on the ground and reached under the fence to touch him. He would comply by lying on his back so I stroke his soft belly fur. I could only reach with the tips of my fingers. It was awful to be so close yet not be able to really see or play with him.When I was a little older I began to approach people out walking their dogs and beg to pet them. Pretty soon I became known as that kid who was crazy about dogs and that I would be happy to take them for walks when their owners didn’t have time.

    By the age of 12 I had a pretty tidy little business going. I would take a dog for a walk for the princely sum of 50 cents. Word spread and soon I had up to 6 clients a week. Everything from a nosy Beagle to a high strung Siberian Huskie that could pull me on my bike like the wind. One of my favorite dogs was a big male German Shepherd that acted like he owned the world but would never hurt anyone. Because of him, I have always tried to have a German Shepherd in my life.

    About this same time I joined 4H. I was to participate in the horse project and the dog project. I had the horse thing figured out, I had begun to lease a horse from a local barn but the dog project required I find a suitable dog to train. I signed up for the free dog obedience classes offered by the county extension office on the hope my parents would see that I just had to have a dog of my own.Again I pleaded with my parents to let me get a dog but again I was told, NO PETS.It was clear that my parents were not going to give in. No matter how many tears and promise of extra chores it just wasn’t going to happen. Family allergies and a hectic lifestyle made that perfectly clear.So I had to settle for the next best thing, one of my dog walking customers had a beautiful sable collie and they agreed that I could take the dog to classes and show him at the county fair. His name was Cheetah and he was to become my partner for the summer.And so began my first taste of real dog training. Every Tuesday night for the next eight weeks our 4H leader would load us up with our dogs and haul us to a school grounds in a nearby town where we fell under the watchful eye of the 4H Dog Obedience Instructor. She dutifully taught us how to work with our dogs and make it fun for them while they learned to sit and stay and prepare for the big show at the county fair.

    Cheetah was a quick learner and worked hard at understanding what I wanted from him. He seemed to know when I was down and would rest his head on my lap while I petted him. He was a good dog and I loved him but it always made me sad when I gave him back to his real family he seemed to forget me the minute I let go of the leash.

    We went to the fair and we did well at the show. Cheetah and I earned a blue ribbon. My parents were pleased that I seemed to filling my dog needs and I was happy to have at least one dog to love, even if he wasn’t mine.

    Things probably could’ve gone on for some time like this. My parents were happy, Cheetah and his owners were happy, and I was as happy as I could be with a borrowed dog.

    The fair was over and we were still meeting on Tuesday nights preparing for the state 4H Dog Show when Cheetah and the dog next to him decided to get into a fight. It was a good sized shepherd mix and I grabbed at Cheetah’s collar to separate them. Cheetah reared back still fighting and bit me in the face. I fell back, pulling Cheetah away as the dogs owner, a teenage boy got control of his dog.

    Blood begin to drip from the puncture wound on my cheek as I fought back tears.How could Cheetah bite me? The Instructor came to me and handed Cheetah to my friend to hold while she gently took me inside and washed my face. The bite didn’t hurt so much as the fact that Cheetah had turned on me. I was devastated. The dog leader tried to explain to me dogs act out of instinct and Cheetah’s aggression wasn’t directed at me.We went outside and I took Cheetah back. He wagged his tail and licked my hand as if nothing had happened. I petted his head and tried to forgive him, but I was still hurt.When we dropped him off and the owners saw what had happened they told me that perhaps it was better I didn’t walk Cheetah anymore. And although they weren’t blaming me for the incident, they didn’t want to see me get hurt again.Not only had I been bitten by a dog I loved, but now he was being taken away from me.

    I held back my pain the rest of the way home, but when I opened the door and found my parents watching TV in the living room I burst into tears. They held me close as I told them what had happened and how not only did I get bit, but also that they (Cheetah’s owners) had told me I couldn’t see Cheetah anymore. It just wasn’t fair!

    And then it happened. Something changed and my Dad looked at my Mom and said that enough was enough. They couldn’t have me getting bit like this. I had to have my own dog. My mother began to object but one look at my anguished face convinced her that maybe the time had come after all.

    I could not believe my ears. Did my dad say I could get a dog? A real dog! Visions of collies and shepherds and goldens and mutts began to dance in my head. A dog! A dog! My own dog!I began to jump up and down wanting to shout this to the world when my mother suddenly laid out her conditions. It would have to be a Wire Haired Fox Terrier and nothing else. Her sister in Idaho had one and they didn’t shed. It had to be a male and to top it off it had to be $50.00 or less.My heart sank. She may as well have told me to find a needle in a haystack and I would have better luck. Fox Terriers were a rare bred in our area and even common breeds of purebred dogs didn’t go for less $200.Even though it was fairly late, I found the paper and quickly scanned the want ads, Beagles, Cockers, English Setters, Lab puppies and then I saw it, an ad for Fox Terriers. In all my years of scanning the ads for dogs I wished I could have, I had never seen an ad Wire Haired Fox Terriers. I joyfully showed the ad to my parents. They were surprised that I had found some so quickly and my dad said, call them up. I picked up the phone and a man answered. Breathless, I asked if he still had any puppies. I have one left, the man said. It’s a little male with a black patch on his eye. My heart leapt in my throat. What does he cost? I asked. Waiting for bad news, I said a prayer under my breath, please please, please…Well, he is the last one, the man said. You can have him for 50 bucks. Miracle of miracles! I turned to my parents and said, 50 bucks, he wants 50 bucks! My dad seeing how close he was to having a dog said, tell him you only have $40. I only have $40, I said and he said ok, you can have him.

    I was stunned. It was really happening! I handed the phone to my dad and he got the address and arranged to get the puppy the next day. I hugged my parents and jumped around and danced around the room, it was finally happening!

    My mom began to cry when she saw how happy I was. Maybe she never realized how important to me having a dog was. She smiled and told me I better go clean my room if I ever to hope the find the puppy again in all that mess once I brought him home.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, God! I was happy as a child could be.

    The next morning my dad and I drove to St. Paul and picked up the eight week old Fox Terrier puppy from the breeder. We didn’t have a crate so I held him in my arms all the way home.

    He licked my face and I knew that even though he wasn’t a shepherd or a collie or a lab at least he was mine.

    That was many years ago and much to my chagrin my parents have always had a dog ever since.

    Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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  • My First…not Really, but Wishing He Was…Pet Cat

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Some people just know. They know right from the start that life without animals is just not possible.
    Oh my parents tried all right. They refused all of my requests for a cat or dog or most of all, a horse. They explained over an over again, in patient quiet tones that my older brother was allergic to fur and having a horse in the city of South St. Paul Minnesota was not only against city ordinances but also not very practical. What would it eat? Where would you keep it?This made no sense at all to my five-year-old mind. Couldn’t I keep a cat confined to my room? Surely I could keep my nosy siblings out. And even though our back yard was small, couldn’t we fence it and let the horse graze, as long as it stayed out of the garden? And as for my brother’s allergies to hair and fur, couldn’t he just not breathe if the dog was around?
    So it began, my childish attempts at secret pet ownership and my parents half-hearted attempts to appease me with trips to the zoo and visits to my uncle’s farm. The zoo was okay but I couldn’t touch the animals and I didn’t want any of them for a pet. I loved my Uncle’s farm but we only got to visit him once a year since he lived so far away and for an animal-crazy kid, that was not near enough.It wasn’t until a few years later, on that one glorious day, when a stray cat ventured into my yard and began rubbing against my legs, that I thought all of my wishes had come true. I bent down to pet this wonder, a friendly well-behaved cat, who stayed right at my feet and was letting me pet him. Amazing! The cats on my Uncle’s farm were skittish and ran away at the sight of us and they also scratched and bit, which I had learned the hard way, when cornered. But this cat, with his handsome gray tabby striped coat and white chest and paws seemed to truly like me. His whole body vibrated with his throaty purr and he arched his back and raised his tail as I stroked him.I asked him his name and when he didn’t say I decided to name him Jerry after the clever mouse from the Tom and Jerry cartoon. I asked him if he wanted to be my cat forever and ever and he completely agreed. I scanned the street and side yards making sure there was no one looking for him and then tucked him into my jacket and snuck him into my room.
    I stashed him in my closet and quickly closed the bedroom door behind me as I headed to the kitchen to find him some food. One of my older sisters eyed me suspiciously for a moment and then went back to her portable hi-fi, turning up “Hey Jude” even louder than before.I climbed onto the counter opened the cupboard door and looked at the possibilities. Cheerios, noodles, cake mix. None of these looked like things a cat would eat. And….. definitely not Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Even I wouldn’t eat that. Then I spied it. It’s bright red label with the long silver fish leaping from a mountain stream shone like a beacon in the dark recess of the cupboard. Salmon! All cats like fish, especially premium red sockeye salmon from wild Alaskan streams.I would have to be careful. We all knew the salmon was off limits. It was my mother’s special treat that she would occasionally have for lunch with slices of lemon and saltine crackers. She would always share it with me since we were the only ones who liked it. It was our special little thing together in a house full of brothers and sisters vying for her attention.
    I stuck the can of salmon under my shirt and grabbed a can opener out of the drawer, along with two small bowls from the dish rack. It was then my other older sister came in the door and saw me sliding off the counter to the floor.She demanded to know what was I doing. I quickly turned to hide the evidence and darted out, pretending not to hear. Thankfully she didn’t come after me as I ran down the hallway and into my room.I waited for my heart to stop pounding and listened to make sure the coast was clear. My dad was at work and I could see my two brothers out in the yard, both of my older sisters were now in the kitchen singing along to the “Beatles” and my Mom was hanging clothes out on the line. Relieved that no one would bother me for a while, I opened the can and scooped some salmon into one of the bowls. I had forgotten a spoon so I used my fingers and licked them clean to cover my crime.Jerry began to meow and started to scratch the closet door. He jumped out when I slid the door open and made a beeline to the salmon. He began to gulp it down like he hadn’t eaten in days and only stopped for moment when I left to get him some water. I filled the other bowl in the bathroom sink and pushed both bowls and Jerry under my bed in case someone decided to come in.

    After Jerry had eaten his dinner I tucked him back in to the closet for safekeeping. Not wanting to draw attention I went out to play with my brothers and didn’t go back to my room until it was time for bed.Jerry was catnapping when I opened the closet and happily leaped onto my bed like he belonged there. I turned out my light and brought him under the covers close to my chest. He rumbled with pleasure and as I petted him. I caressed his silky ears and scratched him under his chin. He rolled over on his back as I massaged his belly and ran my fingers through his thick velvety fur.How heavenly to have a cat for my very own. Someone to tell my secrets to, someone who would understand how difficult it was to be me. I fell asleep to the sound of Jerry’s purrs and comforting warmth.The next morning I stuffed Jerry back in the closet and was getting dressed for school when my mother stepped into my room. She greeted me cheerfully as was her way when suddenly her nose twisted and she turned her head to take in what could only be the result of an indoor cat without a litter box.

    She began to sniff the air as I vainly tried to distract her with small talk and questions about breakfast. She ignored me as she continued her search for the source of the SMELL. I positioned myself between her and the closet door as she picked through dirty clothes and scattered toys. She saw me by the closet door, my eyes wide with feigned innocence and asked me to please move away. I did as told and held my breath as she slid the door open.

    What she was expecting to find, I do not know, but I do know she did not expect a gray furry creature to leap out like a shot and scurry under the bed. She shrieked in surprise but quickly composed herself after I told her that it was just Jerry, my new pet cat.My brothers and sister, tuning into the strange noise coming from my room, all seemed to burst through my door at once, excitedly crowding around my mother wondering what terrible thing had happened to cause me to cry out No! No! No! My mother quickly told them of the cat contraband hiding under my bed and what happened next is the only possible thing that could have happened when five exited children and one harried, overworked mother try to catch a determined cat in a small one-level rambler.Cat runs under the bed, children try to reach cat by poking at it with a broomstick. Cat tears out of bedroom door between the legs of the youngest child and finds refuge under the large queen-sized bed in the master bedroom.Loud, highly excited children swarm into the room and the cat darts out and down the hall into the living room, where it finds refuge behind the large blue Lazyboy chair.

    When my mother had finally had enough, she called for silence and for everyone to stop. She calmly told me to retrieve the cat and in spite of my tears and that I would just die if she got rid of my only pet, she calmly took Jerry from my arms and handed him off to my older brother who gleefully took Jerry to the back door and without ceremony dumped him onto the back step.

    I wailed and rushed to the door but my mother gently took me in her arms and explained once again that we could not have cats and Jerry most likely belonged to a neighbor who was probably at this very moment out looking for him.

    It just wasn’t fair. Why did I have to be born in a family that couldn’t have pets? Didn’t they understand I just didn’t want a cat I needed one to live. My mother reminded me that I was still breathing and we all had to get out the door to school. She hugged me and wiped my face and left to go clean up the mess that Jerry had deposited on my closet floor.

    I was feeling pretty peevish when I finally left for school and even though I called for Jerry and searched for him as I walked, I never saw him again. I imagined a joyful reunion with an elderly owner who was grateful that some anonymous 9 year old had kept Jerry safe for the night.

    And as I type this with one of my many cats nestled in my lap, I do remember getting some satisfaction out of the fact that my older brother’s face swelled up and his eyes watered uncontrollably due to the cat dander and that he was miserable for days.


    Thank you, Jerry, wherever you are.
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