Monday, September 10, 2012

Third Culture Animals? Part I

Third Culture Kids not only have to say good bye to friends and teachers, they also sometimes have to part with beloved pets!  My history with pets involves a lot of loss and grief, even if they were "only" animals.  They were family members who were also affected by our peripatetic life.

The first dog we had was Punch, a dachshund.  Punch came to us in Shreveport, before we even started our globe trotting.  In 1965 we moved from Louisiana to Chappequa, New York, sort of a stopgap before we went to Japan.  We were there about 6 months -- my sisters had to go to school in the interim.  Right after the movers came to pack up our stuff, we checked into a motel.  One night we went out to dinner, leaving Punch in the room.  At some point after we left, the chambermaid came in to turn down the beds, or whatever it is they do at night.  Punch slipped out the door, ran into the highway and was hit by a police car.  I don't remember anything other than riding in our station wagon, at night in a driving rainstorm, the dog's dead body in a box in the back.  We were on our way to the old house to bury him.  Mom urged me not to look in the box.  I have a shady vision of Daddy digging a hole next to a tree, in the rain, as we watched through the window.  I still remember how the beads of water dripped across the glass, throwing measles-shadows across our skin.
Our third Christmas in Tokyo, Daddy arranged for a special gift for my mom.  Right in the middle of our Christmas morning melee of shredded silver paper and discarded ribbons, the doorbell rang.  It was a little Japanese man, holding a tiny little dachshund puppy in his arms.  The puppy had a huge red bow around his neck.  All our new toys were forgotten and we all swarmed around him, oohing and aahing. Oscar was a great dog ... playful and happy.  It never occurred to me how strange it was that Mom named him after a family friend.

That summer we got the news that we were going back to New York.  I don't remember much about the actual move, but we ended up staying at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan.  Oscar arrived by airplane soon after that, but he was really, really sick.  He had distemper, either contracted at the vet in Japan or on the plane, we never really new.  I just remember walking him on the streets of New York, and our hotel room floor covered in newspaper.  Mom says we spent several hundred dollars on vet bills, getting him well.  It wasn't long after we moved into a rental house in Westport, Connecticut, that Oscar, restored to health, ran out of the yard and met his end under a pickup truck.  At that point I started to think all dogs died by getting hit by a car.

After only a year in Connecticut we hit the road yet again, headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where my dad's company had established their headquarters.  I begged and pleaded and cajoled for a pet, and somehow convinced my parents to let me have a cat.  He was Timmy, a tiny little black and white thing.  He was all mine ... and I loved him!  But the family jinx hit yet again when Timmy was hit by a car.  Fortunately for him, the car only ran over his tail, and the tip became scabby and disgusting and eventually fell off.  When we moved YET AGAIN to Brussels the next summer, I was told that Timmy would not be invited.  I don't remember who took him but that was the end of that.

In Brussels, we were friends with a family whose dog, a basset hound, had a litter of puppies.  We took one home, a tiny, wriggling black white and brown pup.  Sam was clearly the runt of the litter, with all sorts of problems like buck teeth and wonky hips.  His legs were impossibly short to support his body.    He had enormous ears that drooped into his water dish when he drank, and anyone within five feet of him after he drank was showered with slobber and water when he shook his head.  He was a pretty pathetic, sorry looking animal.  He peed all over the upstairs carpet, and it had to be replaced when we moved out.  He always seemed intrigued by trash cans, and often decorated the halls with his treasures.  Whenever we took him to the vet he got violently car sick, one time all over me.

Sadly, when we moved away, we couldn't take him, for whatever reason.  The family who had given him to us promised they would collect him from the kennel when they returned from their summer vacation.  We later learned that they never had, and we can only imagine what happened to him.  My mom still gets choked up when the subject of Sam comes up.  Sam favored my sister Lisa. She had that uncanny vibe that attracted all the animals in the family.  They were drawn to her.  I was quietly jealous of that.
Right after my sister Lisa's accident and death, we adopted a gorgeous Miniature Schnauzer puppy named Gus.  Gus was the perfect therapy dog.  When my mom was having a particularly difficult moment (were any moments less difficult than others?) the dog would literally put his snout on her knee and gaze at her as if to say, "I'm here if you need me."  He was truly an amazing animal.  Soon after he arrived, we adopted a little black kitty who was mine, all mine!  I named her Krishna and she was very much My Cat. She used to sleep on my neck as I read books in bed, and she burrowed under the covers at night.  At a point in my life when I particularly needed loving, she was just what my tormented teenaged psyche needed; something that loved only me.

This is a picture of an actual missing kitty in the UK.  She looks very much like my cat, but maybe I can help these people find their pet by posting here.  Check out
Before we moved to Manila we got the idea in our heads to adopt a female schnauzer as a consort for Gus; we had $$ in our eyes, thinking of going into the breeding business.  It did not materialize since no one ever explained the birds and the bees to Gus.  In spite of all that Sheba made herself right at home.  Like Sam the Basset, she had several "faults of the breed" .. crooked teeth, wildly shaped ears and a strange sheen to her coat.  Somehow that made her all the more lovable.  She and Gus became platonic companions for each other.  The three animals co-existed in a world where dogs don't hate cats, or vice versa.  We had quite the menagerie and they all comforted us when we needed it the most.

In the spring of 1974 Dad was asked to move to Manila to take over the company's Southeast Asian headquarters.  I distinctly remember him stating "I will take the dogs, but I am not taking That Cat."  He wasn't fond of cats; he tolerated them.  I was horrified.   I adored Krishna, but the decree had been handed down.  Luckily for us, a lady at our church was willing to take her.  I remember standing in that lady's kitchen, Krishna in her carrier.  The lady asked what her name was, and mom said, "Well, her name is Krishna, but most of the time we just call her Kitty."  At the sound of her name, Krishna started yeowling.  I think that was when she realized she was leaving us.  I cried hot tears all the way home ... sad for having to say good-bye yet again.  Sad for decisions that were made for me, without any input from me.  That happens a lot for TCKs.

Many many years later, my sister Debi came to live in Baton Rouge.  Due to one of those "small world" kismet stories, she ended up living across the street from the lady who had adopted Krishna.  One day we looked out the front of Debi's house and there was Krishna, sitting right on the roof across the street, looking at us as only cats can.  She had to be more than 20 years old at that point, but there she was.  I like to think she was trying to tell me, "Hey!  I remember YOU!"

Meanwhile, back in 1974, we loaded the two schnauzers in their carrier, and watched as the airline agent put them on the conveyor belt.  They slowly disappeared into the black hole of the luggage area, and I swallowed hard.  They were going to fly with us, but what a flight it was going to be: more than 26 hours.  After the first leg to San Francisco, we were allowed to take them out for a quick walk.  Then it was back in the cage.

In Hawaii, we inquired as to whether or not we could take them out again, and the flight attendant snapped at us.  "If those little paws touch the ground you're looking at 6 months in jail!"  Okaaaay.  Our first lesson in quarantine.  We stopped again in Guam, but again, the puppies had to stay in the box.  I had these horrible visions of finding their cold dead bodies when we arrived in Manila; it was torture for me.

Finally, finally, we touched down in Manila.  We had never felt equatorial heat before.  It was a living breathing thing, that heat, and it enveloped us like a woolly, scratchy wet blanket.  We were beyond fatigued, dirty from the trip, blinking and staggering, taking in all the strange smells and sounds of this new green planet on which we had landed.  I have a vision of another luggage carousel, the dog carrier making its way slowly towards us.  I dared to look inside, truly fearing what I would find.  Gus and Sheba sat there together, looking at us as if to say, WHAT THE &*$% HAS HAPPENED TO US?  But they were alive!  They had survived!!  Stay tuned for the REST of the story ...

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