Disclaimer: This post, too, ends on a sad note. Sorry.
So little Sandy came to live with us there in the convergence of the three schools. As if the lambs hadn’t been enough of a landmark for the passing hoards of kids, a baby foal really drew attention. Luckily for me, the prestige of a baby horse was far greater than baby sheep, especially with the city girls who were generally a horse-crazy bunch.
It took a while for Sandy to understand that the disembodied rubber thing coming at her was a replacement for that nice warm bag under her mother’s belly. It was touch and go for a while as we fiddled with the recipe for her formula, but eventually we all, including Sandy figured things out. I swear kids started leaving for school earlier and earlier in the morning. Their mothers must have wondered what was up. Sandy’s breakfast was what was up. What better way to begin the morning than by watching a foal scarfing down breakfast from a pop bottle with a nipple on it?
Little Sandy turned into a royally spoiled but sweet little girl. I don’t remember how long she lived with us, but certainly long enough to give me a reputation throughout town as the kid with a horse in the yard. We weren’t able to fully replicate mother’s-milk nourishment, so little Sandy remained a little horse, even when fully grown. She was a beautiful little blond with a white blaze and silky, white mane and tail. Eventually she reestablished her equine identity when we took her back out to the ranch on Skyline Drive.
Then one day my best friend’s dad came home from a hunting trip with three tiny coyote pups instead of food for the freezer. Terry dashed up the street to ask if we wanted one of the pups!
My mom was agog. Coyote pups don’t belong in town. Why in the world had he raided a coyote den? Those pups needed to be in the wild with their mother. This inexplicable behavior reinforced mom’s belief that the man was nuts. But the fact remained that three little souls had been ripped from their home and would never be able to return. With a sigh, she consented to take one of the pups off his hands.
The little guy was a bundle of fluff about the size of a rat. His little eyes were still partly glued shut, better for him perhaps, to not see what had transpired in his journey to our house in town. Once again, we were bottle feeding, this time with doll-sized bottles, then slowly graduating into canned dog food which he slurped delightedly from a proffered finger. At first he spent a good deal of time in the house. The cats hissed their indignation. The dog mothered him until she had her own pups. He earned his name from his forays behind the couch where the contented thumping of his tail between the sofa and the wall gave away his hiding place.
Raised like a dog, Thumper was loving and generous. When he had something to show me or when he wanted to play, he’d ever-so-gently mouth my arm between wrist and elbow and lead me about the yard. Never once did his teeth break the skin.
As he grew, mother became increasingly concerned about his innate feral tendancies. She worried that the meter reader would leave the gate open and let him out of the yard, or worse yet, be frightened by his presence and hose him down with pepper spray. So we had to stake him out on a long rope. When my sister’s dog, Ebony, had a litter of pups, Thumper watched over them and played with them as if they were his own litter cousins. As the pups grew, they’d wander out to where Thumper was staked in the yard and steal the food right out of his bowl while he looked on, ears pricked and head tilted in an attitude of love and admiration.
Thumper’s dubious fate
The longer he lived with us, the more we loved him and the more his presence troubled us. What to do with Thumper? He needed room to roam. He needed exercise and a pack to hang with. Dear as he was, we were always clear about the fact that he was a wild animal. After much nail-biting and soul-searching my mother finally decided he had to go. She told me that our rancher friends, the Talbots, knew another rancher who lived further out in the boonies than they did and who was willing to take the adolescent coyote off our hands. Supposedly this guy would fling Thumper scraps for a while until he learned how to hunt and hooked up with a pack.
I’ve gotta’ tell you, this story sounded weak to me then. It sounds even weaker to me now. But it is the story I had to believe. I’ve often wondered what really happened to Thumper. Just as I’ve often wondered if Mr. H. who brought the three pups to town, hadn’t shot the mother and then felt guilty about the pups. Either way, his behavior was unforgivable.
A few years ago, I had some old 16mm family film digitized and found footage of Thumper leading me around by the arm. There are images of him sitting at one end of his rope, while puppies tumbled over themselves to get to his food bowl. Mainly there is footage of Thumper endlessly circling the circumference of his rope, wearing out the grass, circling, circling, endlessly circling__a zoo animal penned in too-small an enclosure. My heart breaks. I wonder why we did it. How did my mother justify this? It would probably have been better to kill the little pups than to allow them to come to the end of a rope. This was an episode of the urban zoo that I’m inconsolably ashamed of. Nevertheless, my tiny claim to fame in my home town is that I was the kid who lived in the house that had all the weird critters in the yard.