My love of pets started early in my life. As a child, our family had a rooster and a pheasant we hatched from eggs, a cat named Jenny, a dog that I brought home, gerbils and fish. We had them at different times but each of them contributed to my feelings towards pets. Fortunately, my love of animals was shared by my husband. Together, we created a zoo.
After we were married, Joey, our dog, came to live with us. I brought him home from Lollypop Farm in Rochester as a teenager. My friends and I saw him there and it was love at first sight. A couple of years later, I went to college and my parents watched him for me.
We also took “Jenny the 2nd” into our home after we were married. We called her that because she was the second cat in our family named Jenny. “Jenny the 1st” was a Christmas present from my parents to the family when I was six years old and she had since died. My older brother brought “Jenny the 2nd” home from college after she was abused by his roommates. He left her with my parents after he graduated and moved out of the house. Both Joey and Jenny were about 10 years old when my husband and I adopted them from my parents. My parents were now pet-free!
My husband and I bought a house in a neighborhood with walking trails so we were able to take Joey on long walks. We also took him to the Adirondacks to visit my parents. He loved it there! Once, when we took him to Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks for Christmas he fell through the ice. My younger brother saved him! Most of the time though, we went in the summer to the Adirondacks, and he could safely run free. “Jenny the 2nd” was an outdoor cat so she wandered freely around our neighborhood and in the Adirondacks. She was happy in her new home too.
Joey died when my oldest daughter was just over a year old. It was sad. I felt like a part of my past was gone forever. He was with our family through the last part of my high school, college, and into my twenties. He was with me after I was married. His final resting place was in the Adirondacks since that was his favorite place to be. Jenny was still with us but we missed having a dog.
After some research, we decided to get a Golden Retriever. My husband knew someone at work who knew the President of the Western New York Golden Retriever Society. She let my husband know she was breeding her dog. She had sent her dog to St. Louis to be bred with Tristan, who was the National Champion Golden Retriever. Tristan’s mom, “Aruba”, was the top producing dam (female) in Golden Retriever history. In other words, our future puppy’s grandmother had produced the most champions in the United States (60 of them to be exact!) The president of the WNY Golden Retriever Society was keeping the best puppy in the litter to “show”, and selling all of the other puppies to defray the costs. We decided to look at the puppies.
We chose the puppy that came to me first. We named her Sophie. (This was going to be the name of our firstborn girl but because I had a miscarriage we decided not to use it for any of our children.) Sophie was a family name and we really liked it. We thought it might be okay to use the name for our dog.
Sophie was a beautiful dog. When we took her on walks, people would stop their cars and ask us about her. We loved Sophie very much despite the fact that she was very high strung. I took her to training classes when I was pregnant with my second child.
Sophie was difficult to train. She was growing fast physically but she was still just a puppy. She was hard to control because of her size and her personality. She was a dominant dog.
Still, she was a Golden who loved to run and play. We liked that about her. We walked her whenever we could to help her expend all her pent-up energy. We also liked the fact that most of the time, she was great with my 2 year old daughter. My daughter could jump all over her and Sophie didn’t care. She never growled or tried to bite her. The worst thing Sophie did was try to run into her when she was running. We made sure she never tried that again.
Sophie needed more space to run and our family was expanding so we decided to move to a bigger house with more property. We also wanted to move closer to my husband’s family. That’s when we found the house we are living in today. It was bigger with more space in the backyard for Sophie to run. After we moved to our new house, we installed an invisible fence around our property and trained her on it.
We took her to the Adirondacks to see my parents. Just like Joey, our previous dog, she absolutely loved it there. She could run and swim freely at the lake. She loved chasing the ducks though. Unfortunately, the ducks were smarter than her and they would lure her out to the middle of the lake. More than once, someone had to haul her into their boat from the middle of the lake and bring her back to us. We ended up having to keep her fenced in so we wouldn’t lose her in the lake.
Everyone loved Sophie. She was beautiful and spirited. My husband used to wrestle her down to establish dominance. The trainer suggested he do this to show her who was boss. She had boundless energy. We had to keep walking her to settle her down. She helped us both get in great shape. We could also let her out in our backyard to run free since we had an invisible fence.
Not long after moving to our new house, I noticed that she had settled down quite a bit. I thought maybe she was maturing. She was easier for me to handle. After noticing Sophie lost some weight, we started thinking something might be wrong. We took her to the vet. Her hemoglobin was 2 and it should have been 13 or 14. The vet thought it might be cancer. They did an endoscopy and didn’t see anything. She was transfused four times. She started having trouble breathing. The vet told us he couldn’t do anything else for her. We took her home, enjoyed her company, kept an eye on her and hoped for the best.
It was a beautiful day in October. Sophie was having a tough day. At about 1 in the morning, she struggled up the stairs to be with us. We couldn’t believe she made it because she was so weak and tired at that point. She had difficulty breathing. I think she came to tell us it was her time to go.
Since there was nothing the vets could do and she appeared to be suffering, we made the decision to put her to sleep. She was only a year and a half old. The vet wanted to know what was wrong with her so he performed an autopsy at no charge. He found out she had stomach cancer.
Jenny, our cat, had outlived both Joey and Sophie. She had a great life hunting all around our property. When she was about sixteen, we had to put her to sleep too. She had renal failure and hyperthyroidism. The chipmunks that survived Jenny’s attacks must have been happy when she left us. She had an obsession with killing them. Because she was abused as a kitten before my parents adopted her, she was never a very friendly cat. We loved her anyway.
When our oldest was three years old, we asked her if she wanted a dog. She said she wanted a “little white dog”. We decided to get her a Bichon Frise puppy. Soon, we brought home Mickey, a cute little white puppy. He was very sweet and playful. It was Fall when we brought him home and he loved jumping in the leaves with the kids.
Mickey was a really good little dog. He was the first little dog we ever owned. We hired a trainer to help us train him at home.
Mickey’s new trainer appeared to be a very nice guy and he seemed to know what he was doing. Then, one day he told us he needed to hit Mickey to train him properly. He said Mickey had a stubborn streak in him and we needed to get rid of it. He hit him and Mickey shrieked loudly. We didn’t agree with this method at all. It traumatized Mickey and us too. That was the end of the trainer. Poor Mickey! After that, he feared men.
Despite a rough start with his training, Mickey was a great family dog. He was good with the kids. Mickey always wanted to play fetch. We loved that about him but it did get annoying after awhile. He was the first dog we had to take to a groomer. He didn’t really like going but he always looked great afterwards.
After a few years, he developed a fear of loud noises. During every thunderstorm, he started shaking and he would jump in bed with me.
One night, when he was about seven years old, we were in the midst of a really bad thunderstorm. Our power had gone out too. I heard Mickey run right into the wall. I shined a flashlight on him and he was walking in circles. Apparently, he had a seizure after running into the wall and hitting his head so hard. He had to be on seizure medications the rest of his life after that stormy night. He gained weight and became confused. The seizure medications made him look and act like a different dog.
Before Mickey had seizures, Bob had gone to the SPCA and brought home a kitten who we decided to name Minnie. Now, we had Mickey the dog and Minnie the cat along with three kids. Soon after that, I had my fourth child.
When my youngest was about 11 months old, she needed to have her tonsils and adenoids taken out. When I went to the hospital with my daughter, Minnie the cat went missing. She was an outdoor cat so she could have been anywhere. When I returned from the hospital, I went in our backyard and called for her. I had my baby daughter with me. Minnie came out from a wooded area behind our swing set. I ran to her and saw that the poor cat was covered in maggots. I called the vet and asked what I should do. I was exhausted after staying with my daughter in the hospital but our cat needed help. I was able to get poor Minnie in the pet carrier and bring her into the vet. That’s when I found out she was dying of kidney failure. The vet guessed she had gotten into antifreeze. It probably leaked out of someone’s car onto a driveway and she drank it. I was glad to be with her when we put her to sleep. I could tell she was very aware of me being there with her in her last moments and she appreciated it.
Once again, we decided to get another cat. We ended up doing some research and concluded that a Ragdoll cat would be our next cat. We learned that Ragdoll cats were supposed to go limp in your arms and they liked to be held. After having cats that were not very affectionate, those characteristics sounded good to us.
We picked out a beautiful male Ragdoll kitten from a breeder nearby. The kids wanted to name him Mark. We called him Marcus. He ended up not being a typical Ragdoll cat. He hated to be held. He was also very independent. Marcus was his “own” cat. He earned the respect of all of us in the house, the humans and the pets. In other words, most of us were afraid of him.
Marcus ended up having a problem soon after we brought him home. He wouldn’t go to the bathroom in the litter box. Instead, he went next to it. We took him to a couple vets. The vet who solved his problem got our business. Marcus just needed to be put on a special diet. Yes, it was expensive but Marcus was worth it. Now, we had Mickey, our Bichon Frise and Marcus, the Ragdoll cat in our miniature zoo.
We soon added another puppy to our family. After doing more research, we decided to get a Papillon. My husband looked online and found a woman who was married with twelve kids who bred Papillon and Cavalier King Charles puppies. She lived in Kansas. Her kennel had gotten great reviews so he made arrangements with her to send us a Papillon. Our new Papillon puppy was shipped on an airplane from Kansas to Buffalo.
The puppy’s name was Cleopatra. She was a discounted puppy because of her irregular markings. She was a Christmas present who arrived a little bit late on a very snowy day late in December. I’ll never forget how happy our toddler daughter was when my husband brought her into our house. She fit into our family and bonded right away with our bichon frise, Mickey.
Mickey was Cleo’s mentor. She watched everything he did and copied him. The two of them loved fetching balls and barking together.
Unfortunately, Mickey’s health slowly declined after he ran into the wall the night of the thunderstorm. He continued to have more seizures. About six months after his first seizure, he had a really bad seizure right before he went to sleep. I went to sleep shortly after he had gone to sleep. I had a vivid dream that night. In the dream, Mickey came to see me to say good bye. When I woke up, I went downstairs and found out that he had passed away in his sleep. I think he said good bye to me on his way to dog heaven.
Around this time, my husband started traveling with work. One day, he came home from Florida and surprised us with a Munchkin cat. The cat was beautiful. Because she was a Munchkin, genetically she would always be small. She quickly bonded with Marcus, our Ragdoll cat. She was very sweet and the two cats developed a relationship. Princess looked up to Marcus and followed him around everywhere. Sometimes, we’d see the two of them curled up together.
At this point in time, our zoo consisted of Cleo, Princess and Marcus. Cleo was outnumbered by the two cats. We started thinking about breeding Cleo. Why not? She was descended from champion lines. We thought our children might be interested in “showing” Papillons at dog shows if Cleo had puppies.
We were able to get permission to breed her from the woman we had gotten Cleo from in Kansas. We had to pay the woman $700 and sign a contract. Part of our agreement was we had to promise to tell her if someone specifically bought one of Cleo’s puppies to “show” it at dog shows.
Our next step was to find a suitable mate for Cleo. We found a woman who “showed” and bred dogs. She said we could breed Cleo with one of her “show” dogs if we gave her one of the puppies. She knew the woman from Kansas who had originally owned Cleo through the dog show circuit. If she took one of Cleo’s puppies, she didn’t want us to tell Cleo’s previous owner she had one. She also wanted to “show” the puppy. We told her we had to tell Cleo’s former owner that she took a puppy because it was in our contract. We ended up breeding Cleo with one of her dogs and just giving her money. We never gave her one of Cleo’s puppies.
Cleo had four beautiful puppies – Patches, Lucky, Frodo and Snowball (who later became Pippin) at our house. It was a wonderful learning experience for our children. They were very cute puppies. My sister in law, who had experience breeding dogs, helped with the births. We had so much fun with the puppies. We could not wait to see them and play with them. The kids had their friends over. We even brought them to school.
We ended up selling the males – Lucky and Frodo. We kept Patches and Pippin. Pippin bonded with my son. The two of them were always together, even now. Our family was very busy and the children never showed an interest in “showing” dogs at dog shows. The puppies just became beloved family pets in our growing zoo.
Our family had three Papillons (Cleo and her two female pups) and two cats (Princess and Marcus) in our zoo now. We tried to keep Princess, our Munchkin cat, inside our house but she ran out the door a couple of times in November and a couple of times in December. She loved to follow Marcus around. He was an outdoor cat. The next thing we knew, we found out Princess was pregnant. We were suspicious that Marcus was the father but we had him fixed so we knew it couldn’t be. It must have been a neighborhood cat.
A few months after the puppies were born, Princess had four kittens. Our zoo was booming with babies. None of Princess’s kittens were Munchkins. They were all normal size. Princess was still nursing the kittens when she got out of the house again. Unfortunately, this time she was hit by a car right outside our house. I found her on the road. We were devastated.
Fortunately, her kittens were already starting to eat solid food. Even so, one of the kittens, Gollum, tried to nurse from Cleo, the mama Papillon.
Another sister in law felt bad for us when she found out Princess died. She gave us one of her cats who we named Jasmine because we thought she was a girl. When we later found out Jasmine was a male, we renamed him Casper because he was white and friendly like Casper the Friendly Ghost. After her death, we gave away two of Princess’s kittens to friends and kept the twins, Gollum and Dolly. They were Princess’s legacy.
Our zoo consisted of three papillons and four cats now. We were content with this for a couple of years. Then, my husband decided to breed Cleo again before she was too old. His co-worker wanted a puppy. The whole puppy experience two years before had been wonderful. My children were a little older now and my daughter wanted to be a vet. We thought it would be great to experience it again.
Cleo ended up having two puppies. She had one at home and one at the vets because the puppy was stuck. She ended up being induced before she had her second puppy. When the second puppy was born, it was encased in its’ sac and we were unsure whether it was still alive. Cleo started licking it and it started moving. We were all relieved. That was the last time we ever bred Cleo. We ended up getting her spayed years after that to keep her healthy.
Our family became very attached to Cleo’s two puppies. We named them Spot and Champ. When it came time to let the one puppy go, we were all crying. I was upset because I had always wanted a brown and white papillon and my husband promised that one to his co-worker for her daughter. My children were upset because they had become attached to both puppies and didn’t want any of them to go. Since my husband had promised his co-worker Champ (the brown and white Papillon) we had to say good bye to him. Even though we planned on selling them both, we ended up keeping Spot since we became so attached.
We had an even number of dogs and cats now – four dogs and four cats. Many years passed and the numbers stayed the same. Then, about two years ago, we said good bye to Dolly, one of Princess’s twins, after she suddenly lost a lot of weight. She was our only female cat. She was so sweet and affectionate like her mother, Princess, had been. We miss her dearly.
Soon after, another one of our cats, Casper, had difficulty breathing and we had to put him to sleep. Immediately after we said good-bye to him, we walked out of the room into the vet’s waiting room and the movie “Casper” was playing there. It hadn’t been on television for many years. It was bizarre.
Just recently, one of my college-aged children decided she wanted her own kitten. She found a kitten online she wanted to check out. The kitten was a rescue and was advertised as being very affectionate – a “lap” cat and that’s what she wanted.
She called the phone number to this cat rescue group and arranged a meeting. We all went to a house about 45 minutes away to meet the kitten. We found out there that the kitten couldn’t come that night. We didn’t care because we spent time watching four puppies at the house playing together. There were also several other kittens that other people were coming to meet. It was a pet lovers paradise. There were puppies and kittens everywhere. We were all “taken” by these four adorable little puppies. They loved being held and were very affectionate. This was what my daughter was looking for, but in a cat. We found out the mother of the puppies was half Papillon and half Pomeranian. We were told the dad was a Chihuahua. We met the mom that night. She looked like our dogs at home, just a different color and a little fluffier. We all fell in love with her puppies.
We came back to the same place the next night to meet the kitten. The kitten ended up being much different than advertised. She could not keep still so we couldn’t hold her. The kitten was climbing my legs like I was a scratching post. She was flying from person to person with her claws out. She was definitely not a lap cat.
My daughter wasn’t interested in the kitten anymore but she loved the puppies. We all loved the puppies. Were we out of our minds? We already had four older Papillons at home. Cleo was 16, Patches and Pippin were 14, and Spot was 12. We also had two older cats left -Marcus and Gollum. Did we really want another puppy?
After much thought and discussion, my daughter did the “crazy” thing and ended up getting one of the puppies. It’s hard to believe but we let her do it too. Our hearts were stronger than our minds.
She named him Nemo because she wanted to give him a Disney name. Fortunately, he fit right in with the other pets. It was as though he always belonged here. He became best friends with Spot, our 12 year old dog. It was an easy transition into our zoo.
Marcus, our Ragdoll cat, passed away shortly after we brought Nemo home. He was 18 years old. He died of old age. We were all very sad but knew it was coming. Marcus was the “king” of our zoo. He outlived all our other animals He was a gorgeous cat. He loved welcoming us in the driveway every time we came home. He also loved the nice weather. His last day on earth was a beautiful one.
Our zoo now consisted of five dogs and one cat. That’s how it still is today. Nemo is almost a year old now. Luckily, we love him because he has been a challenging puppy. He is a chewer and spent the holiday season chewing up some of our treasured Christmas ornaments. His sweet temperament, playful nature and good lucks made up for the damaged ornaments and other material things he’s chewed up. Like all our other dogs, he loves to bark.
Our mother Papillon, Cleo, is sixteen years old now. She is not herself and hasn’t been for the past year as she has doggy dementia. She spends her days sleeping and wandering the house. She is still sweet though. Her pups, Patches, Pippin and Spot, are all doing well. Gollum is the last of our cats. He is the only cat left in the family. If you don’t give him attention, you’ll find him laying down in front of you or by your head. He also knocks down glasses with his paw, feeds himself by knocking over the food bin, and he stands on the radio to turn it on. In other words, he will make you give him attention.
We also have a grand-dog now . My oldest daughter, who is married and lives in her own house, inherited our pet-loving genes. She married a dog lover. They just got a Cavalier King Charles puppy. His name is Otis and he’s Nemo’s best buddy. That’s the end of the story of the Pszonak Zoo, at least for now. Stay tuned because I am sure there will be more to come.