This Side of the Pond – Jan. 31

By Sarah Pridgeon


Before I moved to Sundance, my pet ownership experiences were sadly limited. There’s simply not enough room in a London apartment for an additional animal; frankly, I had trouble fitting my husband in when he visited my green and pleasant land.
My grandparents owned a Yorkshire Toy Terrier, but it wasn’t really a dog. Instead of emulating the rest of its noble breed, it was a diminutive ball of fluff with a fear of fireworks and a penchant for scrambled eggs.
The critters I owned when I was young don’t count, because I didn’t do well as a small pet owner. I was proud caregiver to an albino bunny rabbit called Fluff when I was not long out of diapers, but her eyes turned red, she began attacking everything in sight and eventually my parents gave up and decided she was to be given to a local animal sanctuary.
Unfortunately, the sanctuary’s warren then suffered a suspicious decrease in inhabitants. It turned out the poor thing had been suffering from myxomatosis.
My beloved parents tried to fill the hole in my heart with a hamster (which I named “Fluff 2” because my imaginative skills had yet to develop.) It scampered in its squeaky wheel, driving my grandmother peculiar, until the day my small hands were unable to keep its wriggles contained and it wedged itself on a permanent basis behind the crockery cabinet.
A little later, I won two goldfish at a fairground and named them “Bubble” and “Bobble” (after a Super Nintendo game.) Never one to do things by halves, I added three more fish to the tank and concluded that there was nothing for it but to call them, “Babble,” “Bibble” and “Bebble.”
Things went well for a couple of years, though I was never keen on their lack of hugging skills (and cleaning that fish tank was a chore I would have sold my baby brother to avoid.) Unfortunately, all five of them expanded until their tails touched one end of the tank and their noses were jammed against the other; they were donated to a neighbor’s pond, where they were last seen cowering under a lily pad.
That was the end of the pet experience for Me Aged Small. I had another go at it during my teenage years with a tawny rabbit to accompany my brother’s guinea pig, although I was summarily banned from calling them “Boot” and “Sock” because my family had had quite enough of my naming skills.
Once again, it was not to be. After months of crawling through hedges to put an end to one or other animal’s escape attempt, we discovered that the rabbit was not actually a girl and, in the absence of a more appropriate alternative, was interested in getting to know the guinea pig better and prepared to use all necessary force.
I’m not sure why my rabbit got the boot and the guinea pig was allowed to stay, although I assume it was karmic punishment for secretly calling them by their embargoed names. The guinea pig stuck with us well into my college years, sitting in the garden being big, but I was never told what happened to my bunny.
Once I had finished with being educated, I moved to London, where I spent a decade in various rented accommodations with strict restrictions on animal residents. I once devised an intricate plan to smuggle a gerbil into the building but abandoned it when I discovered that the nearest pet shop was an hour away on the bus. Plenty of time for it to chew through the cardboard box and run amok on public transport.
With such a miserable background, joining a household with animal inhabitants was one of the many pleasures of my Wyoming experience. I am surrounded by enough dogs and cats to make up for every year of my petless existence, each one full of personality.
Our canine princess is a mix of Chihuahua, Italian Greyhound and Boston Terrier. It’s a combination that ought to be hideous to behold, but she has somehow jiggled her genes into an order both unique and adorable.
So close is the bond between our dog and my husband that he needed her permission before even considering the idea of marriage. Fortunately, she decided I was probably good for a treat or two and deigned to offer her blessing.
We also adopted a kitten from the animal rescue center in Spearfish. She welcomed herself into the house by peeing all over the floor, but has settled in nicely and can usually be found sitting in cardboard boxes or chewing my shoes.
She’s not the best tempered cat in the world and she will greet you by biting the end of your nose, but she will accept a snuggle if you promise never to speak of it again. If you defy her rules of engagement, she will shred your handbag.
Part-ownership in a pooch has apparently honed my herding skills, I’m pleased to report. I was recently called upon to round up my parents-in-law’s two Houdinis, who had found a flaw in the floor of their kennel.
Carmen was easy to catch up with: offer her a cuddle and a moment of attention and she’s yours for the taking. Though she resembles a sheepdog, her closest animal relative is Eeyore; she likes to give the impression that not a soul has petted her through all her long years.
Molly the bouncing Boxer, on the other hand, is the most enthusiastic dog I have ever met. Literally everything excites her, from deer to plastic bags, and her hobbies include sniffing, digging, plotting and thieving rags from Dad-in-Law’s back pocket.
Molly’s victory list of bowled-over visitors encompasses children, adults and unwitting Englishwomen. I clocked her ears bounding up and down behind the snow line, called her name in my most masterful tone, watched her screech to a halt and then discovered she was still interested in the concept of knocking me onto my behind.
She had a 100-foot run-up. I watched that jubilant dog hurtle towards me and froze in terror; only through a cleverly timed sidestep was I able to turn a disaster for me into a mishap for the kennel wall.
The end result of my adventure was two dogs and a disguised Tasmanian Devil that will mind my every instruction. Perhaps somebody told them what happened to the animals that didn’t.