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Free Range: Animal magnetism

By Felicia Morgan

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A close friend pointed out recently that this fall is a milestone for me. October will mark five years of being without a home and he asked if there was anything about civilian life that I felt I was missing out on. The question gave me pause. I’m constantly hearing others wistfully comment that I must have the perfect life, and how they’d love to have my job. I always smile and share that yes, my employment fits me well and I count myself as blessed for every day I get to spend chasing a new horizon but there are a few things I feel are missing.

In between covering events and scribbling thoughts, I work out trade offs for time out of the weather and it’s during those times that I get my little fixes. I feel especially lucky when a kitchen is offered up since I love to cook and feeding others feeds my soul. I’m welcome to pick up a sauté pan at more than one restaurant out on the west coast. I do some house sitting, pet sitting and, on occasion, kid sitting though I’ve recently discovered that I’m less cut out for the kid part these days. I don’t watch television so there’s an entire lexicon I’m ignorant of and communication can be difficult since I know nothing about fashion, Hollywood gossip or the coolest new phone app. We have an entire generation of brainiacs and I’m just not smart enough to keep cadence with today’s children, though even the 6-year-olds are very helpful when you need someone to figure out your iPhone functions for you.

Tending animals is serious business, and I’ve come to love many of the pets as much as their owners. There’s Lola the Shih tzu who walks around and grumbles under her breath like an Ewok and glares if you sit in her chair. She’ll pout and refuse to eat as soon as her parents leave, then pee on the floor just to see if you notice. I figured out that a little bit of lap time and a cookie makes you an instant buddy and the hunger strike is quickly abandoned. Della the SoCal terrier likes to run in and out of the doggie door and fuss at the birds while her brother the big chocolate Lab is content to lay in his bed and get belly rubs. The blind turtle in NorCal is a concern because he’s very old and taking care of him is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. If he keels over during my watch I’d feel horrible so I worry about him chomping my fingers since hand feeding a blind turtle can be a challenge. Those guys have jaws of steel, you know. I was supposed to be keeping an eye on the pregnant cow in Arizona a while back and thought I was doing a good job until I noticed a calf nursing. How do you miss a birth of an animal that size, for crying out loud? There was Cuckoo the half-blind Santa Cruz chicken who needed walks and Blackie the elusive attack cat who never did warm up to me even with tasty treat lures. I’ve tended goldfish and mice, small birds, parrots and been in charge of making sure the houseplants don’t croak.

Most all my friends have pets and though I’ve not been responsible for taking care of most of them, I have grown an attachment to them all. Bodie the Husky is getting old and has several health problems. It’s been sad to watch him lose his mind as senility sets in, but he’s still lovable and voices his opinion by yodeling. Oregon friends know I’m mesmerized by their alligator that comes up out of her pond and growls at the sound of motorcycle engines and Goldie the goat is always fun to love on. Harry and Sturgis, the grouchy donkeys, were both castrated this summer so it’s expected that they’ll be more passive when I visit next. Timber the South Dakota pitbull who doesn’t realize he’s no longer lap-sized still loves me even though it’s been a year since he last slobbered all over me.

One time, while visiting the Pacific Northwest, I’d had a tough couple of days on the road. It was fire season and I’d spent a day sucking up smoke while trying to outrun triple digit heat to ride into the cool mountains. It was late and there was heavy traffic due to road construction, so it was dark by the time I wobbled up to the welcome mat. I was dog-ass tired and fell in a heap on the basement futon. By daylight I was awakened by a crunching sound and opened my crusty eyes to find the resident Corgi picking bugs out of my hair. It’s that kind of unconditional love I miss the most.

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