If you are of a certain age and found the local (wherever you were) morning top 40 radio offerings insufficient in the 1970s and early 1980s, you may have tuned to WLS radio in Chicago for its “Animal Stories” each weekday at 6:45 or 9:45 a.m.
That came to mind because of your favorite weekly newspaper’s recent animal news reporting, including Friday’s brief adventure with a large (at least from our perspective) snake at the bottom of our back door steps. (As does the goofy YouTube “Badgers” video whose antagonist is “A snake! A snake! Snake! A snake! Ohhhhhhhhh, a snaaaaaaaake!”)
(Before I resume: I am certainly aware of the hideous tragedy of Saturday night in Orlando. I also am aware that our political discourse has become so polarized and so hardened that nothing I write here will change anyone’s mind about what to do about it. As it is, this newspaper sometimes reports local news that is grim enough as it is.)
I don’t think I’m as afraid of snakes as some people are. (An ex-girlfriend wouldn’t get within 30 feet of the snake house at the Milwaukee County Zoo, even though the distance was augmented by thick glass.) But I wasn’t really interested in getting closer than I did to the snake at the bottom of our steps. My experience in identifying or handling snakes is limited to a few episodes of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” where Jim Fowler wrestled a snake the length of Dickeyville while Marlin Perkins bemusedly watched and pitched life insurance.
(Irrelevant aside: That also made me think of an attempt of a TV series by Jack Webb, creator of “Dragnet,” “Adam-12” and “Emergency!” — “905-Wild,” which starred Mark Harmon, well before his “NCIS” days, and Albert Popwell, seen in three “Dirty Harry” movies, an animal control officers, and David Huddleston, decades later seen in “The Big Lebowski.” as a veterinarian. “905-Wild” was stuck within an “Emergency!” episode, but that’s the only place you’ll see it.)
Readers love stories about animals, although animals are not very good interviews. (I once did a story about someone who had two bear cubs. After a while the cubs started digging into my camera bag. Once they got bored with that, they started gnawing on me. Really.) Modern cameras can get you great photos if you have patience to wait out the animal, and their owners usually have interesting stories about what made them think owning lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) was a good idea. (The cubs, by the way, loved doughnuts.) It is fascinating to get closer, in the case of a game farm, than a zoo will let you to big cats, but in my experience they’re lacking in smaller-cat hygiene. (Nor do they purr.)
We’ve always had dogs and cats. (Bats too, though they’re neither invited nor really welcome.) I suppose Max, the part-Basenji and part-other breed(s), could be considered a rescue animal given that we rescued him from the fate of getting flattened by a tractor–trailer since he showed at a very early age ability to get out of his house. (Where he wasn’t supposed to be according to his owner’s lease anyway.) We also have Leo the morbidly obese Chihuahua and, added most recently, two cats, one of which looks like a Norwegian forest cat (right down to the different-color eyes), though I suspect Norwegian forest cats are not found outside Norway., the source of one-fourth of my own lineage.
Two previous dogs of ours enjoyed the sport of making our first cat (who we got from Platteville, whereupon she transformed from cat to fur-covered football) splat upon the floor merely by stepping on her back, whereupon the cat would turn around, bat the dogs in the face and hiss at them. The lack of claws in the cat’s front feet resulted in a mystified expression on the attacked dog, as if he or she was trying to figure out if that was supposed to hurt.
There is a lot of hissing at our house, because the cats don’t seem to care for the dogs, and Luna (the “forest cat”) doesn’t seem to like to play with Oskar (the white cat with black ears and tail tip) when Oskar wants to play. Animal experts will tell you that multiple animals need to determine their own pecking order within your pack (at least in the case of dogs). Max and Oskar are probably in similar roles, though they don’t really play with each other. Leo is the fat dog, but also the crotchety dog, and Princess Luna is interested in you only on her terms, until you get out the cat food.
The thing about pets — well, dogs anyway — is that when you come home from work, even if you’ve had a rotten day and the humans in the household couldn’t care less if they see you, the non-humans are happy to see you. At least when you feed them or they want to be petted.
Play on: Everyone should plan not to do anything next Tuesday from 1 p.m. onward except to go to several Make Music Platteville performances. (The schedule as it currently exists on pages 3A and B2.) You will get to see more music than has ever been played (as far as we know) in Platteville on one day.