The usual, "UNUSUAL PETS" I have had! Chapter 2
Ono Knotigan, the Boogalou, moonwalking coons, skunks
Chapter 2 (of 5):
We would occasionally walk to school and often see dead animals that had been hit by cars since our walk was along side a four lane boulevard. I had been taking a Taxidermy course by mail that was advertised in Fur Fish and Game magazine so I was keen to inspect fresh road kill as potential subjects for mounting. This day I found a dead squirrel with teats full of milk so I knew it was nursing babies. Looking around I saw what appeared to be a ball of leaves perched in the top of a nearby tree- possibly a squirrel nest. There were no other nests nearby and the trees were just starting to bud, otherwise if they were leafed out I probably wouldn't have been able to ID the nest. But I had to get to school. It was a Friday so the next day, Saturday I found the tree and managed to climb all the way up to the nest which was a good 20 - 25 feet. The limbs were very thin and I'm sure they wouldn't have supported an adult at that height.
As I inched my head up to where I could look into the nest I parted the leaves with my free hand. and there it was, a baby squirrel just starting to open it's eyes. I put it in my coat pocket and tore the nest apart looking for more but there was nothing. After thinking about it I figured if there were other babies being hungry and without their mother for at least a day and a half, probably more, they may have wiggled out of the nest and fallen to the ground where they probably became prey for some owl or hawk. I searched around but found nothing on the ground. I did notice in the trees there above was a hawk watching me.
So I took the squirrel home and nursed it with a pet nurser and formula I got from a book. There was no Internet back then but what I did worked and the squirrel grew fast. After mom spent some days nursing the baby squirrel she kinda grew attached to it so I could keep it in the house. When it got older I found an old console TV in someone's trash, took it and gutted it. Where the TV screen I installed a sliding piece of glass from the hardware store and kept the squirrel in the basement in this modified TV console.
Baby squirrels act very much like puppies. It would mouth your fingers and roll around your hand and then get wound up and hop around bouncing off of things. I said it looks like he is doing the boogalou, and that's how he got his name. A great name for a squirrel? I thought so. It didn't take long once I introduced him to his new home, for him to take to nesting. I had put some towels in a shoe box in there for him. However when we'd open the glass door and coax him out for a peanut we soon found he was attracted to tissue paper. I had a box of tissues near his cage and once he discovered them he would rip them out, stuff them in his mouth and scury into his cage to line his nest. Immediately I saw that I had something else to use as a training reward.
The cage was on one side of the basement and the cellar stairs on the other side. If I stood in the middle of the basement and stretched my arms out shoulder level, one toward the cage and the other toward the side of the steps there was about a 3 - 4 foot gap from cage to my hand or steps to the other hand.
When I held a tissue in my hand, arms outstretched, Boogy would jump onto my hand, stuff it in his mouth with his two front paws while balancing on his hind legs, turn and jump back into his cage and pull the tissue out of his mouth to line his nest. Then he was ready to get another. This time I put it in my other hand so he had to leap onto one hand run up my outstretched arm, behind my neck down my other arm to the tissue in the other hand. Once his mouth was stuffed he'd run all the way back and leap into his cage to line the nest. A few of these feats and I decided to put the box of tissues on one of the steps across from my outstretched arm. He took the leap from my hand to the steps only this time having a whole box of tissues he got carried away and stuffed so many tissues in his mouth they kept falling out, so he'd pick that one up and stuff if in, then another would fall out. After a few minutes of this I had to take a few and the box away from him or he'd be stuck in a never ending circle of facial tissue mouth stuffing. Then he'd leap back, run across me and leap into the cage there to unravel his take. This was so cool, he'd do anything for a tissue!! Next I decided to have some fun and as he ran past my neck I rotated 180 degrees so he wound up on the hand back in front of his cage - this totally baffled him! He looked and looked and leaned off my hand and looked all around 'til he saw the tissues on the steps and would start back across my arms again...and again I'd turn when he reached my neck but he'd keep going in what he thought was the same direction. He was baffled, constantly winding up in front of his cage. The whole thing was so enamoring I didn't even notice that my hands were getting all scratched up from his claws until we were abou done.
Boogalou could have done this
Well it didn't end there ...next I taught him to run to me from wherever he was and climb up my pant leg onto my shoulder where he was rewarded with a peanut. Once I got that down we moved to outdoors. Yes, I'd take him outside in the back yard everyday and he would explore sometimes for hours, but always when I would whistle he'd drop what he was doing and scurry, sometimes down a tree, from a telephone pole or the fence or just in the grass and scurry up my leg and onto my shoulder.
We had introduced him to our dog (a Lhasa Apso named Kubby) in the house and they seemed indifferent to each other, until we put them both in the yard together. The first time we did that the dog took off after the squirrel and Boogalou ran around the perimeter of the yard a couple times with Kubby chasing him, just like a dog chasing a cat but the squirrel was not scared at all. He would tease him by letting the dog touch his tail and then he'd accelerate. If you ever saw two squirrels chasing each other in the trees in the park it was the same thing only on the ground, until Boogalou ran up the Mimosa tree. Kubby, whoe hair ws always in his eyes, totally missed the squirrel and ran past the tree until he realized the squirrel had disappeared. He ran to every corner of the yard sniffing and turning looking for the squirrel. Meanwhile the squirrel sat perched in the crotch of a limb of the Mimosa tree intently watching the dog. I swear the squirrel knew exactly what he was doing because when Kubby was ready to throw in the towel the squirrel chirped out loud. Kubby's attention turned to the Mimosa tree where he saw the squirrel. Kubby, bless his 'lil 'ole heart ran to the tree and standing on his hind legs pawed at the tree for the squirrel to come down. So I watched, not knowing what was going to occur. Boogalou suddenly got off his haunches and scrambled down the trunk of the tree stopping periodically keeping an eye fixed on Kubby freezing in his steps like squirrels do, until the both of them stretching out as far as they could, met nose to nose. And then Boogalou assailed Kubby leaping right into his face. Kubby jumped back and the squirrel now on the ground in front of him leaped at him again and then the chase was on. Kubby ran away with the squirrel in hot pursuit! The squirrel chased Kubby around the yard several times in a big circle. Finally Kubby ran to our arms and Boogalou up my pant leg onto my shoulder. It was hilarious that these two could play together like that and it became a weekly event. I could have charged people to see it,
When I was 14 I got a work scholarship to go to riding camp!
It was my first venture away from home for the whole summer. I could participate in all the camper activities; English horseback lessons, riflery, archery, Appalachian trail hikes, etc. All I had to do was work in the kitchen at mealtimes, trim Christmas trees, tend to the stables and assist the maintenance counselor and rough carpenter on any projects arounfd the camp they were commissioned to do. What a trip! I still can't say whether it was more fun working there or participating in the camper activities.
I'll never forget the first job I had was to assist Mr. Kitchen the carpenter building plywood tent platforms for the girls unit a week before camp opened. Mr. Kitchen was probably in his 60's and always looked like he shaved before he went to bed. He chewed tobacco and when he smiled it looked like the front halves of his teeth were missing and what was left was all black. The owner of the camp was a woman and before she introduced me to Mr. Kitchen she told me that she wanted the plywood screwed down to the platforms and it was my job to make sure Mr. Kitchen didn't nail them down (I got the feeling that was his habit). Mrs. O, as we called her gave Mr. Kitchen a box of screws in front of me and reiterated emphatically that she wanted the platforms screwed down. Mr. Kitchen smiled showing all his rotten teeth and just shook his head, yes. Anxious to make a good impression, I started screwing them in by hand (that was brutal) while Mrs. O was there, then she left. Mr. kitchen, who had forearms like Popeye, stood there watching me for a minute kinda shaking his head. He then took some screws, the hammer from his utility belt and with one whack nailed the first screw clean into the platform. That put me on the spot! I'm stuttering " ...but...but sh..she said to ..." and he finished my sentence "screw them in?"... Whack! another screw nailed clean through...and he went on to say "The threads"... Whack!... "is for taking 'em out." ...Whack!
Anyway, behind the boys unit was the camp dump. I had already found a couple black snakes I put in cages for the campers to appreciate but I was curious about what was visiting the dump because if we shined our flashlights in that direction at night we could see eyes shining back. So the next night at dusk we visited the dump and there was a whole family of skunks foraging there. At least a half dozen baby skunks and their mother. We scared them away but one of the babies was trapped in a number ten can that flipped on it when it tried to get out. We covered the open bottom and had obtained our first pet skunk. I knew baby skunks can't spray and this one was very small.
Bruce was on a camp scholarship too. He was my age and I talked him into coming with me to the dump at night and setting up a box, string and stick trap so we might catch some more baby skunks. So we set it up and ran the string 20 feet away to a tree stump we could sit on while waiting in the dark. For bait we put a jar of bacon fat I brought from the kitchen under the box.
In about half an hour we heard a rustling but couldn't tell where and then we noticed emerging from behind where we sat was a big skunk who was now upon us. We instinctively froze as he foraged around our feet, oblivious to our presence. I motioned to Bruce to be quiet. We were speechless as it actually walked right over Bruce's foot. I was so proud of Bruce, a city boy from Staten Island. He didn't even flinch. About that time the skunk got the scent of the bacon fat and headed straight toward the box trap. What a relief, but we were still speechless. The skunk was halfway under the box, his tail pointing directly at us as he went for the bottle of bacon fat which we couldn't see as he was between us and the bait. We knew that as long as a skunk can not see you they will not spray so we were more relaxed.
My hand tightened on the string and the very second I was going to pull the string... the skunk's tail went straight up and he started backing directly at us. This was strange, we didn't know what to do and he was half way to us now, tail straight up and moving quickly backwards right at us. We just knew we were going to get sprayed when the skunk turned sideways and then we could see that his head was stuck in the bacon bottle and he was just backing up trying to push it off. What a relief! And as he turned some more he managed to pop his head out of the bottle. Now he was facing us, 10 feet away, relief turned into panic. We weren't going to wait around for what would happen next so we bolted and got away without any stink or skunk but at least with a good story to tell at the next campfire.
Years later I was living alone in a brownstone in center city and I was lonely. I decided to get some pets. I picked up a female doberman pup. The one bedroom row house I was renting had a small 15 x 15 foot back yard with a stockade fence around it and an alley behind so i would leave the kitchen door open for the dog to go in the yard while I was at work. I didn't count on the open door allowing a stray calico cat to come into my house and have a litter of kittens in the bottom drawer of my dresser, but it did. Since I was living on my own I decided I'd go to the pet shop and see what was available. I really wanted to get a talking parrot but they were too expensive. However, this pet shop had de-scented skunks and baby Arctic foxes for sale. It appeared they were anxious to move them so, cheapskate that I was, I talked them into selling me an arctic fox pup for a discount if I bought three de-scented skunks. So I headed for my little apartment with a chocolate, an albino (bet you didn't know they had designer skunks) and a black and white skunk along with a baby Arctic Fox.
Although I was curious to see how my menagerie would get along when I got home I put the skunk and fox in separate boxes big enough the doberman pup couldn't get into them and figured I'd wait a day or too for the animals to settle down in their new home. In the morning I looked in on them and the skunks were gone. I looked in the fox's box and he was gone. Then I looked all around the apartment and they were nowhere to be found. In searching I walked past the dresser where the cat had her kittens in the bottom drawer which was open just enough for her to get in and out. I noticed something grey in there and upon pulling the drawer out I discovered the skunks and the fox! In the night the cat must have carried each animal from its box into her nest and there she lay nursing them all. Four kittens (eeny, meeny, miny & moe), one fox and three skunks!! Evidently the animals I bought must have been weaned early and they were more than happy to revert to mother's milk! They actually continued to nurse off tyhe cat for the next week or so.
Well now it was more imperitive than ever I leave the back door open, despite knowing that these brownstones had been burglarized in the past. I really had nothing of value though so I wasn't worried about it. All the animals loved it, they played together like one wierd happy family. In the morning they'd start with the dobbie pup chasing the fox around the house and out the door with the three skunks wobbling in a straight line behind them. Sometimes the cat would even get in the act.
About a month went by and I came home from work one day. My neighbor was sitting on her front steps and she motioned to me as I approached my brown stone. Her kitchen window overlooked my back yard and she being home all day always kept an I on things for me knowing I left the kitchen door open. What she had to say to me went something like this:
"This morning I was drinking a cup of coffee at my table by the kitchen window. I noticed your fence shaking and then a child's head popped up above the top of the fence. He looked around and seeing your back door open he started over the fence. Half way over I could hear your arctic fox giving a squeal as he ran into the yard with the dobbie puppy in hot pursuit right behind. The child frooze on top of the fence, and he watched not sure what to do. The dog was so intense chasing the fox that neither noticed the child on the fence." Laughing out loud she said "Right then the three skunks came running into the yard, and the child's eyes popped out of his head, he fell back over the fence, and ran away down the alley."
The skunks grew fast and the black and white, male got huge. The other two, females only became nasty as they grew up and would nip you if they were annoyed. The male though was fantastic. He loved people and got so fat that picking him up was difficult; like picking up a large molded hunk of jello. We would sit on our steps in center city and the skunk would wobble from my neighbor's steps to mine, back and forth for treats. The fox and the dobbie were buddies to their dying days. The dobbie would chase the fox who would tease her by letting her touch his tail, then he'd pull away. Eventually she'd get exhausted and flop on the ground, only to then be tormented by the fox stalking and attacking her where she lay.
A year later I was living in a mountain top home. I'd walk the dobbie, whose name was Ono (short for Ono Knotigan). She wouldn't hurt a flea but would alert me to anything. I would often walk her off leash down our mountain road. One time about a hundred yards away I saw a family walking toward me on the road. I called Ono to come so I could leash her but it was too late, she saw them and bolted in their direction barking. I suppose it was bad enough to be walking on a mountain road and see a doberman pinscher coming down on you baring its fangs, but seeing me running after the doberman yelling O NO!, O NO! was just a little over the top.
By the time the dog and I caught up the family had scattered, the kids were crying and I had a time convincing them she was harmless.