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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bart and Gilda

We adopted our two-year-old twins six months ago. Bart adapted quickly to his new home, but Gilda continues to be an unhappy camper. She bit Karen's finger when she tried to feed her last week.

Although they look a lot alike, they aren't really twins. They both have four-inch shells. But Bart's an Eastern painted turtle and Gilda a red-eared slider. We named them after Bart Simpson and the late Gilda Radner. Bart and Gilda are aquatic turtles, so we needed to buy an aquarium, water heater and filter, basking platforms and turtle food.

We adopted the two to compensate for the loss of our beloved toy poodle, Olivia. She'd been a puppy mill mother for ten years before we got her from a shelter offering free "seniors-for-seniors" pets. She'd been traumatized by her years in a cage. She'd also been debarked. Because she refused the leash, we got her a stroller for small dogs that had a sign on its side reading, "Outward Hound." As she rode along with us on our daily walks the looks we got from passersby ranged from smiles to sneers. She remained our faithful companion and silent partner for eight years.

Bart and Gilda are no louder than Olivia, but are not quite as much fun. They can't be cuddled on the couch. But they are entertaining in their own way. Although they have two basking platforms, they prefer snuggling together on one. Bart likes to climb up on top of Gilda's shell, remaining motionless until one of us appears, when the two of them skitter off into the water. Their behavior inspired us to do some research on turtle mating. The graphic YouTube videos suggest it ain't only Bart's carapace that's horny.

I also discovered Bart's love of ukulele music. When I play his favorite, "Salty Dog," he races around underwater, raising his head occasionally to savor the moment. Gilda just hides until it's over.

Our collection of canine companions through the years has entertained us with a variety of personalities. Brandy, a cockapoo, was Karen's loyal companion throughout her single mom years and a casualty of our move from Washington to Indiana. While we were busy moving into our new home she quietly left by the back door, getting lost in the snowy woods nearby. She was probably searching for the home she knew.

Brandy's passing brought us a beagle we named Phydough, who loved to join me in song when I played the guitar. He was also fond of running off whenever the front door was left open. One evening we were certain he was gone forever when a stranger appeared at our front door, holding Phydough's collar. His run for freedom had carried our wandering beagle about a mile and a half away.

Then there was Wilson, a miniature schnauzer with a wonderful sense of humor and an arrogant attitude that prompted him to strike a regal pose whenever he spotted us with a camera. He loved to race out the front door but remain within sight so he could tease us, dancing away upon our approach. We had to give him up when we moved across town to our tiny condo, where he would have been miserable.

I had a succession of three pets as a kid. King was a collie standing taller than I. After he disappeared one day my parents explained he had to be taken out to the country, where he would be happier. I now suspect "the country" meant the hereafter.

Pitch, a black cat, was my best friend and confidante in grade school. But when we moved to the country, he wandered off, back to the city, I  presume.

After Pitch's departure a family friend gifted us with a beautiful and well-behaved Doberman. We lost Fritz in a tragic accident. Mom found his body next to the railroad tracks. A passing train had decapitated him after his collar had become entangled in the tracks.

After the loss of all my childhood pets, I was reluctant ever to give my heart to another. Until I met Karen, who told me how Brandy had kept her spirits up during some very hard years. I now understand the joy of caring for a pet, even though their loss will inevitably break your heart. Even when your pets look like helmets with legs, like our Bart and Gilda.  

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