The Joy of Pets

Circe Olson Woessner

Many of us have wayward pet stories, where even years later make us cringe—or smile– like the memory I have back when I was a little girl in Germany. My parents were hosting a dinner party for a French chef and his wife, a German count, and several high-ranking military officials. I had been banished to my room, so as not to disturb the grownups. Somehow, while playing with my parakeet, Petie, he escaped his cage—and my room—and flew down the hall towards the dinner party. Running after him, I burst into the dining room, and watched, horrified, as he careened over the elegant dining table, dodged the lit candles, and then excitedly circled above the guest’ heads–cawing—or chirping—or whatever it is parakeets do—before my father finally captured him in a dish towel and put him back in his cage.

Army veteran Rebecca recalls one Thanksgiving when her cat climbed on the counter and gnawed on the turkey as it lay unattended. Military daughter, Diane, recalls that her cat, Fred, pried open the garbage chute in the kitchen, and became the “Cat Amongst the Walls”. She admits, “we never did get him out of there, but we’d hear him from time to time.” Clare remembers getting her German Shepherd puppy for Christmas. “He managed to get his tail caught in the tree lights and over went the tree.”

While many of us get our pets from local shelters or from breeders, some military families get their pets from other military families who are PCSing.

Steven says, “We had two dogs, one in Turkey and one in Iran, and we had to leave both when we changed assignment. We got them from Americans that were there before us, and we gifted them to Americans that came after us. “

Brat Cindy agrees, “When we were stationed in Texas, we had to leave behind our collie when we were sent to Turkey. At Offutt, another family that was leaving gave us Gigi, the Maltese. We then gave her to another family when we left for England. My brother had a pet turtle that he also gave away.”

“Linda remembers, “We got our German Shepherd, Rolf, from an American family going home to the US from Berlin. We were his third owners. The first abused him. He was a descendant of Rin Tin Tin, according to his papers.”

Timing is everything. There’s a standing joke in my family that every time my husband went TDY, the kids talked me into getting a new pet. I have to admit; it might be true. Over the years, we’ve had rats, lizards, snakes, birds, hamsters, rabbits and dogs. Our current dog, Danny, was adopted at the Animal Humane right outside the Wyoming Gate. To be fair, my son and I were only “looking” with no intention of adopting, and it just so happened, the puppy picked us. We had no choice. My husband got a texted photo of mostly a dog nose –the puppy was sniffing and biting the phone—so he was prepared for a new pet when he got home from his trip.

While stationed in Japan, one military wife traded a Sears & Roebucks catalog for a fluffy little white dog who turned pink when they put flea powder on her. Military dependent Margaret remembers when her family was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. “We went on vacation to Holland during the tulip festival and found a black Pekingese puppy, but instead of leaving it quarantined for the required 10 days, we smuggled it across the border underneath the seat of the car. Daddy decided to chat with the border officer, trying to act cool. All the while, the puppy was trying to crawl out from under the front seat and Mama was a wreck! We made it back to Germany with no more incidents.”

Years ago, there were many reasons people didn’t move with their pets. It was expensive, often hard to do, and some countries had huge restrictions. Nancy explains, “My brother’s dog ‘Doc’ went with us to England in 1960. Poor guy spent six months in quarantine. It was awful visiting him under those conditions. Then we took him to Hawaii in 1967 where he had three months of quarantine. Awful conditions again. I don’t know how he survived all that, but he was a real trooper.”

Cynthia says, “We brought our German Shepherd from Tripoli, Libya. She did her time in quarantine and came back to us pregnant. Guess all the dogs were social, because Ginger went in as one and came out a family of six!”

Quarantine was why Linda’s family didn’t take a pet when they moved to London. They felt it wasn’t fair to keep the animal caged for that long, so they gave away all pets prior to that move.

Some families didn’t take their pets because they felt flying was tough on the animal. One military family had a Schnauzer which they shipped to Taiwan from Los Angeles. She was so traumatized when they picked her up in Taiwan, they swore they would never put another pet through an airplane flight again.

Some military families did take their pets– some families more willingly than others. Vickie recalls, “We had a long-haired Dachshund that we got from a family who was leaving Germany. When our time came to leave, Dad said we should start looking for someone to take Baron. My brother and sister went crazy, so Dad finally said we’d take him.”

Nancy tells about her bird (named Bird) that traveled with her family when they moved from Scott Air Force Base to Pittsburgh where they were going to live while her dad was in Vietnam. “We stopped at Wright Patterson to spend the night. We had to bring the bird into the VOQ for the night. Long story short…we left Bird (cage and all) at Wright Patt. We were about 30-45 minutes east on I-70 when we figured out Bird wasn’t in the car. We four kids boo-hoo’d enough that my dad turned around and went back to get ‘that damn bird’.”

It seemed easier to take a pet when military families traveled via ship.

Mary remembers, “My first dog was a Wire Hair Fox Terrier. Bought her in Wurzburg with my Stars and Stripes paper route money. I also paid to ship her back on the SS United States when we left Germany for the States…”

Eileen agrees, “We brought our dog home on the USS Constitution, only after a full court press to raise the money for his passage through our allowances, car washing, nefarious children’s business practices, and my father’s generous shoe-box stuffing with $20 bills.”

Families didn’t just take their dogs or cats. Military Brat Susan’s turtle made the trip, “We brought him/her back to the States on board ship in a box wrapped as a Christmas gift. Our waiter in the dining room gave me fruit and veggies to feed him. We did get papers from the vet to bring him home. Because his name was ‘Tim’ they just recorded the sex as male because no one knew. “

One family recalls that their white puppy arrived in the US from overseas, black with soot; apparently her kennel was directly behind the smoke stack. Rochelle remembers, “On our way to Japan in 1963, we hit a typhoon at sea while in a military transportation ship. I thought my mother was going to lose her mind  because our miniature poodle, Bridgette, was secured in a weather proof kennel on deck. I was 16 and kept telling her the dog was fine and the next morning she was. Bone dry, no accidents and no broken bones.”

Yesterday, I met a woman who had spent her childhood in Iceland and Okinawa.  She shared with me that years ago, when her family PCSd from Okinawa to Alamogordo, the airlines lost their dog in Albuquerque. Because no one immediately claimed the dog, it was sent to a shelter in town. After months of frantic searching, her family managed to find their beloved pet.

Do airlines really lose pets? According to these folks, they do.

Mark says, “We got a pup in Germany; airline lost her on the way home. They finally got her back to us a few weeks later. Picked her up in a hangar on the Air Base. Never seen a dog happier to see us.”

Patrick shares his story, “We flew to Paris, and our dog had to be quarantined and then would come over in a crate on a later plane. She escaped the quarantine (in NYC of all places) and could not be found. It looked like she was lost forever. She was found about 3 months later, placed on an airplane, and we were reunited in Paris. Her collar was removed, and this was before microchips. Divine Providence for sure. We never did learn how she was found. “

To be fair, it’s not always the airline’s fault…Vickie explains, “We had our Dachshund, Trixie, with us in Turkey, and when we came back to the States, we made plans to spend some time in Rome. Trixie was supposed to go to New York and be kenneled until we got home. That did not happen. We got to Istanbul and found out that we did not have the right paperwork to get her to the US by herself, so she got off the plane in Rome and my parents found a hotel that allowed dogs (right next to the Spanish Steps no less.) My dad missed seeing the Vatican because he had to get the paperwork done for the dog.”

Some military family pets have unusual, globetrotting lives—just like their owners, and some of them lead a life of enormous privilege.  For example, in 1947, Darlene’s family lived in Arlington, Virginia, because her father was stationed at the Pentagon. The family dog, Boxie, “was driven…no joke…by herself in a Staff car to Fort Wayne, Detroit.”

I will not be sharing that story with Danny. He might feel he’s getting a bum deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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