The Pets from Hell

December 10, 2010 at 8:57 pm (Uncategorized)

All my life I’ve had kind of a love/hate relationship with animals. Mostly hate. When I was about five years old and living in Cedarhurst, my first pet was Salty, a white mongrel dog with black markings. Salty was very protective of me. One time an older neighbor, Daryl Burke, threw a stone at me. Salty chased her down the block and bit her in the butt! I think that may have been the last time I had a good relationship with a pet.

When I was discharged from the Army in 1965 and returned home, I found that my eleven- year-old sister Denise had somehow acquired a scruffy-looking squirrel monkey named “Charlie” who she kept in a cage in the den. Now you have to understand something. I had just gotten back from Vietnam where I had spent a year chasing and being chased by the Viet Cong, an enemy we called “Charlie”. So this miserable little SOB of a monkey had one big strike against him from day one. It didn’t take him long to ring up more strikes than a cross-eyed umpire.

My first night home I fell asleep on the living room couch. At some point Charlie got out of his cage and jumped on my chest. Since I still had the alertness of the soldier, I immediately leaped to my feet and went on the offensive. I chased that little bugger all over the house, knocking down chairs, smashing picture frames and anything else that got in the way. In the process I woke the entire family. Mom wasn’t too happy about that. “What in God’s name is going on?” she demanded.

“The little rat jumped me,” I whined.

I finally cornered Charlie in the bathtub, where he lay on his back, lifted his arms in surrender and screeched bloody murder. It was such a ridiculous sight we could only laugh. By this time Denise was awake, and put the monkey back in his cage.

Things went steadily downhill from there. Charlie was really a vile little creature. If someone came into the den that he didn’t like (and Charlie liked very few people), he’d fling feces at them. One time Uncle Dinnio Oliveri ventured too close to the cage, and Charlie propelled a stream of urine all over him! He did other revolting things too, but since this is a family website, I can’t go into detail. Use your imagination.

Charlie could be violent as well. Once my friend Richie Vicario made the mistake of innocently walking into the den. Now if you knew Richie, you’re already aware that he had a “Jimmy Durante” nose. Unfortunately that poor schnoz became a bit bigger after Charlie clocked him right in the beak with a walnut! (Why anyone would give this simian assassin a walnut still baffles me!)

Eventually my parents got fed up with Charlie’s antics and banished him to the dungeon – our basement. Charlie didn’t like it down there; it was dark and quiet and he had very few visitors to degrade. He pined away and finally kicked the bucket. I could scarcely contain my glee, but my sister was heartbroken. I think she then began plotting how to use her animals to get even with me.

Some years later Denise bought a Shetland pony named “Velvet”. Well, despite her name, Velvet was about as soft and fuzzy as a two by four upside the head. By this time, Maureen and I had four children including two daughters, Cynthia and Jacqueline. Ironically, Velvet was born the same week as little Jackie. But at age three, Jackie was still a baby while Velvet was quite lethal.

On weekends Dee would take my daughters and my niece Jennifer out to the barn to learn how to clean stalls and ride Velvet. Naturally, on many occasions I drove them there. The first time I went to see Velvet in her stall, she turned her rear end to me and landed a heavy kick on the wooden stall door near my head. Wherever I moved, she kept her backside toward me, ready to flatten me if I got too close. For some strange reason I took this as a sign that she didn’t like me!

The next time we went to the barn I was careful to stay in front of Velvet. Good idea but bad result. This time she charged out of her stall, knocked me right on my keister, then ran me over. I must tell you that there’s nothing quite like being stomped by a 600 pound irate pony. When I was finally able to get up, I had hoof prints on my chest, hay in my ears, and thought I had been clobbered by the equine version of Lawrence Taylor.

I had no idea how to deal with this demon from hell. Then I discovered that Velvet was terrified of Jackie. I guess she didn’t know what to do with someone that small. Armed with this valuable bit of information, I marched my daughter over to the corral. As soon as Velvet spied Jackie she took off for the far reaches of the enclosure at a gallop. I used the opportunity to jump up on the railing, shake my fist at Velvet and bellow, “Who’s the man now, huh? Who’s the man?”

I finally got smart and stayed away from Velvet thereafter, and had only one further incident with Dee’s horses. One of a pair of white ponies named Blue chomped my thumb as I was feeding him a carrot. I had to punch him in the jaw to make him let go. But it’s Velvet who sometimes appears in my nightmares, and I break into a cold sweat as that big fat horse’s rear end swings around and those iron-clad hooves flash toward my head!

Denise’s malevolent minions probably scored their ultimate triumph in the summer of 1995. Dee was living upstate in Ossining at the time. For some reason I can’t recall, I had to drive up there to bring my nephew David back to Long Island. My sister was raising Jack Russell terriers then, and had half a dozen of those little Pac-dogs led by the alpha male, “Spike”. She also had a Rottweiler named “Humphrey” who certainly looked the part of the hound from hell.

Now you have to understand how vicious these mutts really were. When I got out of the car I tripped on something. Looking down, I spotted a possum’s head. Nothing else… just the head. The dogs had eaten the rest. And they had previously ambushed a neighbor’s Guinea Hen, plucking out all its feathers until the poor thing finally escaped and ran off naked as a rotisserie chicken!

Well, I walked into the house unconcerned about the dogs, because they were familiar with me from previous visits. They all gathered around, sniffed me for a moment and walked away. I said hello to my nephew and then made the mistake of going into the bathroom.

When I opened the door, the dogs spotted me again. Apparently now thinking that I was a different person, they came after me in a mad rush reminiscent of the charge of the Light Brigade. Spike sank his teeth into my slacks just below the hip and tore the leg right off! The others swirled around me, snapping and snarling in a wild frenzy. Stunned, I backed away, only to bump into Humphrey, who promptly bit me right in the can! I guess he wasn’t quite sure I was really the enemy, because he didn’t clamp down all that hard. But he did draw blood.

In a panic now, I tried to retreat into the kitchen. Another mistake. That’s where my sister kept her parrot, who she allowed to remain free on a perch. As soon as I burst into the room trailed by the pack of mad dogs, the parrot squawked and launched herself from the perch. She circled my head like an avenging angel, trying to peck at anything I couldn’t protect with my hands. I raced desperately for the front door, pursued by the howling dogs and the screeching green devil! Fortunately, I was able to get outside and slam the door behind me, locking those diabolical creatures inside. I then limped to the car to nurse my wounds while the cacophony in the house continued unabated.

About ten minutes later David came outside toting his bag and sporting a huge grin. I could have strangled him. He’d sat laughing on the couch through the whole incident and had done nothing to stop that miserable mob of mangy mutts plus the parrot from trying to tear his poor uncle apart (see photo: “David & the Devils”). He climbed into the car, ignoring my glare, and we took off.

As luck would have it, we needed gas, so I pulled up to the first service station in town. I was a bit hesitant about getting out of the car looking the way I did, but there was really no alternative. Then things continued to go downhill. As I was pumping the gas a gust of wind blew off my Yankees cap and sent it spinning down the street. The poor residents of Ossining were now treated to the incredible sight of an escaped maniac dashing through town in pursuit of his hat with one leg missing off his pants and a big blood spot on his butt! It’s a wonder that someone didn’t throw a net over me and transport me to the town’s most noted landmark – “Sing-Sing” Prison!

When we got home, nobody would believe my story. But I had a material witness. David eventually confirmed my report after he finally stopped laughing. I’m gonna get that kid one of these days! And I still say Denise taught those devils to go after me as retaliation for Charlie.

Not all the animals that have tormented me belonged to my sister. In 1989, my son Jimmy brought home this cute little puppy we christened “Samson”. But as he grew older, I began to have second thoughts about the mutt. “Sammy’s” back legs were longer than his front ones, so when he ran it looked like he was about to slide nose first into second base.

Sammy was without a doubt the dumbest dog I’ve ever known. He also became Jackie’s pet. We had him for nineteen years, and in that time he was never housebroken. He would only go on newspaper in the laundry room. Poor Maureen usually ended up cleaning the floor tiles every day with bleach and detergent. If we let him outside, we’d soon see him jumping up and down outside the door as if to say, “Let me in! I’ve gotta go!” Sounds funny now, but we didn’t think so at the time.

Well, as Sammy aged, his physical condition steadily deteriorated. He began to lose control of his bowels and his rear legs. His sight and hearing were beginning to fail. And he hated to be alone. If we went out, he would stand in a corner and howl until we returned, sometimes spraying diarrhea all over the house. What a mess! I have a feeling Denise used to sneak in when we weren’t home to train him for maximum collateral damage!

Anyway, it got so bad that I had to build a dummy to keep Sammy company every time we had someplace to go. I’d take some pillows, a hat, one of my jackets, a pair of pants and my shoes and assemble them on the couch. Sammy would come by and sniff his “companion” and then quietly return to his bed. Then we’d have to sneak out one at a time so he wouldn’t catch on. This worked for quite a while.

Just before we moved to Arizona, we were living in an apartment behind my daughter’s house in South Hempstead, and we knew the end was near. Poor Jackie arranged for the vet to come to the house to put Sammy to sleep. She wanted to spare him a last trauma of going to the animal hospital, which he hated. On the morning the vet was scheduled to arrive both Jackie and Maureen went to work, so I was home alone with Sammy. I cooked him a nice steak for his last meal and he ate every bit of it.

When the vet and her assistant arrived I couldn’t bear to watch, so I went outside. When they finally came out the vet said, “We had to do it twice. His heart wouldn’t stop. He didn’t want to go.”

Hearing that broke my heart. I went out into Jackie’s garden and dug a deep grave for Sammy. My daughter didn’t want me to bury him until she got home and had a chance to say good-bye. After that was done, we interred Sammy in a quiet corner of the yard surrounded by shrubs beginning to show signs of spring bloom. Despite the misery he had put us through, his passing left a huge void in our hearts.

We’ll be visiting New York soon and, against my better judgment I hope to make a trip to the new farm Denise recently bought in Connecticut. She still has Spike and that blasted parrot as well as several new horses and a goat named “Jimmy” (Jimmy? Hmmmm.) My sister claims that they can’t wait to see me! I’m sure the spirits of Charlie, Velvet and Humphrey are also licking their chops in anticipation. I think I’d be wise to enlist the services of an exorcist and rent a suit of armor before going anywhere near that abode of the damned and its denizens of evil!

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