Opinion

Fond memories of family pets

While recently going through family photos, I found the one taken the day my father left for the army in World War II.  Dad, his parents, and siblings lined up on the lawn. Their body language and faces told how sad they were. Right in the center was the family dog, Mauser.  Mauser had his head toward his worried looking people and his rear solidly facing the camera. It looked as if he wanted to stop my Dad from leaving.

 

I grew up hearing a lot about Mauser, a terrier mix, who terrified anyone who wasn’t a family member.  If a stranger walked up the road by the farm they were stalked by Mauser, who matched the outsider step by step, growling softly until he’d escorted them past the property line.  If they were bold enough to step into the driveway, Mauser was there challenging them to try to get past him. To my knowledge no one ever tried, except one salesman, who my Dad said ended up stranded on top a woodpile and my aunt said had sought refuge on the smokehouse roof. No matter which story is accurate, the salesman had to wait until the family returned and rescued him and he never came back.  

Mauser understood commands in English and Lithuanian, and not many dogs in our county could boast of being bilingual.

I tell you Mauser’s story because most of us grew up with a beloved pet who often is in family photos.  Proud men often had photos taken with their team of horses. I have a photo of my grandfather dwarfed by a workhorse identified as Grammy.  As a child my photos usually have me with a cat or dog.

I grew up on a dairy farm so I was always surrounded by animals and many pets, including three ducks, a goat whose tenure lasted just long enough for him to pull down my Mom’s clothesline and chomp on the pillowcases before he was returned to the farmer who gave him to me.  I also had a rabbit unimaginably called Peter who eloped with a wild rabbit. I spotted Peter and friend from time to time in our fields. She was leaner and faster than our former domestic bunny but they stayed together. Love conquers all, it seems. 

We also had dogs and cats.  I could roam anywhere in the woods when I was small because the dogs were with me at all times, and they not only kept me safe but made sure I got home OK.

When you’re labeling photos or writing down anecdotes about your family, don’t forget your family pets.  If you have a snapshot of your grandfather standing with his favorite hunting dog or a fine looking horse, be sure to add whatever knowledge and stories you know about the animals.  

They touched our ancestral lives in so many ways, just as they do today, and while they won’t show up in our family tree they deserve to be mentioned and remembered.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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