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Emails to my Therapist

Living with “an Animal Guy” in an “Animal House”

Dear Nicholas, I have just this week realized that we have animal images all over the house, Bob’s doing. How did I not notice the theme? And how do all these animals affect me? I don’t entirely know, but at the same time I have no doubt that they do.

Living room black panther, loaned by artist’s son  who doesn’t have space for a big cat.

I’ve always thought I could live happily in New York (if it were cheaper), though I never have. The choices I’ve actually made in my life have taken me to the woods where I am happy indeed. We have lots of what we refer to as “nature experiences” with real animals outdoors.

No-Kidding Nature

Between us, our life list here includes: herds of brazen deer, alligator snapping turtles, a cottonmouth, a lot of black snakes and copperheads, foxes (one rabid), possums, skinks, rabbits, voles, great blue herons, coyotes, hawks and raucous owls.

Bathroom egrets by Gene Furr


The Ones with Personal Names

Indoors, much of the time, are two giant dogs and two rather large goldfish.

Underwater creatures by very young stepson

I am not a writer who describes myself on book jacket flaps as “living with my husband, x dogs, x gerbils and a hamster” or some such, as so many writers do. Bob is the dog guy at our house; he trains and dishes out the kibble. The dogs are not so much part of my schedule or identity. But I am the patter-in-chief.

The Animals Do Affect Me

I am deeply affected by these great creatures: I love Carlo madly and feel such protective affection for Kirra, who is newer to us. And unlike the animal art, there’s no ignoring them. Kirra outweighs me, Carlo wants near-constant ear-scratching, and dog hair turns up in surprising places like the freezer.

Packing tape pterodactyl by Joel Haas

But the animal images everywhere! I only noticed the overriding theme a week or so ago when a new piece of animal art arrived. Bob had ordered us a beaded owl (whom we’ve named Fauci.) Somehow that one made me look around and take stock: of the fighting egrets in the bathroom, the metal goat in the den, the pterodactyl sailing across our living room, the Costa Rican frog postcard thumbtacked to the bedroom wall.

There also be dragons on our walls…


What I Didn’t Notice

This is not the first time I’ve failed to generalize, to notice a pattern. One of my worst moments of blindness as a reporter (and one of my better moments as a human, I like to think) was when I was sent to do a story on Wheeler Airlines. I didn’t notice that every one of the several people I interviewed was African-American. I wrote the story without finding out that this was a black-owned air carrier, the first ever approved by the FAA. I could have told you the race of whoever I was that moment talking with, but failed to  notice the newsworthy pattern.


I did know Bob liked dogs and birds and “nature experiences.”  But somehow I didn’t get quite get how pervasive his animal interest is.


I started to catch on maybe a year ago when I posted a picture of a possum that I’d gotten from a stock agency (haven’t been able to get a local one to stand still for a picture.)

Exotic O’Possum: How Did He Know?

He glanced at it and said that’s an Australian possum, not one we have. Correct! And he knew this? I was astounded. He shrugged, said, “I’m an animal guy.”

Well, turns out I live in an animal house. Fine with me. Helps keep me a bit in touch with the wild side, whether I know it or not. I was once early in my life accused of being interested only in words and ideas. That was never true, of course, but I could see the  exasperated gentleman’s point. I’m a words-and-stories person.

It’s good to like dogs and frogs too.


Carlo as a puppy four years ago

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  • Robert braxton
    January 18, 2022 at 8:59 pm Reply

    It’s animals illusions I recall I really don’t know animals — at all Joni M apologies

    • Peggy Payne
      January 18, 2022 at 9:22 pm Reply

      Very good, Bob! You’re entirely right. Maybe it’s not even possible to know much. (Though it’s possible to know a whole lot more than I do.)

  • Robert Braxton
    January 18, 2022 at 9:38 pm Reply

    Hunters killed about 20% of Yellowstone’s gray wolves, months still to go in the season
    Twenty gray wolves from Yellowstone have been

    • Peggy Payne
      January 18, 2022 at 9:40 pm Reply

      It seems to be hard to keep animals from traveling outside of the sanctuaries. Or maybe this was allowed?

  • kenju
    January 20, 2022 at 3:16 am Reply

    I love all animals except snakes. We have had cats and a dog for nearly all our lives together. Jim knew nothing about animals when we married; NYC apartment dwellers don’t have many animals. But he has become increasingly fond of our cat(s) as he gets older. I am glad to know you like animals and that Bob is “an animal person.”

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2022 at 3:35 am Reply

      I think NY has become more of an animal town, kenju. Sure are a lot of folks on the streets there with leashed dogs and pooper-scoopers. Also, people who work as dog-walkers. I’ve never gotten comfortable with that way of doing it, though, either the leashing or the scooping. I grew up running around the neighborhood yards with a pack of kids and dogs, all of whom returned home when it was time to eat. Seemed like a good way to me. Nice that your husband has taken to the cats.

  • kenju
    January 20, 2022 at 3:36 am Reply

    I guess I was thinking of NY back when Jim lived there – in the dark ages.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 20, 2022 at 4:17 am Reply

      Interesting that the city has changed in that way. Having a dog seems to have changed everywhere, though. I still want them to be free to run loose, like in my own dark ages.

  • January 21, 2022 at 4:32 am Reply

    Now that you point it out, I realize we do have a totta’ animals around, both living and in art. At 6 or 7 years old I often trailed a family friend, Mr Moose was really his name, the zoo keeper of the Hershey zoo, He fed, and cleaned their cages twice a day. Deer ran loose in the park and I remember being cornered by a buck too mature to run loose. – pretty scary. I got to see up close all the work in keeping those many large medium and small critters, from birds of prey through wolves and bison. It never occurred to me to be concerned about their loss of freedom in confined spaces. Nowadays I love seeing the wild ones around our house, and wouldn’t be comfortable with captivity and too small cages – but then I was enthralled with the variety and reality of the residents of that zoo.
    I’ve had a dog a short time as a 7 year old, and dogs for the past 60 years, and can’t imagine being without one, tho I know that time will come. Feeding, training ,cleaning up after them and enjoying them – I guess I’ll enjoy ’em while I can – sure don’t know why I like ’em, I just do – sorta like permanent pre-school kids.

    • Peggy Payne
      January 21, 2022 at 5:22 am Reply

      I’m so glad you reminded me of Mr. Moose, Bob. Certainly a formative experience. I’m glad you escaped the buck. Thanks for the care and feeding of dogs!

      • January 22, 2022 at 5:40 am Reply

        me too, and that’s what I do.

  • October 3, 2022 at 4:15 am Reply

    Ran across and re-read this old post – and it’s time to feed the dogs.

    • Peggy Payne
      October 3, 2022 at 4:33 am Reply

      And for me to call it a night.

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