Editor’s Note: Sorry, no zombies this week. My husband came down with a cold towards the end of the week. But have no fear — the zombies will return in seven days.
Understanding Animals as Pets, by Rita Vandivert
Understanding Animals as Pets by Rita Vandivert influenced my childhood love of animals. Thanks to this book in part, I grew up wanting to own a variety of pets. Published in 1975, it remains as fresh and relevant as the day I first read it. Alas, it’s also only available as a used book. Why then I am talking about it?
First, you need to understand that I grew up in a small town without much exposure to pets beyond dogs and cats. My hometown, with a population of less than twenty thousand, did not have a pet store. My main exposure to pets came through our dogs, our neighbor’s pets, and trips to the vet and SPCA. There were horses at a nearby farm, which I saw only during school field trips. And there was my cousin’s turtle.
Next, you need to understand that I grew up on the island of Newfoundland, which limited my exposure to wild animals as well. For example, my province doesn’t have any native rabbits or snakes, which here in Nebraska can be found easily in one’s own back yard. There are no native species of amphibians in Newfoundland — for comparison, Nebraska has fourteen — but a few have been introduced. I once found a toad in the woods and kept it until friends convinced me that it was responsible for the wart on my hand.
Larger animals — such as moose, elk, caribou, bears, and coyotes — like to stay in the West or the East, and tend to avoid the Central region where I am from. Likewise, while Newfoundland is famous for its marine life, my dad and I would have to travel several hours to see them.
Which brings me to my third point. My dad does not drive. Not now, not ever. So I grew up knowing only the small part of the province to which we could walk or bike. I saw a few kinds of birds. I saw lots of fish. And that one toad. Maybe that’s why one of my hobbies was collecting rocks.
I am truly one of those individuals who can say: Everything I learned, I learned from books. For example, I learned about menageries from Caroyln Haywood’s Eddie books. I learned about mice from Beverly Cleary’s Ralph books. I learned about horses from Marguerite Henry’s many factual stories about them. I learned about raccoons from the adventuress shared by Sterling North in his autobiography Rascal. And from Rita Vandivert’s guide to animal care, Understanding Animals as Pets, I learned about a variety of pets that I could only dream of owning someday. Because of her, I wanted to own not only a dog and a cat and a horse, but I also wanted to own the exotics including hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, and rabbits. Oh, and I also dreamed about caring for with orphaned wild animals, such as raccoons and skunks. Incidentally, neither of these exist in Newfoundland either.
Yes, there were other influences on my love of animals as pets. My dad raised me around dogs and taught me to rescue earthworms and spiders. And then there’s that cousin of mine, who also had dog and a cat in addition to the turtle. But my strongest influence came from books. I still have my copy of Understanding Animals as Pets, and always will. It’s the reason why I a girl with little exposure to real animals could grow up with such love for them.