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The first pet I remember having was a mutt named Benji. Like many people my age, I have fond memories of the Benji movies. When we got a family dog, he looked so much like the movie pooch that we had no choice but to name him the same.

My sisters and I loved Benji, much like many young children. He romped around our place in the country, enjoying the fresh air and chasing the cows and sheep around the pasture. He was somewhat partial to cowpies for some reason.

But then he bit some people. It never seemed like he was being mean, but you don’t want to take chances. When we were on vacation, Dad had a neighbor come over and take care of our beloved pet. I understood why it had to be done, but that was tough.

I was never eager to have a dog again after that. This was in part deference to Benji, but also after a couple of bad experiences with dogs. I watched my dad save an older lady who had been attacked by a dog on her way to church. I also got jumped by a big dog in the neighborhood. I’ll admit to still being a bit jumpy when the dog looks capable of taking me out.

We showed sheep for 4-H for many years. They may be the dumbest animals on the face of the earth, but when you’re nine or ten, you can grow attached to the beasts. I clearly remember bawling like a baby after my first show animal was loaded to ship off after being sold at the 4-H auction. It was a little tough, those first few years of showing, to say goodbye to an animal that I worked with to prep for the fair. (Okay, I didn’t work with them as much as I should have, but still…)

I grew to understand that the sheep sometimes had to be handled in a physical way. We had a tough old buck who we named E.T. This was not because he resembled some squat alien, but instead stood for Extra Tough. He was mean, plain and simple. He would wait and attack me or Dad when we went to feed all the sheep. Dad once took a crowbar to his forehead to keep from getting pummeled, and it didn’t faze the buck! I even had to jump off the manure spreader and ride him away from Dad once!

When the kids were young, we got them a couple of goldfish, Poppy and Lucy. Poppy didn’t last long and had to be replaced by Poppy II. When Lucy died, we didn’t replace that fish and figured it would only be a matter of time before we were fish-less. However, Poppy II lived over five years, ancient for a goldfish!

It’s surprising he lasted that long once we moved ahead and got our cat. Michelle and I debated long and hard and even did research on what type of pet to get the kids. A dog was out because of how much we’re on the run; if we lived in the country it might be different, but keeping the dog cooped up in town without as much companionship kept us from that path. We even looked at rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and other smaller, furry creatures.

I have to admit to not being fond of the idea of a cat. I’ve got some allergies and Jayna does too. Still, cats are pretty easy to take care of, and once we went to the Humane Society, it was a done deal. Jayna picked out a cat named Taz (which should have been foreshadowing), and he took to her like a fly to manure.

We wanted to give him our own name, and after some debate, Chewbacca became part of our family. He just turned four and has basically taken control of the house. He’s got a routine that must be followed for fear of tripping over him in his desire to get your attention. There are a couple places in the house where there’s a special towel put down because he likes relaxing in those locations.

I was skeptical to start, but I’d really miss Chewie if he were gone. He’s a beautiful big cat, and he brings a lot of joy to our home. As I reflect on all these pets (and notice a startling sequence of movie characters’ names), I realize how much pets bring into our lives. They give love unconditionally, and it’s no wonder we are sad when they leave us. Happy birthday, Chewbacca George Jumpster Shedding Menace Domeier! (Yes, that’s officially his full name, according to the kids.)

Word of the Week: This week’s word is pabulum, which means simplistic ideas or writing, as in, “The columnist thought writing about just a cat would be an example of pabulum, so he expanded to other pets as well.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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