Family pets


I will never have another friend like Sara. She was diagnosed in late-November 2005 with chronic renal failure at the age of 13. She died on April 21, 2006, then 14 years old. The simplest things made her happy. Every time I think of her, I can't help but smile with a slight tear in the corner of my eye.

The epitome of independence, Sara is a true companion who lives life on her terms. She watches over the street corner on sunny days from her window perch and keeps my feet warm in bed when I take a nap. She goes crazy for catnip and runs around the corner when it's time for her nightly snack of Pounce. Meticulous about her appearance, Sara grooms her long, soft fur several times a day. Despite her independence and sometimes strange habits -- such as choosing a different place to sleep almost every week, insisting that I put her dry food on the side of her dish closest her water and leaving my bedroom when I go to bed for the night -- she greets me at the door when I return home. She loves going outdoors in the spring, summer and fall -- I keep her on a harness and leash. Every now and then when she wants to go outside, she will try to open the door with the doorknob, I kid you not. She was born about 1992.


Born on Oct. 9, 1996, Ayla spent 10 years with her previous owners before they moved and decided they no longer wanted her. And so on Nov. 30, 2006, Ayla was dropped off at the Bangor Humane Society as soon as it opened to the public at noon. The only thing her previous owners could think of when asked for what they loved most about her was that she was a “good mouser.” I saw Ayla and her profile on the shelter’s Web site and realized I had to save her, for cats her age are usually passed over and are eventually euthanized. She looked depressed in her cage when I met her on Dec. 11. But when the adoption counselor took her into the meeting room, Ayla rubbed both of us. That was the clincher. Although she was an outdoor cat in her previous life, she has not shown any desire to go outdoors. She enjoys sleeping on my bed during the day and keeping to herself. She is very shy around strangers, but she’s very affectionate once she gets to know you.


A simple misunderstanding of typical kitten behavior most likely sent then-6-month-old Thomas to the shelter, as his previous owner said that Thomas didn’t like her son, who had just moved in. But Thomas has shown nothing but love toward everyone he has met. His squeals caught my attention every time I passed his cage at the shelter. “Pick me! Pick me!” he seemed to be saying. And so I did. Thomas follows me throughout the apartment. His obligatory kitten mischief includes bugging Ayla, knocking things off the counter and off my desk, bringing down the bedroom drapes, perching on my shoulder, and even lying on my head as I work on the computer. He loves his Hartz Gone Fishin’ pole, which he marches throughout the apartment, taking naps in the bathroom sink, and jumping into the bathtub when I shower. He was born on June 8, 2006.


Bart has his own peculiararities. His favorite pastime is picking magnets off my parents' refrigerator and freezer. Put a magnet up in his presence and he will reach up and take it off. He also likes to observe the world and take naps from atop my parents' kitchen cupboards. His favorite toys are milk rings, those plastic removable tabs on milk jugs. He has a knack for pushing them under the kitchen stove and stockpiling them until I come along with a stick and fish them out. He was born in March 1998.


Bought by my parents from the Augusta W.T. Grant's in 1971 while the size of a quarter, Tammy is by far the oldest of my family's pets. She has watched me grow from the first day my parents brought me home from the hospital. Tammy used to live with her "brother" Tommy. Unfortunately, Tommy died in July 1994. When Tammy and Tommy were younger, we used to have them race each other on the floor. Tammy spends most of her time underwater during the fall and winter. During warmer weather she "suns" herself under her light and on a piece of slate. She enjoys watching the world go by from behind her picture window in my parents' dining room. She eats from a spoon and enjoys exploring my parents' living room after eating.


Born on July 9, 2005, in an Eddington barn only four days after Polly died, Nell moved into my parents' home on Aug. 26, 2005. Spending a few days in the protective confines of one of my parents' spare bedrooms was enough for her, as she soon strutted about the entire house, to Tess's initial annoyance and Bart's chagrin. She likes to play with big brother Bart's tail and is lucky that he tolerates her doing so "just enough." She and he now have to compete for space on my mother's lap. When Tess died, Nell climbed onto my chest and comforted me. She likes to jump onto newspapers and slide across the dining room floor on them.


When my parents brought home Candy – racing name Shooshoo Fontana – on May 14, 2006, Candy was extremely timid. They had all they could do to get her to go outdoors to do her business and come back inside. She stayed on her bed and wouldn’t move. After a couple of weeks, though, Candy began to emerge from her shell. She was born Feb. 15, 2004, but had never made it to the racetrack. We could see why: She was easily distracted and spooked. Candy enjoys going on walks, and when we she wants to go on one she will rise up on her hind legs and push you with her front legs. She is always full of energy and enjoyed sprinting back and forth in the dog pen with Tara. My parents were not her first owners; Candy spent a short time with another family that gave her back to the adoption agency because she “peed a lot” – nothing inexpensive medication couldn’t solve. She was devastated when she lost Jade and Tara within seven days of each other. She was the “general” of the three, rounding them up when it was time to do business. Candy’s father, Flying Penske, was the third-ranked sire in the United States. Her sister Loud Whisper enjoyed a successful racing career at Raynham Park in Taunton, Mass.


Tucker, one of my oldest sister's two dogs, is a bundle of power. He's the largest and the strongest dog in the family, but a puppy at heart despite being 10, having been born in October 1996. When he's happy, he'll get on his back and wriggle back and forth while mouthing. He is sociable, but that doesn't prevent him from looking out for my sister. He's also patient: He once rode from Maine to North Carolina in the back seat of my sister's car with no space to do anything but sit and rest his chin on the shoulder on whoever was driving.


Shannon was a stray puppy when my oldest sister found her on a rural road in North Carolina in June 1997. An interesting specimen, Shannon rarely barks and is always looking for love, going up to people with her tail wagging. It must be her inherited Southern hospitality. She's very submissive: She'll drop to the floor, roll onto her back, and raise her feet, looking for a tummy rub. One side of her head must be heavier than the other because she always tilts it one way when greeting people before rolling over. She enjoys being outdoors and will sit staring off even when it is dark and cold. She looks up to her big brother and becomes nervous when he's not around.


Madison, born sometime in early 1995, carries a more distinguished air about himself than my family's other pets. He's a runt, but he's bigger than his size. He once escaped from my sister's house in early fall and somehow managed to survive a week while making numerous trips across Maine's fabled Route 9, a major trucking route that connects central Maine with New Brunswick. Perhaps his early days as a stray in South Portland prompted him to relive his adventurous beginnings. He enjoys watching television from the arm of my sister's recliner, with a quiet, distinguished look of contentment on his face. He'll watch anything, but he likes the Outdoor Channel best, and the turkey hunting shows in particular. Those prompt him to leave the comfort of his throne for a closer look. He also appears to be interested in James Bond films.


Chloe came to my oldest sister, Dede, as a stray nursing four kittens in late summer 1999 in Sanford. She's petite and quite elusive, yet tenderly affectionate once you stay awhile and she gets to know you. Every night she and Madison chase each other through my sister's house. She sticks up for Madison when Nila picks on him by chasing Nila away.


Nila came to my sister and my then brother-in-law in spring 2004 after my sister's then mother-in-law had to give her up upon moving. She used to be sensitive to the touch and would take a swipe at you if you tried to pat her anywhere but her head. But since the birth of my nephew in May 2005, she has warmed up to people and has taken my nephew in as her human. She loves to pose for cameras and loves to snuggle close to my nephew.


A pure-bred greyhound, Tara joined the family on Jan. 14, 2006, when my parents adopted her from the Maine Greyhound Placement Service in Augusta. She was born on June 15, 1999, and given the racing name H P’s Star with the call name Star. Destined for racing greatness, she was not to be, as her breeder put her up for adoption at a Massachusetts adoption agency, where she was adopted by Natalie Wriggins, a Maine artist, that September. Wriggins died on Jan. 3, 2006, at the age of 70. At the time, Tara was one of four greyhounds Wriggins owned. Wriggins’s family put the four dogs up for adoption at the Maine Greyhound Placement Service a week later. Losing her owner was hard for Tara, but she quickly made new friends in the family. A month after my parents adopted her, my parents adopted her step-brother, James, who had spent a month at the adoption agency. She was happy to be reunited with him, as she spent many a lazy afternoon next to him in the living room. She loved to play with Smokey, her squeezable stuffed lamb that she toted around my parents’ house whenever someone walked through the front door. You knew when she needed to go outdoors to do business if she had Smokey or another stuffed toy in her mouth when she approached you. When she slept, she liked to rest one of her front feet above the corresponding ear. Her favorite season was winter, as she enjoyed digging into the snow with her needle nose. Tara was the best behaved dog to take on a walk, never going ahead of you or falling behind or veering away. She died on Aug. 20, 2008, just two days after being diagnosed with liver cancer that had caused a massive tumor. Her death came seven days after the death of Jade.


Born on May 12, 1999, with the call name Jade Colleen, Jade never experienced the love of a home until my parents adopted her when she was 8. She began her racing career on Nov. 3, 2001, at Raynham Park in Taunton, Mass., and retired after her last race, on Feb. 6, 2004. During her two-year racing career, Jade ran 59 races, winning 13, placing in seven, and showing in nine. Upon leaving the track, she served as a brood for the next four years, but gave birth to only two puppies. On Sept. 15, 2007, my parents met Jade while attending the Maine Greyhound Placement Service’s fall open house with Tara and Candy. They brought Jade home and she fit in immediately. She had the time of her life on Christmas Day months later when she got a stuffed giraffe squeeze toy. She flipped and squeezed the toy over and over, as she was finally free to be a puppy. She never did learn to climb stairs; she just leapt from the ground and into the house when coming back inside. In March 2008, she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. Nevertheless, she never missed a walk around the neighborhood and remained active. On the morning of Aug. 13, 2008, she picked up her giraffe, lay her head on it, and died in her sleep. Her grandfather, Dutch Bahama, is in the Greyhound Hall of Fame.


Born Nov. 12, 1995, with the racing name Lee's Jimmy and the call name James, James was one of Tara's three step-siblings at the Wriggins home. After James had spent a month at the Maine adoption agency, my parents decided to reunite him with Tara and take him in, which they did on Feb. 11, 2006. The reunion -- Tara went with my parents to Augusta when they picked up James -- wasn't boisterous (then again, greyhounds are mild-mannered to begin with). But Tara perked right up. Unfortunately, James was diagnosed in March 2006 with congestive heart failure. He never complained about anything and was gentlest dog anyone in my family has ever had. He died on June 24, 2006. Everyone felt as though they had known James all along, which made losing him all that much harder.


A Shetland Sheepdog, hardly anything got past Tess -- not even Polly when Polly was getting into trouble. A perfect example of genetics, Tess, like all Shelties, had an innate craving to herd things. Poor Polly. When Polly got on the table or the counter, Tess was right there. In her later years, Tess developed severe arthritis, prompting my father to build a ramp at the back door for her in 2004. Tess and Patsy made quite a team when they protected Sara against Polly after Sara arrived in 1994. After Patsy died in 2003, Tess stuck by my mother's side around my parents' house, following her everywhere. Tess's full name was Zara's Wee Bonny Tess. She was born in late May 1992. Tess died on Nov. 15, 2005, after refusing to eat for several days and a radiograph revealed a large tumor in her thorax. She will be missed most by Bart, who walked alongside of her throughout the house and enjoyed rubbing against her.


Polly was an eccentric little devil. Born in early April 1989, she was found abandoned in the woods behind a trailer park when she was only a couple of weeks old. My mother had to feed her a special formula from a bottle. Polly never grew up. Instead of using the stairs, she used to use the banister to go upstairs and downstairs at my parents'. She was a sassy little thing, always letting you know when she wanted attention by whining and sitting at your feet like a dog. Considering that she was just about the only cat I know of who would come when called, she probably thought she was a dog. She kept me company many nights when I lived at home and always loved a good hug and a "ride" around the house in my arms. She was diagnosed with heart disease in mid-June and appeared to improve on medication, but took a turn for the worse. She died in my arms on July 5, 2005. She was quite a character. At 16 years old, she was the second-oldest cat in Robbins family history. Her playful spirit will always remain fresh in our minds, as our hearts have become heavier.


Patsy was a very sweet dog, but it took a while for her to trust people. My family adopted her in April 1994 from a family that had taken her away from an abusive owner who shot her. As a Walker hound, Patsy had long, lean legs and a quiet, graceful stride. It's been said hound dogs produce a pleasant melody when they bark, and this was true with Patsy. Because Walker hounds can roam up to 40 miles a day, Patsy accompanied me on many of my hikes through Bangor City Forest. She put her keen sense of smell to use often, leading me to interesting finds in the woods. She died on Sept. 2, 2003, from an inoperable tumor. She was 11 years old. She brought much joy to my family and we are proud to have given her nine outstanding years. Her adopted sister, Tess, stayed with her a lot in her final days and will miss her companionship dearly.


Rascal, a cockatiel, was my sister Angie's "baby." My sister brought her home in May 1995, eight weeks after Rascal was born. Rascal's distinctive call was "twee-tweet, twee-tweet" while bobbing her head. She would raise her crown feathers when curious or surprised and make faces at you if you tried to imitate a bird's voice. She was never completely comfortable around anybody but Angie and liked the comfort of Angie's shoulder when others were around. Her favorite snack was Cheerios and she had a bagful of toys to keep her busy and entertained. The doctor suspected that Rascal developed a respiratory infection. Rascal died on May 29, 2003. Her playful spirit is missed.


James was just a pussy cat, but his vet never knew it. He once knocked a syringe out of her hand! But at home he was as sweet as could be -- as long as you fed him on time. The dogs made a point of staying away from James because he didn't like it when someone got in his way. On many nights he would keep Tess and Patsy waiting in line at the water dish while he got his licks before they slurped. But he was forgiving, always letting out a loud purr when patted. As a kitten, James loved to catch and fetch plastic coffee lid covers. He died on Sept. 19, 1997, at age 10, from diabetes.