Animals of the English Department

By Alex Walsh



Pinot Gregio and Don Gallehr

Pinot sits on Don’s lap as he writes and sends emails, follows him outside when he does yard work (some say he manages Don’s yard work) and he sleeps in Don’s bed at night, purring his heart out.  Pinot Gregio was named as such because of his color.  “We love him and he loves us,” Don says, “It doesn’t get any better.”


Chaucer, Bunkie, Pavonine Fanny and Roger Lathbury

Chaucer, an Alpha male, is a friendly cat unless you touch his back—then he’s all claws and swiping.  He never tires of asserting dominance over Bunkie.  Roger says, “We will never have to buy a rug or stuffing for a pillow as long as Chaucer keeps shedding.   Bunkie, a noble feline, has a lot of Maine Coon in him.  He is shy yet has a most leonine regard.  Roger says that “he is grudgingly accepted because I can open tins, but with aristocratic disdain, Bunkie has let me know that really he would rather starve than tolerate my middle class, New Jersey manners.”  Pavonine Fanny is highly intelligent—she knows what Roger is going to do before he does it.  Although she will come when called, she is otherwise independent, with mildly saturnine dubiousness of all she sees.  “I believe that she wouldn’t accept only nine lives: she requires more.”


Petronius and Stacey Remick-Simkins

Petronius will be 20 years old on April 9th of this year.  He has a peculiar habit of talking vociferously when he drinks.  He is cuddler and complains mightily when left downstairs for the evening.  His sweetness was never more evident than when he stayed with Stacey’s friend Barbara.  She was losing her battle to rheumatoid arthritis but was still able to live on her own.  Barbara reported that Petronius would lick her joints that caused the most pain, walk one slow step at a time next to her and watch closely as she moved to and from wherever she was going.  At night, he would sleep on her stomach and wake her in the morning with gentle nudges and lick her face.  When Stacey’s husband fell critically ill, Petronius would cry at the bottom of the stairs hoping to see him.  Once, he even ventured upstairs, which was something that he’s afraid to do otherwise.


Dylan, Pixie, Madison and Michelle LaFrance

This is Michelle’s favorite picture of her pack, or as she says, “This is what happens when we try to take pictures of them all at once.  We never seem to have much luck.  But there’s something about this picture that I really like—the quality of light, the forms, the color.”  The two larger dogs are partially cut off.  That’s Dylan (14 years) on the right and Madison (7 years) on the left.  Pixie (8 years) sits in the middle.



Bella, Lucky and Sarah Baker

Sarah was raised with four red longhaired dachshunds, all with names from operas: Siegfried, Delilah, Fafner (Faffy), and Flosshilda (Flossie).  “That’s what happens when your mother’s an opera singer” says Sarah.  In keeping with her family’s tradition, Bella (née Arabella Contessa) is now the 11th red longhaired dachshund in her extended family.  Bella weighs 10lbs and is one year old.  Lucky is, Sarah thinks, a Malamute-Brittany Spaniel mix.  For Chanukah some day, Sarah and her family have promised him an identity with a genetic test.  Lucky is a rescue dog, weighs 75lbs, and is 5 years old.  He was chosen by Sarah’s husband and daughter while Sarah was parking the car at an adoption event.  If personality were correlated to weight, Bella and Lucky would be switched.  Bella’s voice has clocked in at 90 decibels and she literally runs circles around Lucky most nights.  Lucky does not bat an eye at wasabi, hot pepper flakes, or raw calamari.



Oliver, Cheezburger, Sylvia, Ernie and Brittany Kerfoot

Oliver was adopted as a baby when Brittany was in undergrad and thinks he rules the roost.  He’s a very particular and moody cat, and will only give attention on his terms.  He’s also quite a bruiser, weighing in at about 20 pounds.  Cheezburger is a rescue cat who came to Brittany abused and in bad shape.  He was originally very shy, but has since become the most beloved cat anyone has ever met.  He’s completely carefree, loving, and has a heart of gold.  Sylvia was rescued from a shelter in Cape May, NJ and has the biggest personality.  She liked to steal things like pens, pill bottles and hair ties then hide them all over Brittany’s apartment.  She’s very active, and super fast.  Ernie is the baby of the group and was also adopted from Cape May.  He’s truly the youngest because he cries for attention and loves to cuddle.  He may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but he’s a true sweetheart.


Miles, Jackson and Kyoko Mori

Miles, the blue-point Siamese, was born in a spacious and spotless log house in the woods near St. Mary’s City.  Kyoko writes, “His breeder was a photographer who also kept thoroughbred horses.  Jackson, the Burmese, spent the first twelve weeks of his life in Gaithersburg, in a bungalow crammed with broken-down furniture, old magazines, pieces of fabric, photographs, cat food and cat litter in huge bags.  I suspect his breeder, a retired school teacher, might have been a hoarder (though not of pets) but she was featured in the Cat Fancy magazine for the numerous awards she’d won at cat shows. Miles is almost four; Jackson is six months younger.  During the day, when I’m writing, they sit on the window sill next to my desk, Jackson watching the birds at the birdfeeder, Miles contemplating his favorite subject, me.  In the late afternoon or early evening, we move over to the couch in the living room, where they nap curled together on my legs while I read.   Miles likes to perch on my shoulder and supervise my cooking, but if we have more than three or four people over to dinner, he will retire to the bedroom and leave Jackson to entertain the guests.  Both cats have been “clicker-trained” to come, sit, stand up like a bear, jump over a pole like a pony, and to shake hands (Jackson) or high-five (Miles).  In that and many other ways, they defy the common misconception that cats are un-trainable and unfriendly.”

(You can read more about Kyoko’s cats in the latest issue of Conjunctions.)



Obi and Marcos Martínez

Obsidian (aka, Obi, because he’s got a bit of a Jedi-mind-manipulation talent) is famous in Marco’s composition courses for his talent at helping me grade student papers—he loves paperclips, and can’t help attacking essays.  Marcos and his husband, Wayne, adopted Obi in September of 2013.  Obi is 8, but he still plays like a kitten, and is still growing as a person.



Tess and Lisa Koch

Tess woofs at the sound of her own bark!  Lisa’s son records Tess barking; he plays it back, and the family laughs as Tess stares down the iPhone and barks profusely at her recording.  He plays it again, she barks, they laugh.



Emma and Alok Yadav

Emma has two literary namesakes: Austen’s Emma Woodhouse and Flaubert’s Emma Bovary.  But she wasn’t named by Alok and his family.  They’re actually her foster parents.  Emma’s other family is in Bangkok for three years, so she’s been staying with Alok since 2012.  Leela, Alok’s 12-year-old daughter, had been wanting a dog for some time and Alok had been saying “no” for some time.  But the situation with Emma offered a happy solution: Leela gets to have a dog during her middle school years while Alok gets to preserve his disinclination to having pets.  “People sometimes suggest that now that we’ve let the cat out of the bag, by allowing a dog into the house, there’s no going back: we may as well accept that the horse has left the barn.  But, despite any appearances to the contrary, I believe that I’m still maintaining the ‘no’ to any pets that I announced earlier.  So, for our ‘relationship status’ with regard to pets: I’d have to say, ‘It’s complicated.’”  Emma’s pretty wonderful: so much so, that it’s hard for Alok to imagine moving on to another pet after her.



Sammy, Charlie, Lily, Daisy and Ginny Hoy

Ginny Hoy has a menagerie in her house.  She has two cats, Charlie and Sammy, a dog, Lily, and a pig named Daisy.  Yes, a pig.  Charlie, the all black cat, is Ginny’s very own Dracula.  He only goes out at night and at the first hint of daylight he climbs up the front door frame and starts crying (the wood around the door has the scratches to prove it).  Sammy, the other cat, (who tossed her cookies all over a pile of student papers last semester) vocalizes constantly.  She’s also arboreal and climbs up on everything, not just trees.  Curtains, furniture, cars and even Ginny.  Daisy, a 13 year old pig, hates the cold, so she stays in the house except for walks in the winter—she’s potty trained like a dog.



Mishka, Nova and Alex Ghaly

Mishka loves sitting on Alex’s lap and literally follows her around everywhere she goes.  Mishka is also extremely vocal, with a large repertoire of meows, trills, purrs, and chirps.  She jumps down balcony by balcony from Alex’s fourth floor apartment so she can run into the woods—so she’s quite a daredevil.  Shortly after Mishka was adopted, she was catnapped by Alex’s neighbors.  After interrogating neighbors, tracking down the catnapper’s address on Facebook, Alex reclaimed Mishka after she’d been gone for a week.  Alex says that “Nova is named after a supernova, an energetic blast of creation and new life.  I didn’t know I was going to move to Northern Virginia when I got her, so her name ended up being a surprising coincidence.”  Nova’s fast and agile but she’s also a real klutz.  Alex got Nova in a hokey town called Potterville, Michigan.  She was the runt of the litter, and her mother’s name was “Princess Nacho.”  Nova was eating puppy chow when Alex found her, and Alex has since noticed that she has an incredible love for junk food—cheesy popcorn, Pringles, Doritos, and so on.  As soon as you open the bag she comes running.  Alex suspects this has to do with her early weeks of life.



Laika and Denise Albanese

Laika came to Denise named Khloe, “unbearably enough in this era of the Kardashians,” Denise says, “I renamed her after the first dog the Soviets sent into space.  She was found wandering in rural Virginia, and was listed by the rescue group from which I got her as a border collie mix.  But if there’s an ounce of that subtle, intuitive breed in her I’ve yet to see evidence of it.  Instead, my guess is she’s cattle dog and large terrier--and, alas, when she’s at her most annoying she combines the worst characteristics of both breeds: that means terrier stubbornness and strength with the bloody-minded tenacity of a herding breed that supposedly has dingo in its bloodlines.  But she can be a sweetie as well as a hard-headed pain.  She loves children and protects her dog pals against bullying.  When she’s nestled against me and dozing, she’s adorably cuddly.  And her athleticism is note-worthy: given her well-muscled form she doesn’t clear more than three feet or so when she jumps (which is often), but the power of her liftoff is impressive--as are the back-flips and 360-degree spins she takes in the air, whether trying to nail a toy flying by or block a kicked soccer ball.  And then there are her striking looks: neighborhood children seem to be divided on whether with her two black eye patches Laika looks more like a panda, or whether her black-and-white coat means she’s more likely to be a cow.  Really, people need to take their children to the zoo more.....”