This love of animals, or as some might label this eccentricity, (a friend says I’m crazy) began when I was a child. My grandmother and mother soon learned that reaching their hand into my pants’ pocket was risky business. A live frog or a snake or tadpoles or lizards or small turtles or earthworms, were often trapped in my pockets, hoping for rescue. After a human scream, the escapees would quickly disappear under couches, beds and chests. Sometimes not discovered for weeks. Sometimes never. My mother’s anxiety level would escalate at night, when she went to bed, certain that a snake would be curled up under the sheets.
When I was eleven, I pleaded with my mother to get a puppy or a pony. Finally, to shut me up, she relented and brought home a puppy from the animal shelter in Middletown, Connecticut. This was an impressive acquiescence on her part because she wasn’t the least bit familiar or comfortable with dogs. She hadn’t grown up with pets.
This first dog was smallish. A mutt with a long, wavy white and tan coat and ears, who appeared to be a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. I thought he was the cutest and smartest puppy anywhere. I named him Jinx. Why, I have no idea. I don’t think I realized what the word meant but liked the sound of it. Poor Jinx was jinxed from the beginning. He was left alone for most of the day. I was in school. Mom was working. We lived in a cramped apartment on the third floor of a house, which meant of course, I had to carry Jinx down three flights of stairs to do his business. Housebreaking didn’t turn out well. And, after we had him for about six months, Mom said we were moving again. The next apartment did not accept pets. I had to give him away.
When I was fifteen, what I considered a stroke of luck occurred—my mother married again. Along with this stepfather came his two older black Cocker Spaniels who immediately became my friends. Over the years, there was Gypsy, an English Setter; an old English Sheep dog, Samantha, who moved to Maine with us and tolerated boating back and forth across Penobscot Bay with me. I also spun and wove her combed coat along with my sheep’s sheared wool. Two Golden Retrievers followed. One, Pepsi held the record for the longest life (nineteen years) for that breed. She was a gift from my eight-year-old son’s friend who drank Pepsi Colas all day. I couldn’t resist naming her Pepsi. The other Golden was Mishka.
Then came two beautiful Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. Dudley, dignified and reserved and Molly, who entertained everyone and became the sentry at my company, Moss Inc. A Yorkshire Terrier, Pippin, who became a good sailor. A Yellow Lab, Luke, goofy and lovable, who enjoyed his car ride in the front passenger seat, accompanying my husband on his errands around town.
One Norwich Terrier, Oliver, expanded into two more within three years’ time. Maggie, the Prima Donna, who kept everyone in line, and T.S. Eliot who, as a puppy, would lay at my feet under my writing desk.
The cat index is a different matter. I can’t remember all their names. But certain personalities stand out, such as Maestro, Maximilian, Piaffe and Biscuit. We finally vowed “no more cats.” It was too heartbreaking, as one by one they were killed by predators also residing on Bald Mountain where we live. I witnessed the abduction of Max, a large Maine Coon Cat, by a bald eagle, who swooped down in broad daylight, in the middle of the field, killing Max instantly and carrying off his limp body.
In 1972, my former husband, Bill, and I moved into an old Cape ensconced on 35 acres in West Rockport, Maine. As soon as I could, I put in large vegetable and flower gardens and then turned my attention to animals. At that time, we had three dogs and four cats in residence. At an unforeseen visit to a small farm owned by acquaintances, I became enchanted with Charley, a donkey, for whom they were trying to find a home. Charley added character to our homestead. He was a large donkey. Stubborn? Of course. Smart? Oh yeah. Trouble maker? Indeed! It became a challenge and a game for Charley to escape the fencing. I would make the all-too-frequent phone call to our neighbor, Milton, to help me get Charley back in the field and repair the fence. As I waited on the phone for his answer, Milton would yell to his wife, “Eleanor, Mrs. Moss’ ass is in the road again. Got to go help her!”
The kids loved to ride Charley, but he would chase Bill around the back field, trying to bite him.
It wasn’t long before I added more four-legged characters—four sheep: Harold and his three ladies, Mandy, Maude and Marie. I had purchased them for shearing wool to spin, dye and weave rugs on my large floor loom, which had seemed like a good idea. It actually worked out well—for a year. That is, until I found myself, in a below-zero-middle-of-a-January night, with heavy snow, cold icy winds, on my knees down in the shed, pulling out lambs from two ewes having trouble birthing. That was the end of keeping sheep. I sold them in the spring.When I turned fifty I started my life with horses. I wanted that “pony” my mother had so adamantly denied me. I wanted to learn to ride. This phase began with Gypsy, purchased at a negligible price from a good friend, was a dependable, trusting mount. Prior to Gypsy, I had tried out two horses, which resulted in a bruised body and deflated confidence as they tossed me off again and again. Gypsy was my confidence builder and first equine friend. When I wasn’t at my company, we spent endless hours together, riding on our trails or getting dressage lessons or just sitting in Gypsy’s stall as she nuzzled my hair and cheek.
In my attempt to get Pebble interested and because of his connection to Norway, I purchased a Norwegian Fjord who had been trained for driving a cart. Thor was a delight. He told an animal communicator that he was an old soul and knew more than the other horses. He became the philosopher of the barn. Good, solid, easy keeper, easy riding and driving. He lived for his stomach. If there was anything edible within two miles, he was there to munch.
There are many engaging stories about these magnificent animals but there isn’t space in this article—our fourteen horses and six foals we bred and sold—some my teachers, some my breeding mares, some just friends. Forming friendship and trust with a horse is a unique and rewarding experience. They really do communicate and give unconditional love, much the same as dogs.
To be fortunate to have these creatures in one’s life could be enriching enough, but if you add studying dressage with one as a partner, the experience is edifying, and the learning could continue for the life of both partners. Sharing the birth of a mare’s foal is a moving and emotional event never to be forgotten.
Hawkeye, a thoroughbred from Canada, and I actually rode in competitive dressage, me in full regalia of top hat, black jacket, white pants and gloves. I was a nervous ninny but proud of myself and Hawkeye when we came home with a ribbon. He and Esperito, an Andalusian, became my most trusted teachers and friends. They each had eyes that looked deep into my soul and captured my heart. I miss them.
And then I can’t forget my two-legged beast, Lulu, an African Grey Parrot, who unfortunately couldn’t stay long. The three Norwich Terriers in residence tried to eat her.
Now we have come down to one Standard Poodle, one Norwich Terrier and two German Shepherds. Maybe I should round it up to five?