The Gift That Kept On Giving (And Getting).
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 12-26-2004.
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I love animals just about every kind of animal except snakes and chickens. I got gifts of various dogs, cats, calves and rabbits every year. But, hey. I lived in Pico Canyon and had a place for each one of them.
The yearly gift of a calf or two was my pay for doing my chores. When I sold them, I got to keep the profits. The dogs of different shapes and sizes often became working dogs on the place, or just a great companion on my constant hikes around the canyon. Most often, the cats lived in the barn and kept the mice at bay, along with stealing some milk straight out of the bucket as I milked. Rabbits were raised for the table, as were chickens and the eggs they gave us.
Other kids got animal gifts, too maybe a dog or cat for Christmas and sometimes, a lamb, goat, chicken or rabbit for Easter. Too often, when those critters didn't work out at home, they were in they were dropped off in Pico Canyon. Just after Christmas and Easter were the two times of the year we got most of those "gifts" in Mentryville.
One evening, as my sister Alyce came up the road, she spotted a crate full of chickens. Bantam chickens. Hens, roosters, even some chicks. There was a dog tied to the crate, too. She came up to the house, and then we went back down the road and got the chickens and the dog. After putting the chickens in the chicken yard, we fed and watered the dog. It was a wonderful, full-size collie. It took many hours to brush all the burrs and hair mats out of her coat.
The chickens could fly well enough that they escaped the chicken yard and took to nesting in the many pepper trees in Mentryville. They became great alarm clocks. Only, they started about one-half hour earlier than we wanted them to start. We adjusted our clocks in the house.
The collie we started to train as a working dog. She took to it well, except that she wouldn't wait for a command. One day we found that she had run a cow to death. We gave the dog to a city family and she lived to an old age. Not all collies can be a Lassie.
And then there were the lambs that were dropped off another time, about two weeks after Easter. We had to bottle-feed them until they could graze by themselves. The lambs grew into good-looking sheep, and we were hoping for a nice dinner.
They must have read our minds. They escaped from the corral near the barn one day and took to the hills. We never did get them back to the barn and never had that dinner. About a year after they escaped, we saw them on the high ridge south of the Big House in Mentryville. We never saw them alive after that, although we did find some bones and a skull. Obviously, a local mountain lion had our rack-of-lamb dinner.
We also had two geese dropped off. They became the best warning alarms for anything coming near the place. They also made a great Christmas dinner.
All of these animals were dropped off in the "wilds" of Pico Canyon. I know the gift-givers had high hopes that they would become great family pets.
I can picture a little lamb at a home in Reseda: "Oh Honey, I got six because they are so small and cute and I think the kids will love them."
I'll bet one of the cute little lambs knocked down a cute little kid, or maybe took a little lamb bite of a finger, and it was: "Honey! Get rid of the lambs before they kill one of the children!"
Thus we got them in Mentryville. In the dark of night. On a dead-end road. Nobody in sight. Just that old barn.
My folks never understood, and I still don't understand, what makes people think an unwanted animal could be dropped off in Pico Canyon, or other places around the Santa Clarita Valley, and survive sometimes in a cage, or tied up to a fence post. I don't understand why they bought them, or how the people who sold them didn't ask if the buyers were prepared for the responsibility of having an animal. ("Sure, two blocks from Cal State Northridge is a great place for six lambs. Want a goat, too?")
People are supposed to be the "smarter" species. Sometimes I wonder.
If you and your children aren't ready for the long-term responsibility of owning an animal five to 15 years or more don't buy one. If you don't have the room in your yard or home, don't buy one. (Don't even get me started on wild species. The Los Angeles Zoo has all you'll ever want to see of those.)
If you really can accept such responsibilities and have the room, by all means get the proper pet for your family. There are cat and dog "rescue" organizations, animal shelters and other places to get that perfect match for you and your family.
By and large, they won't give you an animal that isn't right for your home or lifestyle. That special pet from those places will have a "forever home" where it can be loved and cared for all of its life.
The wild bantam chicken population eventually diminished to zero. The snake population increased from eating all the chicken eggs. Most of the cats and dogs died a natural death or were given to families that could accept them.
Mentryville was reduced to having one or two roosters that crowed long after we were awake. Peace and quiet returned to the canyon ... until the next time a cage full of kittens appeared near the road in the dead of night.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.