The Pet Set

Texans have always doted on their animal pals, from Bob Wills's donkey to a fat cat that favored oysters and cream.

WE WENT A BIT WILD last month, when we discussed the delights and drawbacks of adopting scaly, fangy, and otherwise feral pets directly from the arms of Mother Nature. Now let’s rein in our beastly impulses and address a tamer subject: domesticated breeds and the pet peeves, pet names, and other petty matters relating thereto.

Pet-loving Texans have always thought outside the (litter) box. The young Bob Wills, for instance, had a donkey. Rancher’s wife Mary Ann Goodnight, given three chickens as a gift, chose to befriend rather than befry them; they followed her around as she did her chores. When philanthropist Ima Hogg and her three brothers were children, their father, Governor James Hogg, bought them a Shetland pony named Dainty, which was famous for dumping riders onto the ground. I can’t help but wonder if ultimately the genteel Miss Ima didn’t get back at Dainty. I say this because Shetland ponies are about as pleasant as paper cuts, and one of them once provoked me to do something mean. When my siblings and I would visit our grandparents in Bay City during the summer, they’d often take us into Houston for the day, to the zoo, the park, a movie—or Kiddie Wonderland, a battered amusement parkette on South Main that boasted a few moth-eaten Shetland ponies. I always seemed to get an especially surly poop-colored critter that snapped at me throughout the entire ride. One summer, when I was nine or so, I planned a simple act of revenge, and to this day when I play the word-association game with my sister Nancy and say “Shetland pony,” she instantly replies, “Straight pin.”

Real horses—as opposed to those Rhode Island-size pretenders—are by far the most romanticized of Texas animals. That’s because horses are never just companions but also, at the very least, transportation and sometimes co-workers or even comrades in arms as well. For the better part of the nineteenth century, they were more valuable than money; the life of a settler or a soldier often depended on his mount. No wonder horse thieves were so despised and so often the guests of honor at “necktie parties.” Sam Houston owned many horses in his seventy years, but the best-known is Saracen, the white stallion he rode into battle at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. Houston suffered an ankle wound; Saracen was killed. Sixty-two years later, during another war, Lieutenant Colonel

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