Why I Don’t Own a Mule Anymore

Every time I turn around, somebody I know is talking about an animal. It never stops. Southerners are obsessed with animals.

I was in Tennessee yesterday and this woman was going on and on about her dog. She talked about it more lovingly than she talked to her husband. And he knew it too (the husband, that is).

This ol’ boy in Georgia has a pet chicken that he carries around with him in his truck and he talks to it constantly – like a chicken is paying attention. I can tell you from having chickens that they don’t pay attention, no matter what you say to them.

Mississippi is filled with cat people and some of those cats don’t even have a name. Arkansas is the same way. I know a rancher in Texas with 39 cats. He complains he has a cat problem. He’s not fond of cats at all, but he says they keep the mice away. I’d say he’s got a mouse problem.

Louisiana has citizens who purposefully harbor gators as pets.

I know a man named Cleve in Florida who has 3 pet snapping turtles and I can guarantee they are not returning his affections.

A woman in South Carolina has a pet catfish. A catfish. If I had a pet catfish, he’d be looking over his shoulder every night about dinnertime.

This month in Southern Living as well as Garden and Gun, Rick Bragg and Roy Blount are talking about animals. They write about animals all the time. One of them or both has said, and I can’t remember which one, that you have to have an animal in your story. Well I do today. Several actually.

I saw a woman in a grocery store beat a man over the head with her purse a few months ago for saying he was an animal lover – said he loved them fried, roasted, boiled and grilled. Despite the fact that he was talking about certain animals people normally eat, it was not a smart move. After she took a good whack at him, she went over and bought a pack of chicken breasts. I kid you not.

I love my dogs and they love me back. One of them, Rudy, a Jack Russell, cost me $300. I had to sweet talk the owner into selling me one of her puppies and he was the lucky winner. Since then, that rascal has extracted thousands more from me in various ways: vet bills, food, chewed carpet and furniture. But I still love him. He’s worth every Andrew Jackson I’ve spend on him. In many ways, Rudy is the best friend I’ve ever had. And that, I believe, is why Southerners love their animals. We want friends. And it seems we specifically want friends with four legs, which is why, in my humble opinion, chickens and catfish don’t make good pets.

“There’s just something about that extra set of legs that makes me love my horse more than my parakeet,” said a girl in Florida two weeks ago as we were in a feed store talking about four-legged pets and why Southerners in particular have so many pets in general.

“My daddy has a mule too,” she said.

“We had a mule when I was a kid,” I said woefully.

“A mule is not a pet,” said the feed store clerk, a man pushing 80 years old. “I’ve knowed a few mules in my time. Mules are like mean people. Who wants a mean person as a pet?”

Nobody.

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