In November 2011 I made a post about a book by Elinor De Wire called The Lightkeeper’s Menagerie. This was a book about stories of animals at lighthouses. Later, in 2012 I received a nice email from Elinor and an offer to send me a copy of the book. The book arrived a while ago and I have yet to delve into it’s 328 pages (I will soon Elinor!), but I came across a couple of photos that brought to mind my stories of animals on lighthouses.
I did write about Cougars on the Doorstep but this post is referring to mostly my pets who lived on the lighthouses where I served.
The picture on the left shows two cats on the bow of a canoe and I immediately thought of our first Siamese cat called
Tipsy, because she used to drink beer!. Tipsy travelled to our first lighthouse at Pulteney Point, but before we moved to the lighthouse we used to take our canoe out on the ocean.
Tipsy always wanted to come – in the car, in the canoe, on walks, into bed – we could never leave her behind. So, off into the ocean she went with us. Upon our return to shore she would jump from the bow, about 10 feet from the shore, and swim to the beach! She was not afraid of water as most cats are. Tipsy loved the lighthouse. Lots more to do than being stuck in an apartment!
At Pulteney Point we decided we needed a dog as well. Well, one of my favourites was the Dalmation so our next trip out we purchased a Dalmation pup. Tricia was a
comical dog. When she was happy she grinned! Don’t believe me? Take a look at the photo at left. It looked absolutely stupid but she was happy! She and Tipsy were the best of friends and went on all walks with us in the woods around the lighthouse. On night shift Tricia would walk with me. Pulteney was home to many deer which came down at night to feed on the lawn and flower gardens, and Tricia and the deer never had a confrontation, each moved out of the others way.
Tipsy unfortunately died at Pulteney, but Tricia travelled to our next posting at Kains Island (Quatsino) lighthouse. There she roamed freely and loved the place.
This next picture is a bit comical, but if the squirrels at Boat Bluff lighthouse could talk, that is probably what they would have said! I spent about 10 days at Boat Bluff sometime in the early 1980s as a relief Senior keeper as the original keeper and his wife both had to leave the station at the same time. The keepers wife left explicit instructions, along with many bags of peanuts, to make sure to feed the Stellar Jays – large, noisy, blue and black birds native to British Columbia – and the squirrels. These were their pets!
Well the first morning I was up early, and so were the birds! There was a horrible
squawking at the back door and the jays were bouncing all over the porch railing demanding their food. I opened the door and they flew off into the trees nearby to wait. I opened the peanut package and immediately jumped. Something was scurrying up the leg of my jeans! I looked down and a squirrel was hanging on and climbing higher towards the bag of peanuts in my hand. I handed it a
peanut and it dropped to the deck and started to eat. Placing more peanuts on the railing, I ducked back into the house. What a ruckus! The jays descended onto the railing like starved orphans and the squirrel held his ground.
Somehow they managed to share, sort of!
The squirrel would fill his mouth and take off to a safe spot, and the jays wrecked havoc on the peanuts on the railing. They were quite adept at opening the shell by holding the peanut with one foot and pecking a hole in it, extracting the peanuts and throwing the empties all over the place. No table manners at all!
We were thirty-two (32) years on the lighthouses, and over the years we had many pets, mostly Siamese cats. On our last station at McInnes Island we had three (3) Siamese cats and a mixed breed. All the cats used to roam freely as we were on an island far from any
confrontations. The sea otters were enormous, and quite vicious. We used to hear them fighting up near their dens on the island. They used to have a trail past the house and when it was in use, the cats stayed indoors and eyed them through the screen door.
Over the years when we had pets on the lighthouses we worried about cougars (pumas) and bears taking the animals. None did, but one cat remained in hiding for three days after a cougar attack! So, here on McInnes Island the animals could roam quite freely. Large bald-headed eagles would sit in the trees and eye them, and the cats would eye them back, but the eagles never did any harm.
Then one very cold winter, we chanced to see a large Snowy Owl fly low over the snow-covered lawn, and one of our Siamese cats made a dash for cover under some piping on the lawn. The Snowy lifted into the air and perched in a tree waiting. The cat sat; the bird sat. I finally broke the impass by chasing the owl away. I guess the Snowy is not as lazy as the eagles, or prefers a much more varied diet! Every winter when it became cold, we had to keep an eye out for the snowy owls.Luckily we had no pets eaten by the birds, and birds and pets lived to a ripe old age, unlike the cougar!
The ligthouse is a great place for pets, but, moving was not. The cats hated the helicopter and had to be caged. The dogs just chose a place on the floor of the helicopter and settled down, although they did have to have a lead. No worries there.
The worst place for the cats was travelling by ship. They were not allowed in the cabins, so the only covered place was the foredeck locker where the anchor chain ran through. Every time the anchor dropped, the cats had to be peeled off the roof of their cages! Eve vet administered tranquilizers did not help! But they again survived and lived to a ripe old age!
Other animals kept by the my family were chickens and rabbits. This I remembered after seeing the cartoon above. You may say these were not pets as such, but my children used to name the chickens and the rabbits. My son learned to kill and skin the rabbits for supper. The chickens we kept for eggs and sometimes young chickens – new stock. These pets kept our children and ourselves entertained and supplied us with fresh food.
If any lightkeepers reading this have any more stories to add, please pass them on to me, with photos if possible, and I will post them here.