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How One Man Went from Head of the Household to Bottom of the Pecking Order

by Bob Tarte

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2003
ISBN: 1-56512-351-4
Publisher: Algonquin

The wholly disarming story of a music reviewer’s move to the country, where he gradually, inexorably gathered about him a ragtag band of animals.

“The long, smooth slide from keeping one animal to housing more than two dozen amazes me as much as the fact that I'm willing to expend energy on them,” Tarte writes. He was an urban creature, ready (if ill-prepared) to take on the work of writing about reggae and world music because the chance fell in his lap. He was not so ready (though equally ill-prepared) to turn his rural Michigan residence over to a multiplying horde of insistent ducks, geese, parrots, parakeets, turkeys, cats, rabbits, and starlings. They dumbfounded him, controlled and teased him, took their share of his flesh, stole his heart. Since animals inevitably get sick, sometimes mortally, Tarte found that visits to the vet eventually necessitated visits to the psychiatrist; his mood chemistry needed as much help as his menagerie. While he keeps the tone light, peppered with dredging humor (“Pat a hunter's hound on the head, idly suggest that one of these days you'd like to bag a dog with a .22, and expect a heated discussion”), the author quietly suggests that animals are little packets of alien intelligence fully inhabiting their own world, which is worth tapping into. His furred and feathered companions took Tarte out of himself, gave him a satisfying flinch of pleasure, taught him to live within chaos, introduced him to the strange ceremonies of animal care. As well, they pulled his chain, broke his trust, ate up his time and patience, showed him a thing or two about violence, and died on him. His chronicle of those processes ties them all neatly together, and it sounds like love.

“Why didn't anyone warn me?” Tarte asks about the consequences of sharing a home with animals. It’s a good thing they didn’t, or we might not have had this affecting debut.