2008-05-28 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Dressed as Walt Whitman, Darrel Ford with his dog Rooney. Dressed as Walt Whitman, Darrel Ford with his dog Rooney. To animal lovers, pets are pure poetry in motion. Walt Whitman's work didn't glorify dogs or cats; however, in Stanza 32 of "Song of Myself" (published in 1855) Long Island's most celebrated poet does praise the simplicity of all animals:

"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition.

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,"

Merely by coincidence, two upcoming "pet" events are centered at or near Whitman's former Long Island residences-his Huntington birthplace; and a West Babylon family home moved to Amityville around 1900. Please consider attending one or both social gatherings described below:

•"Poetry & Pasta" Last Hope Animal Rescue (www. lasthopeanimalrescue.org) is hosting a wine tasting fundraiser on Friday June 13th from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, 246 Old Walt Whitman Road, Huntington Station. There will be pasta dishes and wine tasting courtesy of Stew Leonard's of Farmingdale, raffles, silent auction and Chinese auction. Tickets are $30 in advance; $35 at the door. All money raised will benefit Last Hope's foster dogs and cats. Call 631-385-4945 or 631-205-5069. (Tours of Whitman's birthplace are available at a minimal charge.)

The highlight of the evening will be Babylon's own, Darrel B. Ford, Whitman scholar and impersonator (shown here with his distinguished Dachshund "Rooney"), discussing the life of Mr. Leaves of Grass and reading excerpted verse. Mr. Ford, an authority on all things Whitman, doesn't recall any mention of the poet ever owning a pet, but said that in 1838 when Whitman founded the still- published Huntington newspaper, The Long Islander, singlehandedly young Walt would write the paper, print it, and deliver it to the Babylon area upon his white horse, Nina. Join Last Hope for the "Wine and Walt" evening which promises to be a perfect blend of culture, cuisine and compassion toward critters.

•"Amityville Heritage Fair Pet Show" The Amityville Historical Society has asked me to help organize and judge their "just for fun" Pet Show at the 39th annual street fair on Sat. June 14th (Flag Day); June 15th as a rain date. Presently the Pet Show is a work in progress. Folks of all ages are invited to enter their amiable pets. (Dogs must be leashed; cats leashed or in carriers) FREE registration will begin at noon; with judging commencing at 1 pm on the Park North School grounds.

There will be prizes awarded in 4 categories: Best Dressed Pet; Best Pet/Owner Look- Alike; Best Trick; and Friendliest Pet. I also plan to have a few Babylon Town Shelter kittens on hand, not as competition, but for adoption. Please stop by. Call 631-661-6164 for more details or to donate prizes.

Here's the Whitman Tie-In: The Pet Show grounds at Park North School, as well as the Amityville Historical Museum, are on Park Avenue. Further south on Park, just before Montauk Highway, an historical marker identifies a home that Whitman, his parents and eight siblings shared from 1836-40.

Mr. Ford said it was originally a farmhouse where Bed, Bath and Beyond now stands in Great South Bay Shopping Center. Self-educated Whitman begrudgingly taught school at that time. Since terms were only 13 weeks, he earned a meager salary but still had to travel to 8-10 different districts, including Babylon, Smithtown and Dix Hills, where within the same classroom he instructed up to 80 "unenlightened" students ranging from 5 to 15 years old. I feel Whitman's pain. Just learning of this makes me treasure the teachers' union, tenure and my NYSTR pension even more.

For Adoption: Whitman realized that animals were patient and resilient-"O to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do." (Leaves of Grass "Me Imperturbe" 1900). Waiting at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset, "Zeus" a Landseer (black & white) Newfoundland #411 knows all about "rebuffs". He finds himself homeless now, yet doesn't know why. (In contrast, last week another Landseer Newfie performed a canine freestyle routine with his loving owner to "Twisting by the Pool" at the Milk- Bones® 100th anniversary party in Times Square.) Meanwhile "Runt" #265 a longhaired tabby in the shelter lobby is a literate cat, but instead of free verse, Runt prefers familiar feline periodicals.

More Dogs: "Don"#343- lemon & white English Pointer; "Lacey" #366- female yellow Lab mix.

More Cats: "Spackle" #207- also in a lobby cage; "Parker" #121- gray tabby; kittens too. condo- owner died; "Kelly"- a declawed calico; kittens too.

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