David Bruce: Animals Anecdotes


Feodor Chaliapine as Mephisto 

Russian bass Feodor Chaliapine once attended a tea party at which several young ladies were present. While sitting at the table, he felt a pressure on his foot and he wondered which of the young ladies was flirting with him. Upon rising from the dinner table, however, he noticed that one of his shoes shone with blacking while the other shoe was wet and had no blacking. Just then, a Saint Bernard dog came from under the dinner table, licking its chops, which were covered with blacking.

Ivan Jadan, the premier lyric tenor of the Bolshoi Opera from 1928-1941, lived in the Virgin Islands for the last part of his life. He swam nearly every day, and in 1957 he made a friend of a black anglefish with five gold bands. Often, he crushed a sea egg and fed it to the anglefish. One day, he discovered the anglefish in an old, abandoned fish trap. Mr. Jadan knew that the angelfish would die if it stayed there, so he crushed a sea egg in his hand, then put his hand into the trap’s intricate opening. The anglefish swam to the food, Mr. Jadan moved his hand away, and the anglefish followed the hand and food to freedom. Mr. Jadan didn’t name the anglefish until 1993, when he told his great-niece Anna about the pretty little anglefish and announced that its name was Anna Anglefish.

Mid-1950s Metropolitan Opera basso Gerhard Pechner enjoyed taking care of animals. If he found a hurt animal, he did his best to care for it. One day, on his way to the Met for a rehearsal of Parsifal, he found a pigeon with a hurt wing in the snow. Putting it in his breast pocket, he continued to the Met. During rehearsal, he always kept at least one hand on the pigeon to keep it from being frightened. However, at this rehearsal, he was expected to act, and the conductor, Fritz Stiedry, kept asking him to take both hands out of his pocket. Finally, Mr. Stiedry asked, “Can’t you raise both hands at once?” Then Mr. Pechner was forced to reveal the hurt pigeon to the other artists. He says, “You should have the shouts from that Parsifal cast.”

When Paula Klein-Bruno was a kid, she knew that she wanted to be a jockey. She even bought a jockey cap and wore it all the time—the only way that her mother could get it away from her long enough to clean it was to take it to a one-hour dry cleaners. In 1995, Ms. Klein-Bruno achieved her dream, riding as a jockey in the New York racing circuit. (As a toddler, whenever she saw horse vans on the roads, she would yell, “Horses! Horses!” And as a kid, she often prayed, “God, please don’t let me grow too tall.” He didn’t—she is 4’11”.)

Texas actor Marco Perella once performed in a children’s show featuring a dog named Wishbone. Since the dog is the star, the show is named after it. Mr. Perella once made a mistake on the scene: He started to pet the dog. Quickly, he learned that the major rule on the set was DON’T TOUCH THE DOG. Of course, there is a reason for the rule. So many people are around Wishbone all day that if everyone petted him he would soon have bald spots all over his body.

Ezra Jack Keats once created a children’s picture book titled Pet Show! about a child who took a germ to enter in a pet show. Tori Bond of Shaker Heights, Ohio, read the book, and she decided to enter a pet show in which no cats or dogs were allowed. (Her “real” pet was a cat.) Therefore, she coughed in a jar and named her pet germ Ralph. In a letter to Mr. Keats, she wrote, “I won first prize for most unusual pet. A doctor told me that Ralph eats cells.”

American author Flannery O’Connor loved birds all her life. When she was five years old, New York newsreel company Pathé News filmed one of her chickens because it was able to walk backwards. Later, in a home economics class, Flannery created what she described as “a piqué coat with a lace collar and two buttons in the back” for another of her chickens. As an adult, Ms. O’Connor raised herds of peacocks.

Jane, a daughter of children’s book author Sid Fleischman, grew up loving all living things. As a young woman, she wanted to make a garden where a family of snails lived. Rather than kill the snails, she gathered them up and put them in coffee cans, then she took them to a park and let them loose.

Some creative people have unusual pets. The poet Gérard de Nerval kept a lobster as a pet and took it out for walks. According to Mr. de Nerval, the lobster was a good pet because “it does not bark and it knows the secrets of the deep.”

A second grader came to school with very bad news: His dog had been hit and killed by a car. Another second grader had a taxidermist for a mother, so she said, “Bring your dog to my mom and she’ll stuff him for you.”

A boy was showing off his new puppy. Asked whether it was a male or a female, he showed its belly side to his mother, who told him, “It’s a boy.” Her son told his friends, “She can tell just by looking at the bottoms of their feet.”

Children’s book illustrator Maira Kalman is allergic to dogs, so when her children decided that they wanted a dog as a pet, they had to settle for getting a talking bird and teaching it how to bark.

As Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, marched an army to Mecca, he saw a dog that had just given birth. So that the dog and her puppies would not be disturbed, he posted a guard over them.

When her father, Theodore Roosevelt, was President of the United States, his young daughter, Alice, ran around the White House with her pet snake, Emily Spinach, wrapped around her neck.


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