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Farnival Update: Our Nontraditional Family

People often send emails asking about our current pack, so I’ve decided to reintroduce all of them except for Boo, our black cat. I’ll save Boo’s story for another day cause it will take a few pages. For now, let’s just say that at fifteen he still regularly murders innocent wildlife. In other words, he’s perfectly content. So, without further ado, here are the members of our nontraditional family.


We found Floyd on a country road with his sister Sara in late October 2009. Our vet guessed they were around six months old. I have no idea what kind of dog Floyd is but I’d bet a chow-Lab mix. He has a spotted tongue, and his copper fur is as thick as carpet. Lately, we’ve been calling him “Old Man Floyd” because he has arthritis in both rear knees, and he’s graying around his eyes. He is, by far, the most laid-back dog in our pack. Nothing fazes him, not other dogs, people, cats, or even squirrels. But he does drop his nonchalant attitude for one thing and one thing only, and that’s food.

Floyd is a certified foodie. He’ll eat anything, even stuff some of our other dogs deny, like strawberries, broccoli, green peppers, raw potatoes, green beans, squash, and spinach. On the greenway, young mothers always love Floyd because he casually saunters to their stroller and gently nudges their baby’s pudgy hands. I don’t have the heart to tell them there’s no special connection. He’s only hoping for a stray cheerio or some mashed banana. Over the years, a lot of people have mistaken Floyd’s chill manner for a certain lack of intelligence. But when it comes to food, he proves time and time again that he’s the smartest gangster in the room.


Sara is the quiet one, the loner. In the beginning, we thought her aloof nature meant she didn’t really care for people, didn’t really care for us. I used to be surprised and sad when I’d switch on the lights in the bedroom and find her sitting alone in the dark, but now I don’t think twice because I learned that Sara just needs her personal time.

We found her ten years ago living on the roadside with her brother, and neither of them were doing it very well. But Sara had the worst of it. She suffered from starvation, mange, several infected wounds, a broken pelvis and tail. I don’t know what happened to her out there, but a decade later she still has nightmares.

Sara’s fur is so black and full that she earned the nickname Bear. She is an A student, a rule follower, a serious scholar. She always listens to commands, obeys household procedures, and walks perfectly on my right side with a slack leash clearly shaped in a J. Even when she swims, she does it seriously, like an athlete instead of for fun. We saw Sara let loose once at a leash-free beach on St. George Island in Florida, where she splashed in the waves and chased seagulls so far down the coastline that she disappeared into the horizon.


We can’t pinpoint Meadow’s age but we guess she’s seven. When her first family received their eviction notice, they loaded up everything they could fit into their pick-up truck and split. Unfortunately, they left behind everything they couldn’t carry, and that included Meadow. It still baffles us how anyone could have abandoned her because she’s an exquisite beast, inside and out. A blend of a Great Pyrenees and a German shepherd, she wears the fur of the former and the snout of the latter.

Her biggest problem is her anxiety. Meadow gets anxious if she’s not with other animals. In the beginning, we couldn’t leave her alone in the house without finding a roll of toilet paper or paper towels shredded into confetti when we returned. But after five years of stability, she’s improved. Now, we occasionally find a  tissue torn into maybe three pieces, but it happens less and less.

Meadow understands us so well that sometimes I think she knows English. She wears a leash because of county laws and our respect to other dog owners, but she doesn’t need one. Once, we were hiking in the woods behind our house, and a deer broke through the forest less than thirty yards away. Meadow’s eyes widened. She brandished her tail and reared back, as though she was about to hurtle herself after the wild animal. I called her name in a curt tone, the one that meant business. Her reaction was immediate. She obeyed, yet her drooped tail and tucked ears clearly signaled her disappointment, which lasted less than two seconds. Moments later she was happily following me in the opposite direction.


Adriana La Cerva

Adriana was born under a bramble patch in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Springfield, Tennessee. When she was two weeks old, I pulled her out of that bramble patch, and she’s been a part of our family ever since. Ade is five, the youngest in our pack. Her fur is blond and wiry and sheds faster than I can sweep it. She definitely has  some Labrador in her genes. but I’m pretty sure she has some breed of hunting dog in her too. She’s smallish, only thirty-five pounds, with floppy ears and a nose that never stops working.

Ade doesn’t only like to walk, but she needs it. On average, we walk thirty miles a week. Together, we’ve walked on greenways and parks all over Tennessee. We’ve hiked on the Oregon Coast, through the California Redwoods, and on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ve walked along the Mississippi, Cumberland, French Broad, and Ohio Rivers. And we’ve explored every inch of Nashville, including Vanderbilt University, Sylvan Park, Belle Meade, Centennial Park, Music Row, Germantown, Broadway, the Farmer’s Market, Printer’s Alley, and the Bicentennial Mall. But, no matter how many miles we walk and how much she experiences, Ade still acts excessively timid and shy when anyone invades her personal space.

Several times daily she moves past people and other animals without any reaction at all. But, the moment a dog or stranger shows any interest in her, she barks, and it sounds really mean. A dog behaviorist once told me that I took her away from her mother too early. And although I have no problem with her theory, I also know that back then I didn’t have a choice. If I would have left her in that weed patch, she might never have made it to maturity.

Like people, all of my freaks have issues. They have baggage. Yet, this doesn’t make me love them any less. If anything it proves how much dogs feel, know, and understand. It proves the complexity of their personalities.

Have you ever heard the cliché, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure?” There is some truth in any time-tested cliché, and for me, there’s a lot in this one. All of our dogs were either abandoned or born stray, which means they were worthless to the majority of humans who knew them. But, for us, life without them is unthinkable. They aren’t only valued family members, but they are needed family members.

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