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Flagpole Readers Dish on Their Furry Friends

Athens loves its pets. This much became abundantly clear when, after putting out a call for photos and stories for Flagpole’s second annual Pet Issue, we were inundated with hundreds of submissions from readers eager to show off their furry friends, from cats to dogs to rats to rabbits and beyond—way beyond, as you’ll soon see.

Here are a few of our favorite tales. Thanks to all who contributed to this year’s Pet Issue—we couldn’t have done it without you—or your adorable companions! [Gabe Vodicka]


Photo Credit: Stephanie Rivers

Ryan and Priscilla Lewis’ dog Hambone (who wasn’t the weed-eater).

Our Dogs Ate a Bag of Weed
By Priscilla and Ryan Lewis

Priscilla Lewis: I used to walk our three dogs around the neighborhood, and I would pick up trash, because “beautifying your neighborhood is a great thing to do.” So, I got to this traffic circle and there was a bag in it… and it was clearly a bag of weed. I couldn’t decide if it was a sting operation or not, but I put the weed in my pocket along with all the trash, because I didn’t want a child to find it. I took it home, woke up Ryan and was like, “Oh my god, look what I found.” And he said, “Put it on the table.” Then we went out and ran errands. When we came back, our huge dog and our littlest chihuahua had eaten all of the weed.

Ryan Lewis: The bag was torn up across the floor.

PL: Our middle dog was looking at them, totally narcing on them. The big dog just seemed calm, so we knew something was wrong.

RL: Usually she was hyper, but she was just chillin’ on the couch.

PL: The little dog, Mr. President, was clearly having the worst experience of his life. His little eyes were bugged out of his head.

RL: He couldn’t bend his legs; they were sticking straight out.

PL: We took him to the vet, where I was so embarrassed, because I thought they were gonna call doggie DFCS on me… It doesn’t sound real that I found this huge bag of weed, but I swear I did! So, the vet was like, “Here’s the deal. You’re just going to have to ride it out with him and make sure he drinks water.”

RL: You know, the same thing you’d do with a person who wasn’t having a good time with it.

PL: Ryan sat up with him.

RL: Went home, sat down, watched a movie on a couch. He was freaked out, shaking, but I just held him and he calmed down over time.


Meet Auto, the Creature Comforts Brewery Cat
By Shannon Vinson

We found Auto on a very hot July day in a grain bin outside the brewery near our garbage dumpster. It was early in the morning, and our brewer told me there was a kitten in one of the empty grain bins. I looked in, and she was a tiny, dirty little thing that was repeatedly meowing—kind of like a scream. I went and grabbed gloves, and bent down to scoop her out. She hissed at me, but when I picked her up she started purring and was really happy to be saved from the Georgia heat.

After that, it really wasn’t a question. We knew she had found us, and we all pretty much decided that day to keep her, and that she was a Creature. It was the day of the Automatic beer release at the brewery, so we named her Automatic, or Auto for short. The vet told us she was about 8 weeks old when we found her, which would have made her birthday around the same time as our two-year anniversary of being open.

We all collectively take care of her. She stays mostly in the downstairs offices where it’s cool, and she can climb around and lounge on our bottles that are cellaring and preparing for release. She sometimes gets to go upstairs to the brewery area—when she’s up there, she pretty much stays in the warehouse, where we house all of our empty cans. The idea is for her to be a kind of pest control, and she does like to eat cockroaches, but we mainly have just found her to be a sweet companion who brightens our days.

Overall, she provides a boost for company morale, and we enjoy creating a little funny internet personality for her on her Instagram account: @autothebrewerycat. Guests of the brewery like interacting with her as well, and it’s fun to see even staunch anti-cat folks come around to inevitably fall in love with Auto the Brewery Cat.


How to Handle Nine Ducks—and Three Geese
By Susan and Sean Hribal

We got our nine ducks mail-ordered from a hatchery when they were one day old. It was cold on the trip, but they all made it! Our three geese are a rare breed that we got from a farmer in Canton.

Both ducks and geese peep when they are little, and gradually switch to quacking/honking. Female ducks quack, but males don’t! They make a hoarse whispering sound. Our ducks are very skittish, but the geese are cuddly and loving. They follow us around, unless they can see the ducks. They like the ducks more than us, and really want to be with them.

Our goslings think they are ducks. We are raising them where they and the ducks can see each other, but we want to keep them separate until the geese are big enough to free-range with the ducks without too much danger from hawks. I try to give the goslings supervised grazing and baths outside the coop, but it’s hard because the ducks will come around when they hear the peeping, and if the goslings see the ducks they try desperately to join them.

Once, Gilligan, our baby gander, made a break for it and escaped to the flock. The ducks fled in terror and he followed right after them, peeping and flapping his little wings until we finally caught him. He couldn’t quite keep up with the ducks, and once he became separated he got anxious and bolted back to his sisters, where I’d put them in the coop. It was the funniest thing ever.


Confessions of a Real-Life Rat Blogger
By Lisa Sammons

I will occasionally get texts or calls from strangers saying someone at the pet store or a friend of a friend told them to get in touch with me about surrendering or adopting a rat. I have a blog I started a few years ago ( that got unexpectedly popular. I’ve got friends all over the country, and believe it or not, I’ve been recognized in stores by people a couple of times. My favorite way to introduce myself is, “I’m big in the rat blogging community,” because it sounds hilarious and never fails to make me laugh.

I really like rats because I’m able to own a lot more of them than I could dogs or cats or something more traditional, so I’m able to get a passion/love for them as a species, as well as individuals. I could go my whole life keeping dogs or cats and probably only get to know 15 or 20 over the course of my life, but I’ve owned rats for seven years and have had over 150 of them. I get to meet the nice ones, the mean ones, the boring ones and the friendly ones. I love, love, love my dogs, but I’d never say that owning three dogs could give me an all-encompassing view of what owning dogs is like, whereas I can definitely say I could give someone a pretty accurate view of rat ownership, just because I have so much experience with such a wide variety.

People often make demeaning comments about their tails, which is saddening, because their tails are one of my favorite things about rats. They are mostly prehensile—they can’t use them to pick stuff up like monkeys can, but if they’re leaning out of the cage to get treats, or balancing on a person’s arm, they’ll wrap their tails around the cage bars or your arm to keep them from falling. I also repeatedly get asked if they all have names, which is kind of weird to me. Yes, everybody’s had a name; yes, I remember them all; yes, I can tell them apart, even when they’re the same color.


How I Met Zippy the Squirrel
By Steve Towers

Once upon a time, little Zippy fell out of a tree. It was a long way down—her brother fell too, and he landed wrong and died. Zippy bumped her nose but was OK. She was just a baby and wanted her mother. She was cold, and something was biting her—it was a yellow jacket! Zippy was very afraid.

Then the man came and scared the biting thing off of Zippy and picked her up and put her inside his warm coat. He took Zippy home and gave her to the woman who, with the help of Nurse Nongmoo, took Zippy and gave her warm goat milk, and she fell asleep in the woman’s lap.

Lea and Tigger were very curious! In their cat lives, they had never seen a baby squirrel. It even looked sort of like a mouse, and it might be good to eat… hmm.

But right then, the woman saw the way Lea and Tigger were looking at baby Zippy and scolded them and made them ashamed until their tails drooped and they dropped their heads and looked at their paws. Lea was very beautiful, and Tigger was afraid no one loved him, but they both had good hearts and were family.

Nongmoo saw how helpless and scared Zippy was, and did her best to make her feel welcome.  Nongmoo had a kind heart and a gift for being able to smell the truth in someone, and really loved cookies.  

Old Cocoa was curious too. He used to eat these little things when he was on his own in the woods, but the man and the woman were feeding this little one, so she must be family, and that’s that. Cocoa had a very kind heart and was grateful for small comforts and didn’t have many teeth and always saw the best in everyone he met.

Young Zippy slept and slept, and her little squirrel body began to heal…

Zippy has a nest outside now, and comes to visit several times a day. I wouldn’t say that we own her. She is very independent. My favorite thing is when she climbs on my shoulder to eat a nut and turns so that her tail is against my neck. Did you know that a squirrel’s tail is very warm? It is very pleasant on a cold day! When she was young and much tamer, she would climb inside my coat and come peeking out of my collar. I would take her with me in the truck sometimes. My little friend!

Having a squirrel around has its challenges. They like to chew on things. They have very strong opinions. They don’t like surprises.

Little brown duck and her brother came to us about a year ago. A friend’s son found them orphaned and brought them to us. We brought them up with the other ducks we have. Now they come and go. Sometimes brown duck will bring a friend back with her to hang out in the backyard. It’s nice—I know she’s here because she wants to be. The funniest thing about having a duck around is listening to them run with those crazy duck feet!


Check Out My Chickens
By Blaze Looney

It started with one. I was 17, and my high-school agriculture class did that project where they incubate the eggs and watch ’em hatch. I hear everybody is getting chickens, and I run in there and there’s only one baby left. This guy comes up and he’s like, “That’s my chicken.” I ask, “Oh, do you have chickens? What are you going to do with her?” He says, “I’m gonna throw her out to my dogs. They haven’t killed anything in awhile.” I gave him all the money I had on me at the time, which was $9, and he gave me the chicken.

I didn’t know anything about chickens whatsoever, but I knew I had to get her some friends. In March, I went to the feed store to get two or three, but you had to get a minimum of six, so all of a sudden I had seven! It just kept going from there.

I did not grow up knowing anyone with chickens or knowing anything about them, so I definitely don’t think I would have gotten into them if I hadn’t fallen into them like that. I definitely think it was fate.

You don’t spend as much one-on-one time as you would with a dog, but you spend a lot of time learning about how to care for them. They can get weird diseases, and they aren’t always tame. You usually have to go to an exotic vet. Other cons are if you breed chickens, you’re gonna end up with roosters, and nobody wants roosters. They’re so hard to re-home! If you have neighbors, they definitely won’t like roosters. They start crowing at 5:30 a.m. and stop at sunset. Sometimes, neighbors don’t even like the hens, since they go on a clucking rampage every time they lay an egg. The “egg song” lasts about 20 minutes. It’s terrifying. 

However, they are fascinating animals to watch. When I go out in the chicken pen, I forget I’m at my house or in civilization. It feels like you’re witnessing something in nature most people don’t get to see. They’re super, super smart. They’re not cuddly like a cat or dog, but every one of my chickens has its own personality, its own level of understanding. They have relationships. They’re such good mothers. If you can free range your chickens, they help with the garden, eat harmful bugs, and you can use the poop in compost.

There was a storm, one of the worst storms I can remember, and the chickens broke out. They were sitting on top of their pen, soaking wet and trembling, half the size they usually are, with their feathers all slicked down. I had to go out in the pouring rain with a headlamp with a ladder to pull down my chickens and bring them in the house. Chickens panic easily.