Voices Karplus dog

A very wet Harold hangs out with Debra Karplus' son Eli on the University of Illinois Quad in 1978. The picture ran in The News-Gazette.

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Growing up, my first exposure to pets was the nondescript dog Spot, white with black markings, and his buddy, Puff, the orange marmalade cat, in the Dick and Jane primer reading series of the 1950s.

Pets were not really part of my own upbringing. We had assorted nameless goldfish with short lives. During grade school, we had a pet turtle named Arthur. One day, we noticed his eyes had fallen out and he was motionless; Arthur wasn’t with us very long. And I remember a gray cat we’d named Fluffy.

We also had a dog named Jody when I was in fifth grade. We named Jody after one of our school friends. I don’t remember how we got Jody, or what happened to her, but her stay with us was also relatively short-term.

During high school, I had a friend who had a pet hamster. To me, hamsters aren’t much different than mice, but my friend liked his little pal. My friend had just gotten his driver’s license and decided to take his uncaged friend out for a spin in the family’s 1967 Pontiac Firebird. We never did know what happened to the little furry guy. He simply disappeared.

When I went off to college, I seemed to have been replaced by a new family dog that came with the name Finster, which I believe means “dark” in Yiddish. Finster was a temperamental, high-strung black toy poodle who may have been a bit easier to raise than I was during my high school years.

In the 1970s, newly married, my husband and I somehow acquired a dog that we named Goofy. Goofy mysteriously disappeared one raw winter day.

Perhaps he (or maybe Goofy was a she, I don’t remember) found the name too offensive and maybe found a more respectful owner.

For those who remember me from 1974 to 1987, you’re certain to remember our family dog named Harold. Part Labrador retriever, German shepherd and spaniel, Harold was black with brown and white markings, short legs supporting a stocky body, and a thick, black, strong tail that could injure someone if they were nearby when it wagged.

Harold was from the litter of a friend, and he became part of our family as a young pup; we raised him to age 13, when he had to be put down as he had untreatable leukemia.

Harold became a third parent to our children and kept harm out of their way. Our kids loved him. He took a bit of abuse from them when they were toddlers, but Harold was a gentle beast. Our daughter practiced her reading skills by reading to Harold and Angelica, Harold’s “sister,” a silver colored cat who was with us almost as long as Harold, until a car driving too fast down our street suddenly ended Angelica’s life.

Harold and Angelica were great friends and enjoyed chasing each other around the backyard.

How pets get their names is very interesting to me. Some pets already come named, and others need a name, or sometimes need to be renamed. Someone I know had a cat he named Nuisance. That cat was a most difficult pet, but I can’t help but wonder whether Nuisance would have been a more congenial animal if he had a more favorable name.

A few years ago, my son’s family adopted a sweet fluffy little pooch from the rescue pound. They had intended to name her Zoe, but their then-toddler, who was just learning to talk, insisted that the name was Zazzy. That name stuck. I adore Zazzy.

My brother Steve has a passion for basset hounds stemming from his interest in Fred Basset from the 1970s comic strips. Steve has had two longtime pet bassets spanning about 27 years; first there was Luther, and later an endearing pooch named Tyrone. These are great dog names, in my opinion.

The city of Champaign, in 2013, passed an ordinance making it legal to raise backyard chickens. One of my friends has several chickens in her backyard coop. Whenever I see her, she brings me eggs.

I recently learned that each of her chickens has a name. I’m not really sure why that surprised me so much because, after all, these chickens are pets, too.

Another friend has pesky geese near her lakeside home at a subdivision near mine. She’s befriended a particular goose and even named it. In my opinion, that’s going just a little too far, but that’s just me.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if our name determines who we are. It’s a curious conundrum.

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Urbana-Champaign. Learn more at debrakarplus.blogspot.com.