As far back as I can remember, I’ve always cohabitated with some kind of animal. Growing up it was mainly cats. While I remember a few strays and even one that had kittens in our house, my dad made sure only one cat was allowed to stay. After all, he and my mom already had nine mouths to feed and it would have been irrational and downright excessive to welcome more. As the older kids started moving out, we were allowed the odd small pet. One of my brothers had a parakeet for a while and another brother raised a handful of pigeons in the garage. The folks eventually allowed a few pet mice and a betta fish. Once out on my own, I adopted two stray cats and later purchased a hamster. Coming from a large and sometimes chaotic family, I suppose I felt the need to be in control of something while receiving unconditional love and acceptance. I soon learned that you cannot control animals so much as respect them and try to work with their natural behaviors.
While I had a pet mouse when I was a teen and a hamster later on, I became more interested in working closely with animals while working in the circus. I was inspired to apply to an exclusive college program that teaches animal training. It took two years of trying, but I was finally accepted and one of our first assignments was to train a rat. I hadn't had a rat before, but was told they were smart and very trainable. Willard, my first rat, was all black and had to be housed in my little rented bedroom with two cats which actually worked out fine. His final performance received the grade of only a "C," but I claim prop failure for that. He had to run through and over some obstacles, then jump over a pool (a kitty litter pan full of water) then push a car over a small, but real explosive. Once the car was in place, he ran behind a protective wall and flipped a light switch hooked to a battery which activated the gun powder and "blew up" the car with a flash and a little smoke for my big finale. Except the small explosive, called a squib, didn't go off and I had to reactivate it for the effect, but it wasn't as cool. Apparently, timing really is everything.