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That’s What Friends Are For

One of the great advantages of being in the Foreign Service is the opportunity to live abroad, learn new languages, experience different cultures — and have some very unusual pets. Here are a few anecdotes about families who decided not to have their turkey for Thanksgiving and one boy who insisted on having a vulture as a pet. And for you more conventional types, we included a story about a dog. (Sorry, nothing here for cat lovers, though you can read this Moment about how one cat almost caused a military crisis.) 

Mary Cleveland was married to Robert G. Cleveland and they served together at five overseas posts, including Romania in 1947-1948. Marvin Beckinridge Patterson was married to Jefferson Patterson and accompanied him on his diplomatic assignments from 1941-1958. She was interviewed by Fern Ingersoll in 1989. Julius S. Prince worked for the USAID Policy on Health Programs in Ethiopia from 1958-1968 and was interviewed by W. Haven North in 1994.

And you can read this story about a dog in a Moscow hotel, a baby with a king cobra, and other Humorous Moments.


Wild Turkey

Mary Cleveland, Bucharest, Romania, 1947-1948

CLEVELAND:  Here comes my tale about our white turkey and the gypsy. [My cook] Maria, thinking about a future dinner party, brought home from the market a large white live turkey.

When Alexandru stopped the car in our courtyard, she had a hard time getting the frightened bird out of it. [My daughter] Francie, sitting in her English pram, watched this with great interest.

Suddenly the poor turkey went into a paroxysm of gobbling — Francie was terrified and began screaming. We have the picture.

The beautiful bird became our pet — Iacob fed him every day – he strutted around thinking he was a peacock. Our neighborhood gypsy soon noticed the handsome bird. One afternoon I saw my gypsy walking up our hill with a little girl. She was dragging by a string a lovely turkey hen! It took a few minutes to figure out what was going on — but it took my poor innocent turkey much longer.

The child held down her hen and spread apart its back feathers — the gypsy picked up my turkey and plunked him on top of the hen. Frantic gobbling emanated from both birds — white feathers flew. The poor guy didn’t know how to perform! He would scramble off the hen — he didn’t run away — he was game to try again.

This performance was repeated many times. Each time the child would put her head down in the dirt and look up under the turkey’s tail. By this time I had learned a small Romanian vocabulary. One word I found very useful – the word for “finished” or “done” — gata.

After the fifth attempt, the child yelled —  gata! The gypsy broke into a smile, yanked on the string, and the three strutted proudly down our hill, leaving our poor turkey a wiser bird, but not sure just what he’d done!

A Post-War Pup

Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, Brussels, Belgium 1945-1946; Cairo, 1946-1950.

PATTERSON:  I haven’t told you about my dog, Diana. Diana de Borgerac Patterson. I bought her in Belgium. Jeff thought it would be safer to have a dog. I had just had all the carpets cleaned, and I wasn’t so keen at first — because we had to take all our furniture with us in those days, and he found a very nice house.

The Belgians told us that the red room was the one that Hitler had slept in. Well, there was one room with a red wall-to-wall carpet, it must have been that one. It was a new house before the war. However, he felt we better have a watch dog. So we began to inquire as to where to get one.

The Germans had taken all the dogs that would be useful for military purposes, so you couldn’t get them in a pet shop. Finally, some Belgium friends said, “Go to the main market, the Grand Plaza, on Saturday or Sunday morning. There’s a big fair for small animals, dogs and cats, chickens and geese, and small animals.”

So we did that, and it as so cold that they moved it into the slaughterhouse, and the slaughterhouse was clean as a whistle.

There I found a six-month-old puppy, gangly, and very sweet, and loved her, bought her and brought her home. It didn’t have any papers because the Germans had taken all the ones that had papers. But she won prizes in both the Brussels and Antwerp show — honorable mention in Brussels and Antwerp. She couldn’t get a prize because she didn’t have papers.….

I loved her dearly. And she was married in Cairo, too. Our house was on the Nile, it just had a paved street, and some grass with palms, and the Nile between us on the water. It made a very nice place to walk a dog. I used to see this handsome — there are not many German shepherds in Egypt — and I’d see this dog being walked up and down by his servant. The only dog I ever knew who had a servant that had nothing in the world to do except take care of the dog.

The dog belonged to a lieutenant in the Royal Bodyguard, whose father was the Grand Chamberlain, and their house was about a block and a half away, also on the Nile. So we arranged a match, and Diana had nine puppies, I think. Two of them didn’t live long, the others did. We had a waiting list at the Embassy of people who wanted Diana’s puppies. We kept two. Of course, the owner of the father had the first choice.

He was away, so the Grand Chamberlain came over at my invitation. We gave him thick coffee, of course, the polite thing to do. He was amused by all these little things.…

When the [pups] were six months old, we had a bones party. “Miss Patterson, Master Mahut Patterson, request the hilarity of the company of — at a certain time and place,” and in the corner, “Bring your masters.” So they brought the children too. We had bones for the dogs, and Coca-cola, and things like that, biscuits or cake perhaps for the children.

My Pet Vulture

Julius S. Prince, USAID, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1958-1967

PRINCE:  [My seven-year-old son] Tom  had always been interested in all kinds of animals, birds, butterflies, etc. and soon began collections of these when we moved into our “big” (approximately 4 acres) compound and, the first thing you know we had a pet dik-dik [small East African antelope], then a feral cat and then, one day, Tom decided he had to have a vulture!

He had seen so many of them gliding gracefully over the house, maybe two to three thousand feet up, and wanted to see one close up. So Roba offered to show him a lot of them– down at the Addis slaughterhouse on the outskirts of town where the municipal offal was disposed of by leaving it in the nearby fields for the vultures, to consume, as indeed they did expeditiously — there being many hundreds of them! (Pictured, a recent photo of vultures at the Addis slaughterhouse)

But that wasn’t enough. Tom had to have some of these birds in our compound to observe and feed!

This “demand,” though truly constructive for Tom’s rapidly growing interest in the ecology of the country, was met, I suppose, by doubts about our sanity on the part of those who observed what must have been the first aviary on any AID [Agency for International Development] officer’s compound, designed specifically to house a quite large number of (about 20) assorted eagles, fish hawks and vultures!

In a few weeks, it was done and ready to receive its first “vultures in residence.”

Tom went off with Roba and one or two other staff, each armed with the essential slingshot needed only, on this occasion, to stun the chosen birds so they could then be tied up and brought to their new “home.” This temporary “tranquilizing” of the designated bird was definitely needed since, quite obviously, none of them knew what the plan was and were not about to come willingly.

Their armament for resistance was considerable (huge claws and beaks), not to be tampered with. So “tranquilizing by means other than war” was necessary and took the form of a not-too final but sufficiently severe clout on the head with a fair-sized stone, delivered by sharpshooter sling-shot-wielders like Tom and Roba.

A long story shortened:  in several weeks we had a full house of vultures including one huge bird, with a particularly ugly great black beard, hanging straight down from the middle of his enormous and nasty looking hooked beak!

This was our Lammergeyer [bearded vulture] and although I didn’t witness the procedure of getting him into the cage, and the other admitting formalities, i.e., clipping his wings so that he wouldn’t hurt himself trying to fly out of a steel cage, he took after both Tom and Roba more quickly than they could exit the cage, leaving assorted talon and beak marks as mementos of the encounter.

When I saw him that evening he was still angry and mean but somewhat mollified, perhaps by his private room and by the fact that he was well-fed indeed, as his first consolation prize, to be followed by many more in the six or seven years of his residence with us. And of course, as this went on and he found himself being very well attended to and then loved by our Tom, he mellowed up extraordinarily.

As a result of all of the above happenings, and another, which was not accidental having to do with the need for our departure in mid-October 1967 to a new assignment in Washington, all the vultures had, of course, to be released unharmed or hindered in any way. One of the first aspects of this procedure was to let the clipped wings grow back and give the vultures a chance to practice flapping their wings and even flying a bit around the compound, until they were really ready to take off, which they eventually did.

But some of the birds required special attention after such a long confinement. For example, we wanted to make sure the Lammergeyer was strong enough, with his great weight and size, so that he would not have to make an emergency landing in any of our neighbors’ front yards!

So, a few weeks prior to my departure for a meeting in Kampala, Uganda, related to my Washington assignment, we got “Lami” (our Lammergeyer’s pet name by that time) out of the cage and released him in the tennis court, which was equipped with a very large hand-operated roller. This made an excellent perch for Lami to sit on and train himself, flap his wings, and gradually get his strength back.

The court, being of tournament size, gave Lami plenty of room to practice short flights from his perch on the roller, then gradually over the tennis net and, with even more confidence, some flights several times around the inside of the court.

So it was, that on a beautiful dry season evening just before leaving Ethiopia for my new post in AID/W [AID/Washington], as we watched the sun setting in the gorgeous canvas of orange and golden light behind Entoto Mountain, Lami flew a few more times around the tennis court, each time a bit higher, and then finally in triumph, perhaps, over the fence, then around the compound a few times, gaining more altitude with each swing, until finally he got into the full rhythm of his powerful flight and headed straight for the rainbow on the mountains.