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Carolyn coaxes one of the little 'stinkers' out from under the bed Carolyn coaxes one of the little 'stinkers' out from under the bed

She Walks With the Animals

"All the animals are locked up for the night" Barbara Sweeny told me as she tossed me the keys to her house that I was to stay in. "Except for the dogs. Well, and the skunks," she added coyly as she went out the door.

It took me a minute to digest that information. Skunks? I turned to walk into the depths of her house; the darkness was overwhelming and I realized that I could stand in the same spot waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark, but it wasn’t going to happen. Earlier, in the daylight, I had taken a brief tour of the house just so I would know where the live animals were kept. However, I forgot to ask some very important questions. Like, where were the light switches and where was the bathroom? Those things that you would think would be in obvious places, but not in this house.

Because I couldn’t remember which room housed Shasta, the cougar, I wasn’t very anxious to open any doors. Most of the other rooms had glass windows and walls, so I could peer through them, but naturally, not the bathroom. I was staying overnight in Barbara’s house because she didn’t want to leave the animals unattended all night. Besides, she had told me, people have tried to break in when they had left for the evening before. Why anyone would break in to this house once again made me question the sanity of most people.

Although I had never been in this particular house before, if I was the breaking and entering kind, I wouldn’t give this house a second glance. First of all the door bell is cleverly made of a small bear trap. Not real inviting to a burglar I would think. Second, upon entering this home of hides, the first thing that comes to mind is the theme song to the Addams Family. (snap, snap!) Although the Sweenys themselves aren’t creepy and ooky, their house definitely falls into that category.

I braved the first section of rooms, trying hard not to look from side to side at the full body mounts that lined the rooms in their natural faux habitats. I made my way to Sebastian the Bobcat’s room, I had met him already and though I wasn’t about to let him out of it, I tapped on the window, just to say good evening to him.

Suddenly, I froze. Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw something. Something big. Slowly I turned my head and stared straight into the big brown eyes of a buffalo. My mind knew it was only a mount, but I hadn’t had a chance to explain that to my heart yet, or my feet, which involuntarily began stepping backwards. Breathing heavily, I stopped only when I felt a light brush against my right ear. I held my breath and turned around only to find myself face to face with a large moose head. Sebastian leered out of his room, I am certain he was laughing at me.

I caught my breath and decided the best thing I could do was to go to the room I was to sleep in and wait for my backup to arrive. Finding "backup" wasn’t an easy task. I had tried to coerce Kathy Nuemann into staying the night there with me, but Kathy is still pretty scared of my puppy Aspen, so she promptly refused. Bill was out of the question, I could see him coming to the house armed with a rifle to protect me from the dead animals that were scattered around the house. So I called Carolyn, knowing she was no more sound of mind than I was. In fact, she was eager. (She’s one of my more demented friends.)

I found the "tiger room" that we were to sleep in, grateful for the many windows that occupy one wall, so I could wait for her arrival. I am pretty sure I looked like one of those Garfield cats that are stuck to the windshield of a car by all four paws. I didn’t move until I saw her pull into the driveway. I now understand why horse owners use blinders to keep a horse from becoming distracted or frightened. Using my own hands as blinders I walked to the door to let her in.

Carolyn was grinning, trying to let her eyes adjust to the dark, when I told her it was a waste of time. It is just as dark as a cavern in that house, especially when one forgets to ask where the lights are located. It’s not like you can just feel the wall for a switch either - I am adding that, just so you know I am not totally ignorant. It’s just that almost every square inch of the walls in this house are covered with head mounts, and animal skins, and I was afraid of what else I might feel.

First, I took Carolyn to the room to deposit her overnight bag. I showed her the windows where I waited for her, then I showed her why it was called the "tiger room." One wall of this room is glass. On the other side of the glass lie Mork and Mindy, rescued Bengal tigers. Thoughtfully, Barbara had covered the window with sheets; she feared that if Mork and Mindy saw us on the other side, they would lunge at the glass, thinking I was hurting either Barbara or her husband Eugene. "The glass won’t break though," Barbara grinned at me. I am sure she was getting quite the laugh at my face, which had probably been drained of all its blood.

I had heard stories of Mork and Mindy from B.J. when we worked together at Hay’s Chevron. I also am good friends with Barbara’s daughter, Terrie, and have heard tales from her of the tigers, too. I had, in fact heard enough stories to know that I wasn’t touching the sheets that covered that glass. The last thing I wanted was two full-grown Bengal tigers angry at me. The stuffed buffalo had already scared me enough!

Carolyn and I took a tour through the house, with Carolyn’s camera in tow. She snapped pictures of the taxidermied elk, deer, bears, caribou, weasels, beaver; almost any animal you can think of was there. I spied a cougar perched in the rafters, and again I wondered which door housed Shasta, but was none too eager to find out. The bathroom was the only door with no window I intended on opening. They even have a creature, called a "guatamunday," however, I am pretty sure that is not the correct spelling of it. Its name is Cricket, again a rescued animal, a cross between an anteater, a raccoon and a monkey. Cute in its own odd little way. Carolyn wanted to pet it, but Barbara had already warned me that it was a ring thief, and I was sure it took fingers along with the rings, so I refused (practically physically) to let Carolyn pet it.

In my mind I was wondering whether Carolyn was just curious and too brave for her own good. I also questioned whether or not I should have invited her here with all that curiosity. We hadn’t even made it to the tigers yet and she already had my nerves on edge. I didn’t want to explain to her family why she came home with three fingers and a nose missing.

Unfortunately, in order to get to the tiger’s den outside, you have to go through Cricket’s rooms. I figured I would take the dogs outside at the same time. Thinking they would protect me from Cricket and since Mork and Mindy already knew the dogs, maybe they would be more comfortable with me and Carolyn out there. Barbara’s and Terrie’s dogs, however, are more neurotic than I am. Cricket stalked them when they came into her room, and as I struggled trying to open the door the wrong way, I could already see I had made a very poor decision.

We managed to get the little Pomeranians outside without them becoming Cricket’s dinner. Unfortunately, though Tippy and Shameria exited the door as poms, they became pit bulls on the other side. Both dogs began yapping wildly at Mork, who had stepped outside to see what the commotion was all about. I heard Carolyn’s breath intake as she sighed, "he’s beautiful." She began walking toward the fence, only to have some wild woman grab her arm and try to jerk her back into reality.

"None of these animals are declawed or de-toothed," I almost yelled at her. "I want to pet him," Carolyn countered back. It was at that very moment I knew it’s just not safe to have a friend more adventurous than I am.

At this point I was thinking that feeding Mork the dogs was a good idea and would give me about enough time to force Carolyn into the safety of the house. The phrase ‘safety of the house’ is used very loosely here. I gathered the dogs and my friend the lunatic, took a deep breath as I sprinted past Cricket and ushered Carolyn back into the tiger room. By this time, I was a wreck, and needed to sleep. Carolyn didn’t disagree, but only because she had to get up at 5 am. We slept beneath the watchful stares of three stuffed bears, two bear skin rugs hanging on the walls and with knowledge that beneath the bed were two live skunks, who would hopefully sleep all night. I had locked the pups up as I was told, not together, Tippy would have killed Shameria I am sure. Finally, I slid under the blankets, anxious to shut out the sight of the bears glaring at me.

About the time I almost relaxed enough to sleep, Mork and Mindy began roaring, fussing in the wind at who knows what, practically giving what was left of my heart an attack. "Cats hunt at night," Carolyn smugly reminded me. "What happened to sneaking up on their prey?" is all I could think. By then I was just hoping I was not the prey they were roaring at.

The noise must have woken Nillie and Willie, the skunks, because they decided to come out to play for a while. While Carolyn fed Willie hotdogs, Nillie began trying to pull the sheets down between the tigers and us. It was a conspiracy. I must have gulped loudly, because Nillie darted back under the bed and Willie grabbed his wienie and took off with her.

Slowly I relaxed again, thinking that surely this time, we could go to sleep in some kind of peace. About 3 am, I felt something licking the back of my neck and nibbling my ear. I almost giggled, thinking Tippy had crawled in bed with me. Then I remembered I had locked the dogs up for the night and what was trying to munch on me was Nillie! Nillie must have realized about the same time that I wasn’t Barbara, because she bolted out of the other side of the bed at the same time I did. I didn’t see her the rest of the night, and I didn’t sleep much either.

It was a very interesting night. Barbara and Eugene have rescued all the animals that dwell in their house. Eugene is a taxidermist as well as an artist, and all of the not-living animals have been stuffed by him and all the sculptures created by his talent. Barbara says she has no fear of any of her "babies;" she respects them and they don’t eat her. I am not real anxious to spend another night in that house, but I think I would like to watch her feeding the bears that come in from the wild during the spring. Of course I would like to do that from the safety of my car.

The house is located on the eight mile marker on Hwy. 200 just across the border in Montana, They welcome visitors and donations. It’s a pretty incredible place to visit, but like California, I wouldn’t want to live there!

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Jinx Beshears Jinx Beshears is a southern transplant to North Idaho, and shares her confusion with the Pacific Northwest Lifestyle in her column, Jinxed. When not writing, or living, her outlandish stories, she's generally lost somewhere in the mountains with her dog, Aspen.

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