Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 10, 2012 10:04AM

Petty Crimes

Rate: 51 Flag
I can't remember who gave us the hamsters, Brownie and Blackie (guess what color they were?), and the ten gallon tank that served as their home. My recollections are dim, censored, fraught with Freudian undertones.
The hamsters were two of a succession of pets that were deliberately not a puppy. We also had a bowl of neglected guppies, a neglected turtle, a neglected goldfish and a neglected parakeet. We did have a puppy once, for three days when I was five, and these other living creatures were brought in to make up for the failure of that experiment, becoming slightly more successful experiments in that they were unable to complain about their substandard care.
I don't blame my parents. They were both from farm country, where animals were either exploited or exterminated, and this pet business was part of the suburban milieu they did not understand. My grandmothers had dogs and cats the same way they had a field of corn and a watermelon patch. Granny's dog Duke was a savvy yard dog with goals that took him places. Like a traveling salesman, he carried unmet quotas in the winkles along his forehead and was gone for days at a time. Nannie had a series of dogs that were repeatedly squashed on the highway that ran along the front of the farmhouse. The last one was a Dalmatian named Hitler, a repulsive dog, aloof and menacing, reeking of the carcasses he'd rolled in, his fur thick with unknown viscera. No one grieved when he was run over by a semi headed north. (Recently, I found a news article that might explain why he was named Hitler.)
With the hamsters, my mother wasn't about to spend good money on a book about vermin, so the tragedy that played out behind the glass was as shocking to her as it was to us. Briefly, Brownie murdered Blackie. Afterward, Brownie deposited a pile of squirming pink jelly beans in the left-hand corner of the aquarium, which was apparently the designated "pantry" because she ate them all. Then she escaped prosecution through an unsecured aquarium lid. 
I'd like to report that she recognized the error of her ways, went vegetarian and authored a book -- Jesus Took My Wheel: One Hamster's Journey from Cannibalism to Christ –but when we found her a day or so later, peacefully curled behind my brother's KISS trashcan, she appeared fatly unrepentant. We lost our taste for rodents after that.
While I have always been, in an off-hand way, an "animal lover," I assumed that with my family's history of petty crimes, the remorseless ease with which we flushed or buried their bodies and happily moved on to the next little victim, I lacked whatever it is that makes one a conscientious pet owner. Then I married and had my children. We had successfully nurtured two independent cats, and a dog seemed like the obvious next addition. So, without any forethought or research, we purchased Bill, an adolescent Brittany Spaniel, from a hunter who seemed suspiciously unsentimental about parting with him. Bill was beautiful and stupid. We were simply stupid. Our first ad offered Bill for sale at $100. The next ad we cut the price to $50. Then he was free. With a dog house, leash, collar, brush, supplies, food…please! Anybody!
A few years passed and we forgave ourselves (far too easily) for the Bill fiasco, and decided it was time to give dog ownership another try. So, without any forethought or research, we adopted Millie, a Smooth Fox Terrier, from a local shelter. Millie was not stupid; moreover, she recognized our stupidity and threw it in our faces in ways that only a clever dog can. I wasn't about to lose in a battle of wits with a dog and soon I was pouring over essays by Turid Rugaas, Patricia McConnell and Ian Dunbar. Within a year I had two dogs, and a pair of rubber boots printed with dogs that I wore for my volunteer shift at the shelter. Within two years I was running the adoption program, sitting on the shelter's board of directors and housebreaking whole litters of foster puppies. Three years in, I started a parent-child volunteer program, joined the executive board and adopted a third dog. By year four, I had a fourth dog, directions to all the dog parks within sixty miles and my friends and family were giving me dog-themed presents on every gift-giving occasion – "Because, you know, you're a dog person." I thought, Holy shit, I'm a dog person. How did that happen?
I know I'm not unique in this trajectory. One girl's night my friend Kendra and I were trading dog stories (our children were teens and no longer capable of cuteness) and our friend Mary Tom, a visiting professor at Chardonnay Tech, sloppily opined, "I don't get all this dog talk. I mean, I like dogs, but they belong outside. They aren't people, for heaven's sake!"
I swear it wasn't a month before she'd adopted a Puggle named Juno and the next girl's night she was downright obnoxious with the dog stories, like she couldn't talk about anything else. When she paused to take a breath and a swig of wine, I asked, "So, Mary Tom, when is Juno going to start sleeping outside where she belongs?"
She raised her middle finger in an affectionate gesture. She now has three dogs and rubber boots identical to mine.
Since my heart is actually larger – I can feel it tickling my ribs, covered in fur like everything else in my house -- I've even learned to love rodents. I cried when my daughter's rat, Rat, died four months ago. "Bring her home," I sobbed, while on the phone with my daughter. "We'll bury her in the front yard next to the cats." 
And who would have guessed it? This turnaround. I should write a book: How I Learned to Heel: One Woman's Journey from Hamster Death to Puppy Breath. If it hits the bestseller list, I'll owe it all to Brownie.
Brownie Pie
I call this an "everyday pie." I made it often when my kids were small because it's no-fuss, one bowl, and calls for ingredients that are usually in the pantry. If you use a refrigerator pie crust, it's even easier. The recipe screams for add-ins – chocolate chips, nuts, candy pieces, etc. It's almost impossible to mess up, and if you bake it in a tart pan and top it with ganache, it's fancy enough for company. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The pink jelly beans are optional, though I think they add grotesque charm.
brownie pie 
1 9 inch pie crust, homemade or a refrigerated round
1 stick (½ cup) butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Optional ganache:
1/3 cup chocolate chips
¼ cup heavy cream, heated
1 tsp corn syrup
Preheat your oven to 325. Fit the pie crust into a 9 inch pie plate or into a 10 inch tart pan. Dimple the crust with your fingertips to prevent it from bubbling up and bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool.
Mix together the melted butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, eggs and salt. Whisk until glossy, then whisk in the flour. Pour into the cooled shell and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top of the filling is set and the top is no longer sticky. 

If you're using the ganache, let the pie cool for about thirty minutes before making the ganache and pouring it over the top, otherwise it might sink into the pie filling. Then, heat the heavy cream and pour over the chocolate chips. Add the corn syrup. Stir until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Pour/spread over the top of the pie. 
whole brownie pie 

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
The book title it worth ten admissions to this incredible piece. Rated.
Oh Bell - I'm Mary Tom - and pink jelly beans strike just the right grotesque note - thanks for this.
I just adore you Bell, and although it means no pink jelly bean brownie pie, I am glad you live in a different state, because if I saw you on a regular basis, I too would have four dogs, doggie boots, and a fur covered house. I am certain of it. BTW, I was converted to a rat lover by a student who brought hers to class (only my class, I learned later, because I'd been pegged an easy mark). What a dear animal, curious and cuddly, and like me, a slut for a Cheezit.
I can't stop laughing. Thank you so much for the great read. Favorite quotes for my day: "Jesus Took My Wheel: One Hamster's Journey from Cannibalism to Christ" and "our children were teens and no longer capable of cuteness." Wonderful!
Would you like me to find an animated gif with squirming jelly beans for your post?
I have made said brownie pie and I have had the same Gerbil stories.
Yikes.. it reminded me after how she killed him she ran away in some pipe some never to be found again.
If I had money I too would have a pug, or a boston terrier or a frenchie.
Got to love those pushed in faces.:)
Great post and tie in with the "everyday pie." Your trajectory was hilarious and spot on.
Oh, and I'm arranging with Madame Roseanne, Palm Reader/Medium/Ouija Board Tuner, to spirit this post up to Purgatory for Hitchens's perusal as he awaits a decision in his case. The pie recipe, I'm thinking, should be the deal sealer here.
Brownie Pie! Hahaha! I love it! We had our scores of pets too. My daughter stepped on her hamster....
Do you get sick of hearing how much I love your writing? (And you)
"How I Learned to Heel: One Woman's Journey from Hamster Death to Puppy Breath"

And what a best seller that would be, Bell! I'm waiting with baited breath.

I couldn't have said it better than Joan. -R-
Moan, groan. I'm trying to lose weight and this isn't helping. Such and entertaining post about the subject of conversion.
As a person raised in the country, I had some similar disinterest in pets, although we were surrounded by them all: dogs, cats, chickens, geese, cows, rabbits, turtles, hamsters, possums, snakes, monkeys, pigs, and anything else we could catch and hold. The interest was in building a terrarium or cage, pen or shelter. Pretty soon, the feeding and cleaning made any affection wane. Our good dog, Lad, was never equaled. Guess we were spoiled.

So, I understand your starting attitude. Your recent ventures seems overwhelming to me, and I wonder if you can keep it up? Anyway, as ever, thanks for the stories and the recipes.
Hamsters can be quite cruel, as all animals can - but I'm so glad that you ended up seeing how delightful it is to own and care for a pet - and so much respect to you for also doing shelter work! Your realization about having turned into a dog person made me laugh; I'm a cat person, myself, but I know exactly the feeling of "How the heck did I become this?" All the best to you and your furry friends!
Can I rate this 25 times? Love it...We HAVE a Brittany Spaniel - how crazy are we? Plus an English Setter. Sheesh. And a cat, and two tanks of fish and a tank of frogs. And I started with a hamster named Cinnamon - also a compromise with my farm-folk parents, who couldn't fathom a dog or cat inside a house. Reading this, I'm glad I had only the one hamster!
Brownie pie. Really Bells?

I love your segues, but this reach was a long one, a hysterically funny one - but a bit of a reach nonetheless. And gaaaaah on those pink baby beans! you are twisted in such a divine way dear.

(BTW, the last dog we had was up for The Dumbest Dog Alive, but the award sadly went to another when she dove head first under a loaded concrete truck after making an inexplicable turn-around from running toward my brother and safety, just as Dad pulled around the corner and down the hillside. What a scene. I think he dug a hole for her before he poured the concrete slab of our house that afternoon. We never saw any evidence of a grave and her name was never mentioned again...)

I'd like to see one of those book titles out soon.
After our collie Revelie died last March I vowed never to have another pet! Now I run up to random people on the street with their dogs and beg to pet them (the dog). I'm currently in love with a gray Labradoodle named Zane I met at Orvis. Your article makes me want another dog so much I could cry!
I don't know how you do this, but if I had to do prison time, I would want you as a cellmate telling me stories. I might die laughing, but at least the time would pass pleasantly.

Jon -- I am gaga for puppy breath, and I never understood the allure of it before!

Lamm -- You're a visiting professor from Chardonnay Tech too? We have another girl's night this Friday. You're welcome to join in.

greenheron -- I was certainly surprised by how people-friendly rats are. Far different from hamsters. Rat was a great rat, and I miss her. One day, when I don't have as many dogs, I'll adopt a rat of my own and we'll share Cheezits.

Darla -- If you know a teen capable of cuteness, I'd love to meet him or her! Those years are ugly in so many ways.

Matt -- Er, no. I think the visual is enough!

Linda -- It is a classic pie. So easy. I think everyone who has ever owned a gerbil or a hamster or a mouse has an escape story.They always end badly.

jlsathre -- I know there's not much of an actual tie-in, but, well, pie is always an appropriate ending, even if it comes out of nowhere.

Chicken -- Hitchens, I fear, would rip it to shreds for the obvious yuk yuk pandering. I admire subtle humor but can't seem to accomplish it very often.

Susie -- Sorry about your hamster. That's a sad way to go. I think lots of people run the gamut of pets before the give into a cat or a dog. But really, a cat is a lot less trouble than a bird or a rodent. Or I think so. I much preferred scooping a litter box to dismantling and cleaning a rodent cage.

Joan -- Never!

Fusun -- I'll get to work right away.

Christine -- Aww. Thanks.

Sarah -- What you don't know is when I made the pie, I was hasty with the ganache and it splashed onto the sides of the crust and was too sloppy looking for pretty pictures. So I had to make it again. Now I have TWO PIES.

dianaani -- I volunteered at the initial shelter (a high-kill county animal control facility) for a little over six years and while it was rewarding, it was also demoralizing and overwhelming. I hope I can regroup and go back one day.

Alysa -- I'm a cat person too. One of the bad things about having a "pack" of dogs is that it's difficult to introduce another species. My ideal pet combination is two dogs, one cat, one rat and a goldfish (because they are lucky).

Blue -- I've known some really smart Brittany Spaniels. Bill just wasn't one of them. But we were no prize as owners back then either! My parents still don't GET my the house.

Gabby -- Hey now, don't be a hater! Just cause you can't stretch that far! ;)

ccdarling -- It takes time to ready yourself for another pet after you've lost one. If you aren't ready or are only partly ready, you could foster for a rescue group. I really miss fostering puppies (my house it at maximum canine capacity). I'd get my fill of puppy breath and adorableness and practice my dog training techniques and then, just when I was getting really tired of it, it was time to find them new families. I've also fostered adult dogs and that was great too, when you can get them ready for a forever home.

Lezlie -- I do play harmonica. Once you have that skill, prison seems inevitable.
What an amazing transformation! The pie looks delicious, but after reading about its inspiration, I'm not sure I could bring myself to make it.
If we fostered puppies, we could never let them go! But it's a good idea. I think "Edge City" comic strip did a few days on fostering a cat a couple weeks ago. It's good for people to know about this. The need is great.
This is hysterical in a deliciously twisted way. The jelly beans. The jelly beans! Ha ha ha ha.

We are currently owned by a neurotic dog with PTSD from his childhood in a shelter, and a homeless boa constrictor (long story). My daughter is begging for a rat, a hamster, or a mouse.

And absolutely rated for Jesus Took My Wheel. You owe me a keyboard because mine is covered with tea.
This reminds me of Sweeney Todd!
Great, a dalmatian to make you root for Cruela DeVil. Having grown up with a dumb dog and a smart Siamese cat, I quickly realized that I am a cat person. I appreciated her independence, hence lack of demands on me, and she appreciated how I'd mindlessly pet her while watching TV or reading. She respected our size difference when I needed to move and she was in the way. I respected how quickly her hind claws came up anytime I tried to touch her tummy.

I noticed that your recipe optimistically left out the ever-present pet fur.
I have a hunch Hitchens could use a good yuk or two right about now. He's apt to forgive you.
Kids or dogs? I'd pick the four-legged ones any day. I thought the beautiful essay you wrote was my treat until I reached the mother lode at the end! STOP you are ruining my diet. Yum. Thanks.
"A Dog Named Hitler." Wasn't that a Johnny Cash song?

Rated Highly
Great post. Animals, there is a time and place....sometimes you just have to evolve a bit first..
I wonder if Hitler and Hunter Thompson's dog Nixon have gotten together down yonder yet.
Jesus Took My Wheel - hilarious!
Pink jellybeans & what they resemble - ew.

I've been a dog person since I was 5 and my mom referred to our new puppy as my sister. I'd like to see some pics of your pooches!
Hamsters and Freudian undertones? Is Richard Gere somehow involved in this? Charming account Bell. You really have a knack for making anything interesting.
Your posts are three-ring circuses -- wherever I look, there's something going on, something that I only find in the best work of people like Roy Blount Jr. or Randy Newman.

Maybe the circus comparison is too garish, because what you do is subtle. You take the ordinary, make it recognizable, then find something that no one ever expects to find there. Often the result is the sort of laughter that's bred of insight, as with this post, but at other times, you've moved me to tears.

I don't know how you do it, but I'm glad you do. Like brownie pie, your posts are delicious.
My daughter's first pet was a hamster - who wound up on "life support" at the vet. I learned quickly.
The only crime I am guilt of is wanting to eat this whole Pie...
There is just too much in here that is magnificent to be able to mention every little thing that I love! This is great right down to the boots!!! We have Guinea Pigs and a fish because they are not a puppy! We also had a sad fiasco with dog ownership...I was in the middle of the worst throes of menopause, my daughter was seven and my son was three...need I say more? You had me all the way up to the pink jelly beans on the pie...EWWW!!! A great read!!
Fabulous! Having had a cat (Neville) that pulled our hamster (Tom) through the bars of his enclosure, thereby turning him inside out (GROSS), I LOVED the Brownie story. Conversely, however, the pink jelly beans on the pie made me a little queasy. Maybe I'll just go with sprinkles instead.
I love "Jesus Took My Wheel" - you crack me up, Bell. I'm a failed dog owner, so I'm happy when others make up for my failures.
Yum! And my husband's hamsters were also blackie and brownie. I personally, have always been a rodent fan.
Well no wonder you were so willing to let me move in with you when I pleaded for you to adopt me; I'd be one of many adoptees.
I love those boots and I'm glad you included a pic. Now I'd like to see your furry kids, too. Please post some pictures of them soon. I never grew up with pets either but as soon as we bought our first house, my husband and I got a dog. We now have three and the only reason we don't have more is because it's time to have some human kiddos. I just hope I love a baby as much as I love my pups. you must certainly write the book with that wonderful title. And thanks for the easy-sweet recipe! Always in search of.
Late to the party! At least I did not miss it. What an intriguing post; well-played, BV, way too cool. R
And this almost snuck by me as well! I love that I know some of the characters from previous posts (Rat and Millie, R.I.P.) Your trajectory from "off-hand animal lover" to hands-on animal lover is captured so delightfully here. But of course. I do want to see the look on the face of someone googling pink jelly beans for Valentine's Day and lands in that aquarium :)
A funny, elegantly written story about a hamster eating her babies that is also a pie recipe? I've missed you.
I'm late coming to this wonderful, funny, story. The women in the family are hopeless animal people...the men, not so much. Love your book title and the description of the sociopath hamster.
Oh my. You can write.

BTW, a writer friend almost sold a dog book a few years ago; her agent told her "Dog books sell." I don't know if that's still true. Might be worth checking into.

Or you can just keep writing here and we'll keep enjoying.