• Midcentury Medfield Memories: Beyond Our Cats and Dogs

    by  • January 4, 2019 • 1950s, 1960s, Flaherty, Medfield, Medfield Animal Shelter, Palumbo, Scribner • 0 Comments

    The winter cold is here – potentially a dangerous time for pets. Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs range from weakness and shivering to inaudible heartbeat and trouble breathing, depending on severity. Fortunately, most pet owners in Medfield are their pet’s best advocate.

    Most of our family pets have given us some beautiful memories. Here are some of the local heroes of the canine and feline companions that have been among Medfield’s finest pet contributors.

    In the spirit of the holidays, one might very well remember the cats that lived on the farm of Wiley Scribner and family of 112 Harding Street in Medfield. Those barn cats became the night time sentries. While all the other farm animals slept, the cats watched and listened for anything suspicious and out of the ordinary.

    The usual suspects included foxes, coyotes, half-wild, marauding dogs on the hunt, and occasional raccoons and possums. But have no fear! These cats could fit into those secret hideouts, the nooks and crannies that were hidden from view. That was the name of the cats’ diversion, their expertise of protection and how they played out their survival and for the safety of the threatened farm animals as well.

    In the day time, these benevolent cats pursued those hefty, white turkeys while they strode a silly, featherbrained line in those sizable, vast, elevated cages that were equipped for large flocks of tall, plump birds under the corrugated roofing. Those turkeys never touched the ground! They never expected what was coming on the third week of November or the 25th of December while walking with their heads held high, oblivious of their impending doom.

    On those hazy fall days, the cats sparkled in the sun and curiously watched the fenced-in Holstein dairy cows chewing the plentiful, green grass far from the drive way. Over and over again, their jaws kept moving as if they were in a trance, bemused by crowds of people who sometimes gathered to buy eggs and chickens. Those moms and dads would later go over with their children to the smaller barn to look at a mother pig and her litter of piglets, so cute as they nudged one another for their mom’s warm milk.

    Now the cats felt welcomed and appreciated. And Wiley Scribner listened to their sing-song, cat voices while feeding and offering them the dairy cows’ milk. Their time was idyllic and that’s why they never wanted to leave this place. Could heaven be any better?

    Time moved slowly back then at the mid-century but never stopped revealing the new people and players who filled and walked the land of Medfield.

    Roscoe Flaherty

    Ed Flaherty (my father)’s world with animals started when Medfield’s Chief of Police, Nick Gugliotta, came to his home on Pleasant Street and asked him if he wanted a dog without a tag that was found in downtown Medfield. Happily, Ed wanted a good family pet that liked children, and he welcomed the dog that came to be known as Roscoe. Chief Gugliotta thought that Roscoe looked like he might possibly be part Norwegian Elk Hound. Ed, whose wife Dee was a Palumbo, thought, “Isn’t Norway close to Italy? All the more reason to adopt the dog!”

    The 1943 photo shows Vin Palumbo, Aurora “Dee” Palumbo Flaherty, and Ed Flaherty; Vin and Ed were home on leave from the Army.

    Roscoe quickly became a part of Ed’s family. Roscoe and all the children grew to be nearly inseparable. Whether it was just up town at the First National Grocery in Medfield center (now occupied by Casabella Pizza) or fishing at Kingsbury’s Pond, there was Roscoe. He even went with the family to Cape Cod in the summer months. Roscoe came to know the streets of Medfield and never chased cars or had much of a desire to cross the streets either unless he was with Ed and the family. The children sometimes would hang all over Roscoe, pulling his ears and sliding down his back, so content was he to have the kids do as they pleased.

    The Flaherty family bathed Roscoe a couple of times every summer, checked him for ticks and fleas, fed him canned dog food and dinner scraps and always had his children brush his coat twice every week. Roscoe enjoyed being outside in the winter because elkhounds liked the colder temperatures, but the family always brought him inside at night to sit near the stove and avoid the Montreal express outside.

    Roscoe lived to be 16. He only had to see a veterinarian once, for excision of a small bit of cancer on his right hind leg. He was cured and cancer free. But as Roscoe aged and declined, Ed eventually decided that most humane thing would be to have him put to sleep at Dr. Maguire’s animal hospital in East Walpole, where some Medfield teens worked on weekends as young, aspiring, veterinarian-wannabes. When Ed took Roscoe over there, he went alone so as to not have his children see their dog for the last time. It was only years later when his older kids realized that due to their love of Roscoe, their father didn’t want them to be traumatized with Roscoe’s passing.

    While Ed had Roscoe all during the fifties and early sixties, he also had many cats that gave his family many hours of fun. His wife, Dee, and the children enjoyed having and caring for all 12 of the cats, including five kittens, living in the family’s home and back yard all at the same time. Born under the washing machine in the kitchen, those kittens didn’t mind the noise that the Kenmore washer made when running above them.

    The cats were a lot of fun to have at home. Most of them stayed close to the family back yard, but some of them were killed in traffic. A big family favorite was a husky and beautiful tom, who only came around to eat and then leave to continue his bachelor life-style and return after a few days for more food and comfort.

    After Roscoe, more dogs lived at the Flaherty home. Ed was given a brown French poodle by a friend who was moving away from Medfield to Florida. The poodle, named André, was the standard, medium size of his breed. André actually looked better with his curly, thick, brown coat than after being clipped and groomed. There was just one problem with André and that was his tendency to be a little too ferocious with delivery people coming over to the family’s home. He wasn’t what one would call a Cujo, like the dog in Stephen King’s novel, but he protective…sometimes too protective.

    André needed training and a home that could keep up with his grooming. It happened that there was a professional dog groomer, George Sweet, on North Street. He took André and found a good family who adopted him and took him to be clipped every six months. André got a second life and a happy ending in his young life. That’s because he got to live with the family’s other poodle and looked happy to be with his new owner, a young woman who enjoyed taking André and the other poodle out on their leash for daily walks in the neighborhood. What was not the best possible dog for Ed’s family turned out to be nearly perfect for André’s new owners.

    In 1961 Ed chose a pup from a neighbor that had a German shepherd with a golden coat and a litter of six golden-coated puppies. Ed named the pup Sandy. She was small, devoted, and rambunctious, so Ed took her to obedience school in Norwood every week for ten weeks during the summer, where she was the star pupil and lived 17 years!

    At the mid-20th century, many household animals were treated and cared for by most families in Medfield. During those pre-leash-law years dogs would sometimes peacefully run around in small packs. Some of them could create a nuisance by chasing cars; some were thus killed. Town meeting voters imposed a leash law about 1975 and a pooper-scooper law about 2000.

    Fifty years ago, many cats had to fend for themselves and find their own food, maybe a mouse or bird if they were lucky. Many people just didn’t allow enough time for the welfare of their pets. Some families may have been struggling financially, and working to feed and provide for their family. The last thing they’d think of was taking care of and feeding a household dog or cat. However, it was encouraging to know there was a counterbalance of responsible and loving pet owners who adopted the practice of treating their animals much more humanly with great affection and devotion. That is the wholesome defining nature extended to all creatures of the animal kingdom.

    This writer previously worked at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. The medical center is both a veterinary clinic and research center and works with many different exotic animals from many parts of the world.

    Working at the Animal Medical Center meant working with dogs and cats that had adapted well to urban life. Manhattan can sometimes be very hot in the summer months with all the blacktop, asphalt streets with the many, tall buildings trapping the summer heat. Many pet owners would bring their dogs to the clinic that suffered from heat prostration. If a dog wasn’t brought to the clinic soon enough, the animal could easily die from too much exposure from the sun. To witness that situation was tragic while the pets sometimes died right in the arms of their owners.

    At other times some of the animals from the Bronx Zoo were transported to the clinic after dying from various infections. A necropsy was performed by one of the veterinary pathologists who determined that an antelope died because its urinary tract had somehow malfunctioned, infecting the animal by seeping into the blood stream of the animal’s hind legs, causing a quick death by sepsis.

    During that summer of 1966 at the Animal Medical Center, veterinarians were trying to develop a cure for heart-worm. One of the few ways of testing for the disease was an experimental, study group of dogs that were injected with the disease. Unfortunately, that meant there was no turning back, and the otherwise healthy dogs would eventually die from the then fatal disease. After they were peacefully put down, a necropsy took place where veterinarians and pathologists could determine just how and why the disease could one day be treated and cured. Fortuitously, heart worm injections are now a standard procedure and prevention in the early care of one’s pet.

    One of the great aspects about the Animal Medical Center was that a veterinarian specializing in animal heart diseases could perform an operation with a new and younger veterinarian participating by observing and learning how the operation was performed. This practical experience was invaluable for a young veterinarian just starting his or her career in veterinary medicine. With all considered, working at the Animal Medical Center was an experience of a lifetime.

    A Fisher cat — neither a fisher nor a cat.

    During the past few years many Medfield residents in condo complexes have adopted cats from the Medfield Animal Shelter. Those cats have made great pets and companions but are always kept inside because of the threat of attacked by coyotes or occasionally by fisher cats. (Fisher cats are members of the weasel family they are neither cats nor fishers.)

    Large condo complex parking lots, with lots of cars, are also a threat to cats; cats kept indoors live longer. Those condo-cats especially enjoy the summer months by cruising on the windows sills, allowing the cats to socially interact with squirrels, chipmunks and birds from the other side of the window screen.

    Adopting cats from the Medfield Animal Shelter can be a rewarding experience on a reciprocal, two-way street. It should also be noted that as a public service, the Medfield Animal Shelter also notifies pet owners when a rabies clinic is held and also when a pet owner has the possibility to have their cat or dog either spayed or neutered at a very nominal rate.

    This writer has adopted four different cats from the Medfield Animal Shelter over the past 20 years. The latest addition, adopted in 2008 is a calico female named Missy, now 14 years old. Before she went to the Medfield Animal Shelter she was abandoned by a family who moved away from town and didn’t even bother to wait for her to come home from outside.

    Fortunately, her health is fine, but three years ago Missy came down with an eye infection called entropia. The disease affects the curvature of the eyeball of a cat. The small bottom eyelid hairs begin to scratch the eye, causing an infection that makes the eye look encrusted. Additional tearing only makes the condition even worse. An operation to relieve the condition is most always performed by a veterinarian who specializes in animal ophthalmology. Missy was taken to the Tuffs Veterinary Hospital in Walpole where she met Dr. Federica Maggio, a veterinarian specializing in animal eye diseases and surgery. She operated on Missy’s eyes to relieve the disorder and Missy was able to come home within one day. She’s fine and has never looked better. It was an expensive and complicated operation but well worth it.

    Today in the United States we live in a world where our pets can be well taken care of because of our greater appreciation and devotion for our animals…and advances in veterinary medicine. They are now referred to as a part of our family.

    It has been stated that animals could survive in a world without our intervention, but conversely people couldn’t survive without their animals. Early cave people decided to tame and domesticate wolves that came close to their camp fires for scraps of food. Felines were considered holy and well appreciated by the Egyptians who drew and carved figures of cats on their pyramid walls.

    Here and now both cat and dog species have endured and we all appreciate their unique companionship. Whenever animals suffer from cruelty and abuse taking place, we should at the very least report those who would do our pets harm. The animals on this planet have an interest in the world just like us. We should make the commitment to honor their gateway to survival, safety, comfort and well being. When all is said and done, we all have a place in our world and we all just want to live and hold a priority and sentiment in our hearts for all animals. They are not just our pets – they are all our best friends.


    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

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