A menagerie: Couple enjoys Wye Mountain with pet family

Donna Stephens
A move to Wye Mountain gave Bob and Cathy May an opportunity to expand their pet family. (Mike Kemp photos)

As a teenager, Cathy May was the Dr. Doolittle of her Broadmoor neighborhood in Little Rock.

Now 61, she has expanded her reach — and her menagerie — to the 10-acre Wye Mountain spread she shares with her husband, Bob.

Although it once reached nearly 30 members — including nine cats, six dogs, four miniature horses, six pygmy goats, two miniature donkeys and a cockatoo — their current pet family includes dogs Roxie, a 12-year-old miniature schnauzer, and Molly, 12, a border collie mix; elderly cats Lily and Velma; and miniature donkeys Paolo and Bella, both 17.

For 20 years, the Mays have embraced the chaos. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Oh, absolutely,” Cathy said. “The hardest part of having a pet is always when you lose one. One of our miniature schnauzers, Frisco, adored Bob. She was basically his shadow. She loved me, too, but she got pancreatic cancer and we had to put her down two years ago. She was like a family member.

“I know some people will never understand that, but when we lost Frisco, it was devastating. Bob couldn’t even talk about her loss for months because it was so hard.”

Before moving to the country in 1999, Bob, 70, who teaches creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas, had owned the occasional dog or cat.

“But here we had a barn, and I fenced in several acres,” he said. “It was the novelty of having these bigger animals. 

“It was her dream more than mine, but at the same time — one thing about animals, it’s unconditional love. When they give it, you can’t help but give it back to them.”

Cathy said growing up, her family always had a dog and a cat. She especially remembers Rex, an Airedale, and Thomasina, a cat named after a Disney movie.

“I was a country girl at heart,” she said. “I was one of those people, when somebody would find a sick or hurt animal, even when I was a teenager, they’d say, ‘Call Cathy; she’ll know what to do. Take it to Cathy.’

“In my teen years, I raised a chimney swift, several sparrows, squirrels, a rabbit and a quail. I was kind of like the Dr. Doolittle of Archwood.”

After the two married in 1997, they looked to buy their first home outside of Little Rock, where Bob taught theatre at UALR.

“It was more about getting away from the city and the people,” Cathy said. “Bob saw in the paper a place in Little Italy, and for some reason, that appealed to him. We drove out here, drove up the driveway and he saw the barn. Immediately, he was like, ‘I want to buy it.’

“The barn was bigger than the house, but he immediately said, ‘I want it.’”

And thus began their combined love affair with animals.

“I don’t know how it came about,” Bob said, chuckling. “Cathy thought everything was cute.”

Their original country pack included three cats and two dogs. Then came pygmy goats, miniature horses, miniature donkeys, the cockatoo and other dogs and cats over the years.

“We had two miniature horses — a male and a female — and the next thing you know we had four miniature horses,” Bob remembered. “Then Cathy saw a picture of a miniature donkey and fell in love. Next thing I know, we’re getting one.”

The donkeys were small enough that they brought them home in the back of their SUV.

Most of the May menagerie have lived to or beyond their life expectancy with them on Wye Mountain.

And although Cathy, a SNAP advocate for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, knows too well the pain of losing a member of their furry family, she also knows it’s worth it.

“Some people say, ‘I’m never going to get a pet again because it was so hard when we lost our dog or cat,’” she said. “But I always say, ‘Look at all the years of joy they gave you, and also look at the joy that you can give a pet from the shelter or an animal that’s been neglected.

“Don’t turn your emotions off. Give yourself time to grieve, then go forward and get another animal to love.”

For 20 years, she and Bob have practiced what they preach.