“Sniffy...the Most Favored Pet”
by Lou Womack

Sniffy was our honey bear. Other names given to this animal are gatosolo or coati mundi.  I believe they are part of the racoon family and run in packs. Their claws are very long and sharp. Once domesticated though, they are the ideal pet. I think of all the pets I had, I loved Sniffy the most. Maybe its because she loved me the most. Many times I would feel her wet kisses with her cold wiggly nose on my arm. She would make cute little noises such as “Jup, jup, jup,” to show her affection.

Now how I got her is quite a story. Gamboa was having an animal fair on the tennis courts one afternoon and all of the people from around the Isthmus were bringing their different exotic animals to show off. One fellow brought a little coati mundi and was talking to Dad who had a boa constrictor, probably draped across his shoulders. The fellow fell in love with Dad’s boa and wanted to know how he could get one. I was there during the conversation. I think I suggested that Dad exchange the boa for the coati. At first Dad was very reluctant especially after he had gone to so much trouble to “keep” a pet snake. I coaxed him, pleaded with him and finally won out as I persuaded him to do the exchange of animals.

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I named her Sniffy because of that wiggly nose and the sniffing sound I heard coming out of it all the time. I was never out of her sight. It was as though I had an invisible leash attached to me because everywhere I would go, a shadow would be following me.

 Sometimes Mom would take her to the commissary with her when she shopped. Alongside her was Sniffy. Needless to say, many  astonished eyes were raised as she would proceed to do her shopping in the grocery area buying our food for the week with Sniffy tagging along.   Can you imagine someone walking an animal in our markets today?   One time Snoopy went under the meat counter and came out with a big cockroach clasped in her large paws. I wonder if any of the customers viewing the scene bought meat that day?

 We had Sniffy while living in an " up and down", a two family apartment. If she was left outside for too long a while, she would climb up on the bannister and proceed to tear open the screen to gain entrance into our dining area where the food was and people too, I might add. Naturally she had to be watched, so on the days Dad went to the Hyacinth Control Sniffy would ride in the car with him to work. There she could roam freely without any restrictions.

Eggs had been disappearing from the chickens' nests in the chicken coup quite frequently on these days. Dad even captured a film of the culprit going into the same opening that the boa constrictor had used to snatch a chicken. Wouldn’t you know it! The long nose of a coati appeared first in the opening, then the furry body with a long tail following at the rear. You guessed it!


Dad had been employed to do a census  up the Chagres River and also down the Mindinga River across from Gamboa. He had been selected because he spoke fluent Spanish. Early each morning he would travel in a launch to places where thatched roof dwellings dotted the river and go in and talk in Spanish to the natives. He had learned Spanish at a very early age because as a child he had lived in Ancon, Canal Zone near Fourth of July Avenue. Right across the street lived the Panamanian children that he played with while growing up.

Sniffy would accompany him in his travels and jump out of the boat to visit with the natives.  Then when Dad would call her, she would run to him and re-board the launch and go further up the river.

These were always momentous occasions for us as we sat at dinner table and listened to Dad’s exciting adventures that took place during the day. He was quite the story teller. My brother and I would sit on the edge of our seats waiting anxiously for the next line. Anyone who knew my dad would certainly agree. Sometimes he would bring home some of the different foods that the natives had prepared like “chicken”. He said it was that until I swallowed it and found out when it was halfway down my esophagus that it was “iguana”!  He asked me, “Now doesn’t that taste like chicken?” Do you think I could even think of relishing the taste of it to find out?

One day while accompanying Dad on a census,  Sniffy wandered around the family's meager hut as she always did.  When it was time to go, Dad called her but she didn’t come. Dad spent many hours looking for her, but she could not be found. We never knew what happened to her, but considered several possibilities. She could have joined a pack of coatis  in the jungle or the worst possibility...been eaten by a crocodile.

January 20, 2000

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