The Munsey kids usually had domestic cats, but they also had many wild pets over the years. Today, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) laws prohibit feeding and taming wild animals, but in the 1960s and 1970s, ADF&G not only allowed people to rescue wild animals, but ADF&G employees, themselves, often rescued animals and brought many of these animals to the Munseys to care for, nurse back to health, and re-release into the wild.
A few of these animals were good pets, but most were not. Mike remembers a baby bald eagle, rescued after falling out of its nest, being a particularly bad pet. Whenever anyone left the house, the eagle would chase them, demanding food. According to family legend, young Bob wore a red coat that the eagle found particularly attractive, so whenever anyone wanted to leave the house, they’d coax Bob to put on his coat and run the opposite direction. The eagle would chase Bob, and the other family members could escape the house unmolested.
Baby seals abandoned by their mothers were cute but often did not survive, and it is likely there was something wrong with the babies to begin with, and that’s why their mothers abandoned them. A few of the seals did make it, though, and I’ve seen 8mm footage of Pat in the water in hip boots, coaxing a baby seal to swim. Pat remembers the mess the seals made when the kids would sneak them up to their rooms.
Two of the favorite pets were birds. Tom Emerson with Fish and Game gave the Munseys a one-legged magpie that he had taught to say, “Maggie,” her name. Herbie was a seagull chick the Munseys raised, and he became very attached to the children. One time, just as Herbie was learning to fly, the Munseys were returning home by boat. Herbie was so excited he took off and flew toward them, but he hadn’t quite perfected the art of landing, and he crashed into the water beside the skiff. The kids scooped him into the boat and dried his feathers.
Red foxes are easy to partially tame with food, and at times, the Munseys had as many as eight foxes in the yard at mealtime. A man in Kodiak gave Park six raccoons, and Park released them at the Amook Pass home. The raccoons would join the foxes for meals, and sometimes the raccoons and foxes would enter the house, where the Munseys’ Siamese cats curiously watched them. As hard as it is to believe, these wild and domestic animals peacefully co-existed as long as there was plenty of food.
The Munseys soon realized that releasing the raccoons had not been a good idea. The raccoons began to breed, and since they are not native to Kodiak Island, ADF&G biologists became alarmed that these invasive predators would climb trees and eat the eggs of endemic birds. ADF&G hired a young woman to stay with the Munseys and shoot every raccoon she saw. Unfortunately, the raccoons were most active at night, when it was too dark to hunt, and how could she shoot these animals the kids considered pets? Eventually, to the relief of wildlife biologists, the raccoons died off and did not become a threat to the resident birds. I should point out that tempting as it may be, biologists now feel it is a bad idea to feed wild animals. The animals need to learn how to procure their own food, and human intervention, no matter how well-meaning, interferes with their survival instincts.
Mike, Bob, and their fellow crewmen rescued the eagle pictured at the top of this post when Mike was a college student, and he and Bob spent their summers working as commercial gill-net fishermen at Greenbanks, a fish site near the mouth of Uyak Bay. They found the eagle floating in the water nearly dead and picked him up and took him to shore. They threw a tarp over him, and the next morning, he was sitting on the tarp. He was tired, weak and looked terrible, but he accepted food and slowly gained back his strength. He devoured the fish the guys tossed to him, but he would back away when they tried to approach too closely. Finally, after two weeks, he flew away without a backward glance. Mike took the photo at the top of this post the day before the eagle departed, and a few years later, the photo graced the cover of Alaska magazine.
It was a magical childhood to grow up in the middle of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, surrounded by wild animals and even having a few of them for pets. I marvel that after all these years living in the wilderness, Mike still smiles when he sees a deer in the yard or a fox on the beach. He has never lost that childhood thrill of seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat.