Three years ago, author and musician Kinky Friedman had six dogs — not counting the 50 or so awaiting homes at his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch.
Today, he’s down to two — Chumley and Brownie, who, though brothers, spend an inordinate amount of time making out.
The dogs who have passed, though, aren’t far away. Just outside Kinky’s front door, a couple of decades worth of pets are buried in a colorful, well-tended garden, including his beloved Mr. Magoo, whose gravesite is topped with all of “Goo’s” favorite stuffed toys.
On our Monday visit to Utopia Ranch, we got to meet and spend some time with the author of “Roadkill,” “God Bless John Wayne,” “The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic,” and more than 25 other books — including his most recent, “Kinky’s Celebrity Pet Files.”
You might think all that writing wouldn’t leave him time for anything else, but Kinky, from appearances, likes to stay busy. He ran for governor of Texas in 2006, capturing about 12 percent of the vote, writes a column for Texas Monthly, and, with help from friends, funds Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. Next month, Kinky, along with two members of his band, the Texas Jewboys, start a west coast tour.
In between performing tunes like “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” ” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” Kinky, 65, often referred to as the “Mark Twain of Texas,” will also be selling his wares at the concerts, including two of his more recent books, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood” and “What Would Kinky Do?” He’ll be hawking his cigars, as well.
Kinky, who was an infant when his family moved from Chicago to Texas to start a summer camp for Jewish children, spoils his dogs, in life and death — from grilling them steaks to interring them in the blooming shrine he has created at his front porch, the centerpiece of which is the grave of Magoo, who died at age 14
He has a long history of rescuing pets, starting in New York City in 1979, when he found a kitten a shoe box while walking through Chinatown. He took it home and named it Cuddles.
In the summer of 1996, he found another cat, Lucky, while driving from his parents’ ranch to Medina. The cat, found in the middle of the road, had been shot. He took the cat to a veterinarian, paid for the surgeries and amputation of an injured leg, then took Lucky home.
Because he traveled frequently, Friedman turned to friend Nancy Parker-Simons to babysit his pets, and that arrangement evolved into Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. In 1998, the rescue operation started on Parker-Simon’s seven acres in the town of Utopia. Three years later, it moved to the Friedman ranch.
In fact, it was another rescue that led to Friedman’s highly popular series of detective novels. In the mid-1980s, Kinky rescued a woman being robbed at a midtown Manhattan ATM. Based on the experience, he created the character Kinky Friedman the detective. After that, he branched out into children’s books, memoirs, historical reflections and, most lately, “Kinky’s Celebrity Pet Files.”
In it, Friedman recounts the connections many of his celebrity friends have and had with their pets — how Beach Boy Brian Wilson, on the “Pet Sounds” album, closed one song with the barking of his two dogs, Banana and Louis; how Dr. John’s dog, Lucy, once ate menthol-flavored condoms; about Fats Domino’s bichon Frise, Winnie the Pooh, who perished in Hurricane Katrina; Billie Holliday’s boxer, Mister, who would sit backstage while his master sang; Tom Waits, who had his pet white rat stuffed upon its demise; and Jim Nabors who on the eve of every Fourth of July would fly his four Staffordshire Terriers from Honolulu to Maui, where they wouldn’t be bothered by fireworks.
He deals with his own pets as well in the book, from their daily hijinks to their bedtime rituals:
Then we all go back to bed and dream of fields full of slow-moving rabbits and mice and cowboys and Indians and imaginary childhood friends and tail fins on Cadillacs and girls in the summertime and everything else that time has taken away.
“It shows the animals in the lives of great and famous people, and the importance they attach to their pet,” Kinky said.
Friedman gave me two of his books, and autographed them for me, but he didn’t have any of his newest. So after hanging out with him for an hour or so — a period in which his cigar rarely left his mouth — I drove up to Kerrville to buy a copy at Wolfmueller’s, a new and used bookstore worth checking out if you ever pass through.
Kinky was supposed to be going there, but wasn’t going to be able to make it.
“Tell them I’m not coming today,” he told me.
I bought the book, passed on the message, ate some Mexican food and headed back to Bandera, where my own dog was spending the day in the air conditioned offices of the weekly newspaper, the Bandera Courier, the editor of which has been supplying me with dogsitting, story ideas and Texas-sized hospitality.
But that’s another story.
(To read all of the installments of “Dog’s Country,” click here.