Having spent the last four years among the dwarves of Kwazzakrak I can speak on this subject, despite the fact that I am human.
The first thing to know is that Dwarves love their pets as much as we love ours.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by Dwarven pets. I do not mean livestock (see my separate entry on that subject), or anything that is eaten (see my piece on dwarven cuisine), or anything that may be ridden (those are mounts) or any other weird, exotic creature that may associate with dwarven-kind from time to time in the deep-roads of the underworld.
I will also dispel some myths. The dwarves do not raise, breed, or ride giant cave-bats, those are goblin pets. Dwarves love nothing more than predictability and having their feet firmly planted on soil and rock. In fact, dwarves are not fond of mounts in general, give or take the odd mule, donkey, or war-pony, but that is a discussion for another time. Dwarves also do not make pets of vermin, as some humans and elves would have you believe. They have the same aversion to rats as we do, truth be told. Finally, badgers and wolverines are not pets of the dwarves, despite fanciful tales. These creatures are both too wild and unpredictable, and mean, even for dwarves.
I will merely attempt to catalog actual every-day pets of the bearded folk.
It should be apparent to anyone who has any kind of understanding of the dwarven psyche, that dwarves like their pets to be either
industrious and useful in every day life, or barring that, intensely
sedate, requiring little to no maintenance or upkeep. Only rarely will you see a "vanity pet" in a dwarven residence. But those exist as well.
On to the pets...
Quite unlike their top-soil cousins and frogs, cave-toads, or "kroggie" (singular and plural) in dwarven, are somewhat mysterious creatures. They can range in size, and do, greatly. The cave-toads have some odd traits which help endear them to dwarves. Cave-toads sense vibrations through the stone with uncanny accuracy. A cave-toad will feel an earthquake, days before the event, and will detect even a small band of goblins loping down a passageway miles away in caverns above or below the dwarven compound. They act as guard-dogs in a sense, as they will let their owners know of dangers by croaking in different decibels depending on the level of danger and its expected arrival time, somehow communicated to the toad through the stone. Cave-toads are otherwise silent. They do not require water, perhaps being one of nature's few such creatures, nor do they need much nourishment, spending most of their time tonguing salt-lick mounds that their dwarven owners put out for them. Cave-toads are scabrous to the touch, being extremely warty and rough-skinned, their leathery hides not unlike the feel of sand-paper. Often times dwarven fathers will tell their sons, "Until your palm feels like a cave-toad (meaning heavily calloused), you have not worked enough!"
Although we humans have the edge in evolving dog-breeding into an art-form, the dwarves have also "engineered" a few peculiar breeds over the centuries. One such creature is the tunnel-hound or "schutzgru" (singular and plural) in dwarven. Tunnel-hounds have been bred for certain traits both physical and in temperament. In size they are impressive, more wide than tall however, appearing like braided barrels of fur from afar. In physiology, they some-what resemble our bull-baiting breeds, but their hide is even tougher, and their fur, course and oily. Dwarves prize their tunnel-hounds. They will never willingly allow them to act as war-dogs or defenders of the hearth (dwarves raise other breeds for those purposes), instead the tunnel-hound's purpose in life is to "sweep" passageways, tunnels and newly discovered caverns. Due to their particularly oily adhesive fur, these dogs will "attract" any all particles to their bodies. To send a tunnel-hound down a tunnel, is akin to knowing everything that may lie down that particular path. Once these four-legged "explorers" return from their missions, the dwarves will examine the furry braids, picking out certain debris, insects, gold-dust, and so on, thus allowing the dwarves to know what exactly can be found ahead, in their latest excavated passage. It is said that dwarven families will braid tunnel-hounds according to the braid-patterns associated with that particular clan, so that everyone in the community can recognize their own dogs. Interestingly, while the tunnel-hound's sense of smell and eyesight are similar to any above-ground breed, their hearing is somewhat impaired, perhaps a faulty by-product of over-breeding. Though normally sedate, with a slow metabolism, tunnel-hounds can admirably defend themselves if the needs arises, with their powerful jaws and strangely squarish teeth. Tunnel-hounds it should also be noted, have limited dark-vision, like their masters.
Ugly as sin, but boy can they dig. Picture one of our above-ground terriers perhaps, small, compact, and aggressive, yet devoid of fur altogether, instead possessing a wrinkly mass of flapping white skin. Now picture said terrier with incredibly huge, disproportionate, talon-like, brass-colored claws. With these rock-hard claws the mole-dogs, or "hnargs" in dwarven (singular and plural), can dig through solid stone (of the relatively softer varieties) in minutes. Though the dogs do not feature an aggressive temperament, they are single-minded and obsessive, when it comes to digging. They will dig when commanded to do so, and they will dig whenever bored. Dwarves feel they can live with the latter in return for the former's benefits. In dwarven homes, a mole-dog will often "dig" its own hidey-hole in the stone ground, in which it resides whenever not digging. These hidey-holes can often extend dozens of feet down or deeper! When called, a mole-dog will ascend its vertical lair with the same claws it uses to dig down. Mole-dogs are tenacious and untiring, bred as they are, for stamina and endurance. It is said among dwarves that mole-dog "holes" have been known to go on for miles in any direction. An unfortunate side-effect of this extreme breed, is that all mole-dogs are born blind, and remain so throughout their lives. Unlike the tunnel-hounds who live well into their teen years, mole-dogs tend to rarely make it past ten years of age.
Dwarves breed cats as well, though only this one breed did i come across in my stay with the bearded-brothers. Perhaps there are more out there. Bearded cats look like a cross between a fluffy, fat, pampered cat of the humans and a lynx, with long ear-tufts and distinctive facial striping. Otherwise, they are obese balls of fur, not unlike our own cats of the sunlit world. Due to their selective breeding, the bearded cats also sport, you guessed it readers, beards. Long, tangled, silken-soft (sometimes braided) extensions erupt from their chins. These "beards" are often larger, and more impressive then the beards of their respective owners. No wonder their masters love them. Dwarves are well-known to hold annual contests, bringing their prized cats to be judged on their beards. The cats themselves are lazy (quite un-dwarven-like i once posited to a dwarf, who replied, "but look how cute the are!"), fully domesticated animals who rarely if ever, venture from their dwarven homes. These are one of the few creatures which the dwarves breed for pleasure, and in no way are the bearded-cats utilitarian, being too lazy to even chase vermin around the house! They are rather status symbols among various dwarven clans. Poor, hard-working dwarves cannot "afford" the time it takes to pamper and care for these aloof, uncaring, drowsy, and insolent felines.
Lizards really, but legends grow. I am not sure, truth be told, what to believe or not believe when it comes to dwarven lap dragons. Some dwarven legends hold that millenia ago, dwarves somehow managed to "domesticate" true dragons. How this was done is never truly explained by these fanciful tales, but suffice it to say it supposedly involved the stealing of many dragon eggs, proper incubation, followed by intense training, magical shrinkage and selective breeding. Other, more sober dwarves will tell you that lap-dragons are merely a kind of underground lizard, as related to true dragons, as mice are to eagles. Regardless of their unknown origins, lap-dragons can often be found in the homes of affluent dwarves.They are aptly named, as they view a dwarven lap, as a true dragon might view its lair; solid, comforting, and warm. In appearance, well, to these untrained eyes, they look like rat-sized lizards, yet these creatures have several unique abilities as well, perhaps lending some credence to their legends. Lap-Dragons can breathe forth noxious fumes, that dwarves seem immune to, yet I found unbearable. Let me also not neglect to mention that they are highly intelligent and mischievous, when not entombed in their master's laps having their emerald-green scales scratched. They also possess a peculiar capacity for judging character and intent! Often a dwarf will either welcome or send away a guest, depending on the hisses and scratchings of their lap-dragons, when brought in front of the individual. I would have to spend many more years, to truly explain the ecology of these reptiles, but know that they exist! I would welcome any naturalist's opinions on the matter.
These are dwarven gerbils or hamsters. I dare not guess which. These creatures exist solely to amuse dwarven children I fear. They are stupid, voracious eaters and seem rather useless. If you ask me, the elaborate maze-like "habit-trails" the dwarves lovingly construct for these fat little critters, are more interesting than the critters themselves. In fact I am sure of it. Often have I witnessed a dwarven family judging another clan, silently, by the extent, involved creativity, and architecture of a particular Grinx habit-trail. Status symbols these rat-tunnels, if you can believe that. Little needs mentioning as to the creatures themselves. Dwarven parents teach happy-go-lucky children what it means to be a properly somber and stolid dwarf by sometimes acquiring Grinx as pets, knowing that the critters will die in a few years, thus helping the children learn lessons of loss. I admit, I ate one once (roasted the plump little thing), and it tasted of chicken, but I was caught and severely chastised by my dwarven patron. Lesson learned. Grinx are not for eating.
There is not much to explain about these critters that cannot be surmised by their names. But what a marvelous feat of biological engineering! These are truly the "dogs" of the dwarves. Whereas canines are bred for particular purposes as mentioned elsewhere, dwarven ursine are small balls of all-around pet joyousness. Approximately the size of well, bear cubs as we know them, miniature bears are sociable, easy-going, are capable of accomplishing innumerable tasks, and are in turn, loved by all dwarves. Thousands of years it took the dwarves to breed these bears for tenaciousness, temperament, submissiveness and intelligence. Miniature bears live inside dwarven homes, usually with carved alcoves, serving as dens. They spend their time frolicking,wrestling, and rolling with their dwarven children, in fact often acting as "sitters" for the very young, when both parents are away. If their charges are threatened, woe be to the interloper. Miniature bears can turn vicious in a moment, and lunge for any intruder's throat. Miniature bears tend to hibernate only two weeks a year, are omnivorous, and otherwise are not unlike regular bears. Dwarves are loathe to part with their mini-bears, as I have witnessed several human merchants attempting to make such purchases, without success. Besides that, miniature bears or "mvedve" in the dwarven tongue, are so attuned to their dwarven owners that even as newborn cubs, they refuse handling by any non-dwarf, and will go on suicidal starvation strikes if kept against their will.
Or "coin-beetles" or "ch'ch'rogka". I have mentioned dwarven aversion to insects of every stripe, but busy-beetles are another story. And yes, the dwarves actually keep these coin-sized (and shaped!) beetles as pets. It is their obsessive industrious natures which so fascinate the dwarves and earn the bugs their grudging respect. These beetles never rest or sleep. Never. They are likewise never still and always moving about nibbling dust from stone. Dwarves let them loose in their homes a few at a time, and over many months, the beetles actually round-out and smooth out the contours of any dwarven stone residence. In appearence they resemble tarnished gold coins, and occasionally a dwarf will slip a greedy human merchant one of these beetles into a payment sack or coffer. Why? Well the ch'ch'rogka have one other trait that needs mentioning. They have a virulently poisonous bite, and although a beetle is loathe to use it (indeed they can go a lifetime without biting a single dwarf), a single bite can kill a human within ten minutes of being bit. Yes, nasty things, but my dwarven hosts adore them.
It is for other, more erudite blokes to conjecture whether stone-shells are turtles or tortoises. They do not seem to require much in the way of water, so i will assume they are a sub-species of the latter. Dwarves are no help with this question, as their language makes no distinction between the two words. Stone-shells, or "Muda" in dwarven (singular and plural) require very little maintenance, and spend the majority of their time, rooted in place in perfect stillness. Dwarves enjoy cavorting with their turtles, leap-frogging them or reclining and daydreaming atop their shells. During one dwarven feast I attended, a rather large flat-backed specimen served as a "children's table", happily content, munching away at the odd dropping of scrap. Stone-shells have impressive life-spans, even for turtles. They have been known to survive for two hundred years before expiring. Thus dwarven attachment to their shelled pets is strong and akin to the parrot-owners I have known. After a Stone-shell dies, the dwarven family will craft a masterwork shield or breast-plate from the shell, putting much love into its creation. Each Stone-shell's pattern is distinct and thus these shields and breast-plates are all unique in design, and much prized.
Oh yes. Where do you think unscrupulous human merchants got the ridiculous notion from? Unlike humans however, dwarves have a particular connection and dare I say relationship, with stone. The stones hum to them, each mineral possessing its own unique "song", i have been told, though i am at a complete loss as to explain what they mean, being human myself. The dwarves select these special stones based on some unfathomable criteria. They fashion stone-gardens from them, which remind me of our own royal, carved green-gardens in fact, but from stone. Dwarves will often meditate while holding their pet rocks, but occasionally trade them to one another, based on that particular stone's "talents". Do not ask me, I understood little if anything at all about dwarven pet rocks during my four year stay.
In closing, there may be more dwarven pets out there, mundane or exotic. These ten are ones I learned about first-hand. I welcome the thoughts of erudite sages and underground explorers everywhere.
Bard and long-time guest of the dwarves of Kwazzakrak (after running afoul of a certain duchess and her daughters top-side).