Except for times when we lived in apartments, dogs and cats have always been a big part of our lives. Not just our pets, but everybody else’s, it seems.
Dogs, the saying goes, are forever loyal. You return from a trip, and the dog salivates, jumps on you and behaves as if he’s missed you terribly, which he has.
The cat? Well, he never noticed we were gone. It’s true that animals have a master; cats have a staff. A dog answers when you call; a cat puts you on hold.
Nobody owns a cat. Rather, the cat owns you, and only by his grace are you allowed to live in your own house, sleep in your bed, and sit on the cat’s couch. Almost no feeling of guilt equals that of having to make a cat surrender your lap when you get up to answer the phone.
A Camp Luna neighbor, Elias Monroe, used to have a German shepherd we called “Psoriasis,” as in the commercial, the heartbreak of psoriasis. The heartbreak was in trying to fence the dog out. The dog loved our dog and spent its days at our house. Elias may not be aware that Psoriasis determined the height of our fences. We’d put up a 4-foot-high temporary fence to keep out critters, and only after planting the last stake did Psoriasis show us how easy it was to leap over to play with our pet.
We tried a picket fence exactly five feet high, and, with the skill of a pole vaulter, Psoriasis jumped over that. Five-foot-four became the unjumpable limit, so that’s why our fence is that high.
When Eddie Flores was our neighbor, he owned a dog that would bark at me whenever his family was around: just doing his job.
Once, however, I spent the day working on Psoriasis-proofing my fence and attached 60 feet of pickets, working south toward Eddie’s house. To my surprise, the dog actually joined me, allowed me to pet him, even accepted a few biscuits.
It was a great visit, and by 7 p.m., the fence came just a few feet from Eddie’s house. When the family arrived, in a trice, the dog transformed from inseparable companion to Brinks-quality Doberman. He gave me a menacing bark that said, “And stay away. And the same goes for your cat.” No doubt the Floreses rewarded their dog for having kept monsters like me at bay.
We used to have a rat terrier, Tickle, which we got to control rodents. I think the “rat” part is more a comment on his description than his performance. Any time he heard our pickup running, he insisted on jumping in and accompanying us. Sometimes giving him a ride wasn’t practical, so we’d drive him around a very short block around our property. That sufficed. We’d watch him strut around, as if telling all the other neighborhood dogs, “I just got back from Honolulu.” Once my son Stan cranked up the pickup just to keep the battery up. It was not drivable, as if lacked a driveshaft. But there came Tickle, running to the door, ready for his trek to Nepal. Now what do we do?
Stan simply gunned the engine a few times, shifted the gears and made exaggerated motions with the steering wheel. “Think we can get away with it, Dad?” Stan asked. Apparently it worked. With considerable swagger, Tickle told tales of his travels, the other canines howling in envy. All Tickle lacked was a slide projector to document his treks.
When Shereen and David Lobdell became our neighbors, they brought a beautiful female boxer along. She got along fine with our whippets, but when she espied our cat, Cindy, there was now a real reason for living: something to chase.
Well, anyone who rides bikes knows how much dogs like to chase. What we usually do is stop, turn our bikes around and chase the the dogs right back.
It’s a riot. And it works every time.
Tasha, the boxer, came to spend time on our porch but hadn’t noticed Cindy snoozing on the railing. Cindy, roused from her 11th half-hour nap, became startled and hissed. We’d never seen a 50-pound dog tremble the way Tasha did. Despite our coaxing, she refused to enter our porch, lest Cindy “give her five.” I think Cindy, all seven pounds of her, enjoyed her superiority.
Two animals we didn’t buy but took care of “for just for a few weeks, Dad, until I can find a place that allows pets,” were Ryu and Talon, our son Diego’s cats.
Once I spotted a very resilient ball on the bathroom floor and, just for kicks, tossed it into the bathtub. The cats immediately went after the ball, with amazing precision. Did you know cats can move in three directions while in the air?
For them, the super ball was better than any mouse, stuffed or real. They devised their own game of pool-hockey, and when one of them batted the ball into the drain, it lodged there.
Ryu, who pushed the ball, gave Talon, who had been defending the south goal, a trash-talk look that said, “I won, game’s over.” Cindy has perfected the “15-minute crazies,” which cats go through late at night. Cindy attacks invisible mice, growls, gyrates and twists as she decimates the tiniest piece of lint on the carpet. She puts it in her mouth, dashes down the hall, as if chased by Tasha, and returns to do it all over again.
Last year we replaced our dining room carpet with laminate flooring that’s extremely slick. As Cindy makes a beeline toward the non-existent mouse, she chases it clear into the dining room, fully aware that she’ll skid until a wall stops her. Has she learned when and how to apply the brakes? Doesn’t matter; she’s having too much fun.
And on the subject of enjoyment, for more than 15 years, we received love, devotion and affection from our whippets. One of the twins was euthanized two years ago; the remaining dog was put down just this week. Although in dog years, Moosa was ancient, we believe he never fully recovered from the mauling a neighbor dog performed on him in April.
It really hurt to say good-bye.
Now, we’re going through that “never again” stage. We’ll never get attached to pets again. Wanna bet? Before the ink on this newspaper is dry, one of our sons will likely come by to ask if we can keep their pet, “just for a few days, Dad. Honest. Promise.”