Posts Tagged ‘pets’

My Shadow

There is a man who lives not far from me. He is a quiet man.

Though we’ve met dozens of times, we’ve exchanged perhaps a hundred words, with a “Hey,” a nod, a “Howzit?”, or a wave encompassing our friendly, albeit distant, relationship. He drives a truck, likes to keep it clean, and rain or shine, he would take Rocco—his muscular doggo of high spirits and indeterminate heritage—out on their daily walk around the neighborhood.

For the past decade, Rocco was his constant companion, his shadow, so the day I saw him without Rocco, I knew something was wrong. A mutual friend informed me that, yes, Rocco had passed on a few days prior.

The next months were difficult for this man. His usual reserve was magnified. Meeting him at a gathering at our mutual friend’s place, his standoffish nature was pronounced, as if the company of others was almost painful. His grief was visible, and my heart ached for him.

Last week, I saw him again. He seemed more lively, younger even. He stood taller, and there was a spring in his step.

I waved. He waved back.

“Got a new pup!” he said.

“Wonderful! That’s very good news.”

There are pets, and then there are pets. Some are just a furry member of the family. Others, though, are true companions, and we are bonded, invested, tied to one another.

My wife and I have had a few pets—dog and cat—that never really bonded with either of us, animals that always strove for dominance or remained frustratingly aloof. We loved them, sure, but every day with them was a reassessment of the hierarchy, a test to see whose will was strongest, or simply a fulfillment of duty and need. Others, though, were different; we knew, without doubt, exactly whose pet it was.

Portia is definitely my cat. She follows me room to room, looks to me for treats, comes to me for snuggles and scritches. To her, my wife is merely a backup source of food, warmth, or even (in extremis) cuddles. I know I will outlive this cat (well, I certainly hope I will) and, like Rocco’s owner, I’ll feel the loss terribly when she’s gone, but having her in our lives is so much better than not having her here.

She is my shadow, even in the dark of night.


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  • Always stretch after rising. Legs, too.
  • There’s never a bad time for a nap.
  • You can eat the same thing every day and be just fine.
  • Catch and release is fun, but sometimes catch is what’s required.
  • Dawn is one of the best times of the day.
  • Staring out the window is a perfectly good use of your time.
  • Sometimes you just have to put up with other people.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really want.

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Feline Delay Syndrome

No writing was done this week because, Portia.

I know, I know, you’re sick of all these cat-related posts.

Well, tough.

Portia is a rescue from Seattle Area Feline Rescue (SAFR), a no-kill shelter down the street from me. My intention was to meet a little calico they had there, but when we arrived, there were so many great personalities among the cats available for adoption, we had to spend time with several. Portia—originally named “Porsche,” but there was no way that was going to stand; we quickly changed it to a properly Shakespearean homophone—was by far the one who clicked with us, and so she’s who we brought home.

And so, our 35-year streak of having only black or black/white cats remains intact.

She’s settling in. So are we.

Writing will recommence.


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This past Father’s Day was not the type of day I’d envisioned, wanted, or was pleased with. Sick with a head cold, one hand wrapped up in gauze from a deep sheet-metal cut, facing major changes to my work and domestic patterns, I spent the day at the veterinarian’s office, saying goodbye to our seventeen-year old cat, Mouse, euthanizing her after she’d suffered acute kidney failure.

Not a good day.

But it did get me thinking, specifically about my dad. Apropos.

At heart, my dad was a taciturn country boy. He was born in the small, rural town of Point Reyes Station in west Marin County, California. His parents were a truck driver and a housekeeper, his grandparents were gardeners and charcoal burners and boarding house matrons, and the town he lived in was quiet, remote, and full of independent, practical-minded, deeply conservative folks.

Dad’s rustic, back-country upbringing during the 1920s and ’30s was the source of many eye-popping tales of cultural dissonance. I’m pretty sure Dad told us kids some of his stories purely for their shock value. He took pride in his pedigree, his gruff, hardscrabble roots, and much of his identity was tied to a story arc anchored on the picturesque shores of Point Reyes and Tomales Bay.

With this as preamble, it’s not surprising that Dad’s philosophy about pets was . . . different than mine. They were animals, like livestock. He would tell of neighbors who put unwanted whelps in burlap sacks and disposed of them in a cruel and despicable fashion. When it came to the cats and dogs who shared our home, he cultivated a facade of casual disinterest. They were just animals, he’d say.

But it was a lie. (more…)

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Just a Cat

She was just a cat. Just an everyday cat, a cat like a million others. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a regular American domestic shorthair, black, with green/gold eyes.

She didn’t like people. She had an indelible antisocial streak. Old friends who visited didn’t believe we actually had a cat, thought the beds and toys were there just for show. Whether they stayed for the evening, or visited for a few nights, they didn’t see her. Our cat sitter never saw her. Not once.

She was a denner, a hider in small places. Above all, she wanted peace and solitude. She’d retreat to a closet to sleep on sweaters, or crawl under the bedcovers and cocoon in a lump. When I came home for the day, my first stop would be the bedroom. I’d go up to the tent I’d made that morning out of pillows and the counterpane, and whisper my greetings to her through the quilt. My reward was a purr and, sometimes, as I stroked her though the fabric, a paw would reach out and press against my fingertip.

She didn’t trust anyone, not completely, not even me. It was feet she feared most. It took me years to figure this out, to understand why she always shied away from me as I approached. It was my feet. As a black cat, so black that she was devilish hard to photograph without it coming out looking like a picture of a black hole, she was easy to miss. She was a shadow, a spirit barely seen, a haunt, and she got caught by the occasional misstep as one of us came around a corner and didn’t spot her. It wasn’t until I understood this that our relationship changed. As I walked toward her she’d stare at my feet, but if I stopped and wiggled my toes, she knew that my feet “saw” her, and it was safe, and she would look up at me. She would allow herself to be carried or held for short periods, but would always be looking down, waiting for us to betray her and drop her, even though we never did.

She would stomp down the hallway. She wasn’t that big, either by size or weight, but when she came down the hallway, with every step, she planted her front paws with a resounding thump. Maybe it was her way of announcing her arrival, to warn away the feet that were waiting around each corner. Maybe it was to scare up spiders or other prey. Maybe she just liked to do it, queen of her demesne.

She was afraid of the outdoors. While many cats are intensely curious about the world beyond the front door, she was not. No enticement could encourage her to join us on the front stoop, and even the sight of the open doorway would make her slink away on legs shortened by fear.

Yesterday, after seventeen years of living with her, we said goodbye. As cats often do, she gave no warning, living her life on her own terms until she could do it no longer.

She was just a cat. Like any other.

Variable. Complicated. Unique.

Just a cat.


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