Dogs and Cats

I didn’t grow up with a lot of pets, so, as an adult, I always considered them about as nice to have around as fleas, fungi or small children. However, my wife, Mary (see below), insists that we surround ourselves with dogs, cats and any other stray wildlife she can drag home, so I’m now hip-deep in rawhide chew toys, kibble and cat litter. Luckily, it hasn’t turned out anywhere near as badly as I’d feared. Although I enjoy some of the livestock (the dogs) more than others (the cats), they all have their redeeming characteristics. Could children be the same thing? Thankfully, I’m past my breeding years and have been neutered for decades, so I’m unlikely to find out.

This picture was taken in the summer of 2001 on the bay side of Cape Cod — in Truro, Massachusetts, just south of Provincetown, the most depraved, debauched and enjoyable town in all of New England. Toby is a Shih Tzu, a Tibetan miniature dog that really has no other function beyond looking cute. They were reputed to have been bred as palace guard dogs, but I don’t think this sort of dog wants to guard much of anything other than their dog biscuits.

A dog like this costs more than $1,000, so she’d better be damned cute (which she is). Toby is also one of the smartest dogs you’ll ever meet — she seems to understand language, even when spoken in complete sentences, and she looks at you like she’d really like to answer if she only had the proper larynx.

Tibetans aren’t known to be big drinkers, but Toby was raised in a family with a lot of Irish in its lineage, so she developed a taste for alcohol early on. Although she’s a glutton (like her dad), she’ll ignore food for a mouthful of lager (also like her dad). On the morning after a picnic at which she begged beer from every guest with a bottle, she ended up with a terrible hangover and the vow, “Never again.” We’ve all heard that promise, and many of us have made it ourselves ... and, as is usually the case, it was a lie.

  This was taken during our first attempt at a doggie dress-up Xmas card picture (see some more-successful tries below). You’ll notice at least one hand in the picture: It was necessary to hold her in place, because, like most pretty females, Toby is a spoiled brat and didn’t really want to wear the hat. I had to snap the photo quickly — moments after it was taken, she’d pulled the hat off and shredded it. Evidently, dogs don’t enjoy being forced to wear cute seasonal apparel as much as you might think they would.

Tucker is a Yorkshire terrier, which is like a dog, only smaller. He’s not terribly photogenic, so we don’t have as many pictures of him as we do of Toby. He’s friendly, high-strung, energetic and — although you really can’t tell from the pictures — hung like a horse. Despite being neutered, he hasn’t given up his “mounting” activities, which are inconvenient for Toby, a spayed female who has no idea what he’s doing back there. When Toby’s not around, Zoey is equally perplexed by (although somewhat less tolerant of) Tucker’s amatory efforts.

  Poor Tucker was a pound dog, who was abandoned when his previous owners discovered his poor health. Since his problem (a liver malfunction) has been diagnosed and dealt with, he’s become a happy little guy. Bred as ratters, Yorkies are a “working” breed of dog; however. with no real work to do, he has to content himself with strutting around like a little pony and barking randomly.

The story about Yorkies is that they were originally bred to kill rats aboard wooden sailing vessels. The types of rats that live at sea tend to be large and vicious, and when cats were brought aboard to kill them, it didn’t work out very well. A water rat has big teeth and claws, fights back and will take chunks out of a cat before the cat finally finishes it off. Hence, the cat, an intelligent animal that’s not really all that interested in pleasing its owners, will kill exactly one rat before it retires from that occupation. The Yorkie, on the other hand, is eager to please, and will go right on killing rats. Tucker is that kind of dog.

Ali was the first of our current pet population and is the oldest member of our household menagerie. Adopted as a kitten from a family that owned a Rottweiler, she fears nothing, least of all the other pets in the house. She outweighs most of them and “out-nasties” them as well. Ali lives alone upstairs, because she doesn’t really like humans much either — most of our friends have never seen her, because she seldom comes downstairs and never comes out when there are people she doesn’t know in the house. She has, on more than one occasion, left fang marks in the arms of her owners.

  Ali is a Russian blue, a large female with a beautiful, shiny coat and a surly disposition. The picture to the left is more representative of her personality than the one above, in which she looks almost sweet. Even at her advanced age, she’s still tremendously athletic — she can take a flight of stairs in just a couple of leaps and has powerful jaws, which she’s used on several people, including the technician at the vet’s office. If we ever forget to feed her for any length of time, Ali will probably hunt us down one at a time, like prey, starting first with Tucker, then moving up the food chain.

This is dog No. 3, our latest canine addition. Acquired in the summer of 2008, Zoey is a 10-year-old female mini-pin, which is a small, bred-down Doberman pinscher. We adopted her from a family who couldn’t take care of her. Like many of our pets, she is medically defective. She has both diabetes and Cushing’s disease. I actually made a lucky guess on this myself, before the vet diagnosed it, after watching endless episodes of “House” (the best show on TV). This disease combination caused her to wet in the house constantly, ruining our rugs and floors.

Now, the poor little dog gets insulin shots twice a day, and has lost six pounds from her originally tubby 18-pound frame. And she doesn’t wet on the floor nearly as often. Zoey has a sweet disposition, but isn’t too terribly bright ... with an IQ somewhere between that of a Dalmatian and a box of doorknobs. 

One Internet article I read stated that the miniature pinscher is the result of the mating of a Doberman and a Yorkie. If this is true, I hope, for the sake of the female involved, that it was a male Yorkie and a female Doberman, not the other way around.

When Zoey first arrived with us, she had a belly that dragged on the floor and had trouble just walking around. Now, she’s thinner and agile, and hops around the furniture like a puppy. Although the Cushing’s disease is supposed to make her muscles weak (the vet can’t treat it because of her diabetes medication), she seems really pretty spry now for a 10-year-old dog. I think living with Toby and Tucker is having a salutary effect on her.

This is another in an endless series of cats that we’ve taken in. Mary found Mischu in our backyard. He was part of a large litter from a small female, which resulted in his being born with oxygen deprivation to the brain. Suffering from a form of cerebral palsy, he has poor control of his back legs, although his front legs work just fine. Hence, he flops around the house, banging into things, like a drunken Irishman on payday.

Poor Mischu never would have survived the winter outdoors, but my wife lets no stray animal go unadopted. So he now lives inside, flailing around, damaging the furniture and terrorizing the other poor animals he crashes into. He’s actually quite good-natured, and gets along with everyone, including the three dogs. The only animal he’s never had much luck with is Ali, but then, she doesn’t much like anyone.

For a few years, Mischu lived upstairs with us and the dogs. Nowadays, he’s moved into the basement with the anywhere from 10 to 47 stray cats who have taken up residence down there, trying to bankrupt us with their constant demands for Purina Cat Chow and litter.

Below is my all-time favorite animal picture. It was quite a struggle to get all three dogs to pose with their holiday attire on simultaneously, but we did it. Christmas 2005 was the year that right-wing religious fanatics on TV (like that idiot Bill O’Reilly) decided to increase their ratings by pretending “the liberals” were waging a “War on Christmas.” So we decided to send out a diverse “Happy Holidays” card that celebrated the three December events. Note the “Little Rabbi” in the middle. This wise and knowing sage seems to be in charge, while the little celebrant with the Kwanzaa hat on the right (Amy) doesn’t really seem to have a clue. Toby (the ingénue) had become quite a ham by this point, and actually enjoyed wearing her Santa Claus hat.

This was taken for our Christmas 2007 holiday card picture. I include it here, because it was the last of our group dog pictures with Amy, our toy Shih Tzu, who died only six months or so after it was taken. We decorated a doghouse alongside our house for the three dogs to pose in front of. This picture was even more difficult to stage than the one above: Trying to get three dogs to stand together in the snow on a cold day, while wearing sweaters and hats, is about as easy as herding cats.

In Memoriam

Over the years, we’ve owned guinea pigs, gerbils, parakeets, hamsters, mice, a cardinal, several parrots, a German shepherd, a three-legged rabbit, a four-legged rabbit, numerous feral cats, a chipmunk, a squirrel and my personal favorite species — a ferret named Stanley. Our backyard borders a protected wetlands area, which is home to bats, raccoons, deer, skunks, possums, wild cats and wild turkeys. Fortunately, only the cats have shown an interest in moving into our house thus far. However, many of the animals that have lived with us have passed on, and are fondly remembered.

Below are pictures of three of our favorite former residents, who have gone on to that big litter box/doghouse in the sky.

Amy was just about the sweetest little dog imaginable, and she was unimaginably cute. The toy Shih Tzu is a tiny dog, evidently bred for people who feel the full-size Shih Tzu is just too much dog. We adopted Amy when her owner could no longer care for her, and she passed away at 13 and a half from congestive heart failure, during an ill-fated vacation in Cape Cod in June 2008. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I cried when it happened. I’ll always remember how happy she looked, running up and down the beach in Provincetown like a puppy, just a day before she took sick.

Wesley was probably the best cat we ever had. A small, good-natured and friendly pound cat, he had a broken tail, a goofy personality and a rotund body. He wasn’t too terribly bright or very coordinated, but he loved everybody, including total strangers, whom he’d induce to scratch his belly for as long as he could get them to do it. He’s now buried in the backyard under a dogwood that we planted as his memorial. Wesley was about 12 when he passed on, and we miss him.

Eliot was my wife’s favorite cat until Wesley came along. He got his name because we found him as a tiny kitten living in a “wasteland” of rusting scrap metal outside a New Haven warehouse. The picture above notwithstanding, Eliot didn’t really drink Johnnie Walker Black; however, he did enjoy hanging out at the bar. He looked a quite a bit like Wesley, only he was bigger, more handsome and more dignified. Sadly, he died from a blood clot when he was only eight years old.

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