Lesson #1 You know your cat is too fat when she can’t lick her own ass.
Nina was promising enough as a kitten. We have an unbelievably cute photo of our daughter Sally, aged 4, dressed as a cat for Halloween cradling little Nina. Soon after that Nina started packing on the pounds.
We bought that “Indoor/Adult” cat food, but it didn’t help.
And there’s a twist. Nina was bulimic. (I’m not making this up.) No disrespect to the actual destructive condition afflicting humans, but Nina binged and purged everyday. She should have been sickly and slender but she just grew increasingly obese. The vet had no explanation.
Watching Nina strain like a failed contortionist to take care of her personal hygiene was like passing a car accident; too horrible to look, too tragic to look away.
Lesson #2 When a dog doesn’t bark or scratch at the door, but only stares at you with a beleaguered, forlorn mope, it’s hard to differentiate, “I love you,” from, “I’m about to crap on the rug.”
We chose our dog, Hanna because she was a whippet. (A whippet resembles a small greyhound.) Whippets we’d seen were quiet and obedient. Aside from the fact that she trembled constantly, Hanna was well behaved and never barked. So well behaved we took her to my parents’ house for a Sunday dinner just days after we got her.
Once there I bragged to my aunt Margaret about Hanna. Just as I was highlighting her house training, Hanna squatted right before us and took a dump on the carpet.
So, like coaxing small children to use the bathroom (“Try to go, whether you need to or not!”) before a car trip, we had to force Hanna to the back yard several times a day, whether she wanted to go or not.
Lesson #3 If your cat sleeps under the covers, wear body armor.
Rudy was a great cat and loved to sleep at our feet under the bed covers in the fist big, drafty Victorian Greta and I lived in after we married. One winter night Rudy got a little lost trying to get out from under the covers. Burrowing to the top of the bed he got caught inside Greta’s flannel nightgown. By the time he found his way to her close-fitting neckline, the poor guy was in a panic – like a swimmer struggling to the surface for air, and Greta was none to happy either. Half asleep, she got the neck unbuttoned before he used his claws to tear his way out.
Lesson #4 Turtles and fish both love water, but don’t really mix.
Sally’s map turtle, Buddy, was a good guy, but like Nina, had hygiene issues. He shared his tank with several gold fish won in the ping-pong ball toss at the carnival. They survived the car ride home in a plastic bag, but not Buddy’s tank. A couple weeks after each cleaning, the tank filled with a green funk that couldn’t be killed. I consulted every pet store, bought every water treatment, and spent a year’s worth of college savings on ever more powerful filters. Still, the green gunk always came back.
One night I decided on drastic measures. Sally and I put Buddy and the fish in a bucket and scrubbed the tank and filter with bleach. We rinsed everything well to get rid of the bleach and then filled the tank up and turned on the filter. It looked great. We put in the animals and went downstairs to watch TV.
When Sally went up to bed she let out a siren-like shriek. I ran up to find all the fish floating, dead and her room smelling like a bleach factory. We’d rinsed everything so well. Everything that is, except the filter rotor basin, which was filled with bleach.
Buddy was fine, but we gave him back to the pet store where we got him. It was for his own safety.
Lesson #5 Cats do not do High-5s
Orion was the smartest and toughest pet we ever owned. A badass tomcat as big as a small dog, he could stop your heart with a stink-eye that silently growled, “Don’t mess with me.” He hated the sound of human laughter, coughing, sneezing, and the voices of children. When Sally was small, Orion always looked for an elevated perch to keep out of her reach. But as she grew, his only remaining option was to fight.
When Sally gingerly reached out her hand to him as he sat on a kitchen bench, Orion swatted the air, claws bared in a warning she didn’t understand. Sally exclaimed to Greta, “Hey Mom, Orion just tried to give me a High-5.” How do you tell a child, “No Dear, he was trying to scratch your eyes out.”
She eventually learned that lesson the hard way.