The dog squatted down and shit right there on the rug! Right there in front of us, as if on cue. By shear perfection of comedic timing, it was my most memorable moment as a pet owner.
We’d only had Hanna a couple weeks. She was a rescue whippet, twitchy and needy and nervous all the time. But in those first two weeks she’d been so good, so obedient. Then came a Sunday dinner at my parents and we brought Hanna along. I stood in the living room with my aunt explaining Hanna’s brilliance, how she never barked and never had an accident on the rug. And just as I was bragging on her – at that very moment, she (Hanna, not my aunt) squatted down and shit right there on the rug in front of us, looking up with a sorrowful apology in her eyes that would become so familiar in the years ahead.
|Hanna, looking worried. Her standard expression.|
Hanna only barked a few times in all the years we owned her. She slept 20 of the 24 hours in a day, followed you around like a shadow for 3 hours and 50 minutes of what was left, and in that final 10 minutes when you let her out to do her business, she rocketed around the yard like a bullet on crack.
In all my years as a pet owner, Hanna was our only dog. Ours has been a house with a succession of cats.
Rudy came to me when I was single, left by friends who were moving out west. His original name was Yoko, but when my ex-wife came into my life, she renamed him Rudy. He was a Siamese cat and smart as hell. Loved that cat.
Our first house in Noblesville was the big white Victorian the city tore down for the City Hall parking lot. We were so poor we pretty much turned off the heat at night. To stay warm, Rudy would slip under the covers up by the pillows, then burrow down to our feet. He’d get overheated and burrow back out after awhile. Sometime you’d wake in the night and find him curled around your head on the pillow.
One cold winter night Rudy was burrowing out and got the covers and my ex’s flannel nightgown mixed up, crawling up her gown without noticing. She woke with a frantic cat trapped against her chest, and so she was immediately frantic, unbuttoning the neck so he could get out.
I stayed home from work one day when my son Jack was 4 or 5 years old. During the morning we found Rudy had died where he often slept, curled up under my bed. He’d gone peacefully. I wrapped Rudy in an old blanket, dug a hole behind the garage and buried him, making a grave marker from a landscaping timber, spelling “Rudy” on it with a router. Jack watched all of this with fascination. When his older brother Cal got off the school bus, Jack led him to the grave and told him all about Rudy’s death and burial. Then he asked me if we could dig up Rudy so Cal could see.
Orion was our next cat and he was the baddest motherfucker to ever hunt the 1100 block alley between Maple & Cherry. He was a yellow-orange tabby with stunningly vibrant colors, had the heft of a smallish dog and looked like he’d been lifting weights. He always stayed near me and shared the couch each night when I relaxed with my gin and tonic. He roamed the neighborhood during the day but ran to the back door each night when I called his name.
If I found him a block away and he followed me home, I’d ask
him questions along the way. “How was your day, Mr. Cat?” “Meow,” he would
respond, trotting along beside me. As long as I asked questions, he would meow
|Orion, being his bad self.|
And he was forever killing things. On a warm summer night when my daughter Sally was small, she heard a tiny, pathetic squealing in the back yard. She peered from the kitchen windows searching the yard. I went out to investigate and found Orion standing over a dying rabbit he was in the process of killing. I went back in and lied to Sally, “Orion saved us from a rat. He fought it in the back yard and thankfully Orion won.
And though Sally was our animal-lover and took to every creature she ever knew, Orion hated her. Perhaps he kept her at bay so she wouldn’t dress him up in doll clothes. Once as he sat upright on the kitchen bench, about eye-level to Sally, she came close and reached out her hand to him. He swatted hard at her palm and she ran to me calling, “Daddy, Orion just gave me a high-five!” How could I tell her he really wanted to scratch her eyes out? But she learned. Several times when she tried to approach him face to face he reared back with his right and coldcocked her upside the head with an open paw and bared claws. She’d come running to me in tears, stunned that an offer of kindness could result in such needless violence.
So Sally got a snuggable kitten named Nina, and though cute at first, Nina grew into the most disgusting cat I’ve ever known.
Nina was bullied by Orion. This kept her away from the food dish until he was done eating. So when Nina got her chance she gulped food in a desperate rush. Over-filled with food, she would soon vomit. She was on an unforgiving binge and purge cycle, so much so that even when Orion was outside and she could eat in leisure, she’d binge and purge anyway out of sheer force of habit.
But somehow she still managed to become morbidly obese: a waddling, gelatinous, furry ball with legs and a tiny head.
You know your cat is too fat when it can’t lick it’s own ass. Sometimes after she threw-up, she’d lie down and actually try to clean herself down there, perhaps to take the taste of vomit out of her mouth. She’d strain and struggle like a weakling trying to do a sit-up, but just couldn’t reach it. This is the sort of thing that gets a pet owner like me thinking about a one-way trip to the vet.
But one day after being let out to play in the back yard, she just never came home.
And that of course is the hardest part about having pets: they die.
Orion eventually got sickly thin. Those muscular shoulders went bony. The sheen left his once brilliant coat, and he didn’t hurry in when I called him at bedtime. I got to picking him up in the back yard at night and carrying him inside. But he’d still meow back if I asked him a question. Returning home from a week’s vacation, the friend who was tending Orion said she hadn’t seen him at all the day before we returned. I found him laying on a step halfway up the basement stairs. He was alive, but too weak to go any further. It’s heartbreaking to see an old friend that way.
And that silent dog Hanna – the one that never barked? When her time came for a one-way trip to the vet, my ex-wife held her close while the vet administered the shot. As the drug pumped through her veins Hanna began to bark like she’d never barked before.
Which reveals another truth about these animals we bring into our lives. They know, see and understand things we hardly suspect. And wondering at that mystery is perhaps the heart of the beauty of the relationship we share with them.