Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Feel Bad About My Cat

Anyone who knows me, knows I lost my cat last year. She's not lost lost. There's no "missing" posters tacked up around town or children on bicycles calling out, "Casey! CASEY!!!" She, after living a long and full life, died just like she was supposed to do.

The reason I prefaced this fact with the "anyone who knows me..." line is because throughout her long, drawn-out tumor-filled death everyone who knows me heard about it. Facebook posts documented her her every ailment (accompanied by sad pictures of her wrapped in blankies, whiskers frowning), sob stories in work-place break room, prayer sessions with children who didn't understand death yet asking for that peace that passes all understanding.

While I was sitting out back this evening, pondering my next blog idea, my super keen allergy-detecting sinuses swore they picked up the scent of odeur de canine. That simple aroma wafting from who knows where bore a tunnel right through my skull and sat to marinate in my gray matter for awhile. Hours later ejected today's blog idea.

Casey was a star, is a star. Everyone who wants to know and doesn't want to know her story, knows her story. I began thinking of my poor neglected pets that came and went before the era of the internet. Who's left to tell their story? I guess, me.

And, so, in loving tribute to:

TAMMY: Tammy was our first family pet. Dog of unknown mutt heritage, brought home at the age before my memories began. Brown fur, black nose with white on the bridge.

Tammy and I in the backyard.
The thing I remember most about Tammy was that my mom kept a newspaper article about her in a keepsake drawer. A black-and-white photograph including some caption about being a star of the week. I, for years, I thought Tammy was some kind of canine celebrity. Later in life my mother clarified for me that the newspaper article was animal shelter ad. No Taco Bell chiuaua was she.

But, the fact that we rescued her from the gas chamber gave my family some sort of hero status in my mind. I don't remember much else about sweet Tammy girl. Running and playing in the yard together are my main recollections. Her laying in the sandbox while we played with our Tonka trucks. And, for some reason my mind held the analogy that she always looked as if she had been freshly sprayed in the eyes by a skunk. Maybe that's what shelter life causes one's eyes to resemble. But, maybe it's also because I vaguely recall one of our dogs getting squirted and my dad having to bathe it in tomato juice. Might have been Tammy, may have been Muffin.

Snoopy and I as kids
SNOOPY: Our Snoopy was not a beagle. Our Snoopy was a beautiful black and white cat.

Snoopy's brother George (similarly colored, but with slightly longer fur) went home with my cousin. It was a novelty that we purposely had pets that were brothers. Adopted, I'm sure, with the intention that they would miss each other and could be brought back and forth for play dates. I only remember one play date actually coming to fruition. It ended with one chasing the other around my grandma's tension lamp much too recklessly. Cats don't seem to miss their siblings once they've parted so, as far as I remember, Snoopy was excluded from family visits from that day on.

Snoopy was an outdoor cat who, from time to time, would let us believe that we owned him. He seemed most interested in us during supper time when he'd drag gifts of dead mice, birds, and chipmunks home to us and present them at the glass doorwall that adjoined the dining room to the back deck. My parents would get disgusted and pull the curtains shut until we were done eating. I thought it was gross, but kind of sweet.

He would disappear every summer for about a week at a time. I'm not sure if he ventured much further than our backwoods during those excursions, but I'm sure if he could talk he'd have stories to tell about it. We used to call them his "hunting trips". He'd always reappear as if, "Okay, I just needed a break from you guys. But, now I'd appreciate some kibble and warm milk please."
Snoopy and I as teenagers

When he'd snuggle, he'd snuggle. Motor at full rev. When he was done, he would dismount, digging his claws into you without an ounce of grace. (I still have the scars on my stomach to prove it!) When he would venture indoors he would disappear into closets, crawlspaces and attics. My mom would always tell us that animals do this sometimes when they're about to die. By this calculation, he was dying half of his life. He was always hiding, but I'm sure more out of annoyance than hospice.

When Snoopy's time finally did arrive, he was a ripe teenager (as was I.) Having lived an adventurous and satisfying life, he chose to make his final resting place underneath our house.

My childhood home didn't have a basement, just a crawl space large enough for one human in coveralls to shimmy underneath and thaw the pipes out each Michigan winter. Snoopy, adventurous even in death, decided to crawl past the allowance of human reach and moan underneath our feet in the dining room for hours (utter torture to us!) as he crawled toward the light. My dad had to pull up the floorboards next to the furnace in order to retrieve his body and give him a more appropriate burial site.

MUFFIN: Our little tramp. I believe we found Muffin at a home that was giving away free puppies that their little tramp had bore. Muffin was brown with black speckles, medium in size and mixed in breed. She also had the puppy-dog-eye look perfected. We used to call it her guilty face.

Two of Muffin's pups
Well, at the ripe age of two and some months, her guilty face was for good reason. Muffin was preggo, which in dog years made her a real bonafied teen mom.

I would overhear my own mother exasperatedly say, "She's too young. She's just too young for this!" Either Muffin had never yet sat through the birds-and-bees conversation or my parents had regretted not getting her spade sooner. But, it was what it was and in the grand tradition of teen motherhood, the grandparents ended up caring for the six babies she decided to deliver deep underneath the back deck. My dad having to crawl under and retrieve them all.

My siblings and I fell in love with the puppies and let ourselves hold on to the hope that we'd get to keep them all for ourselves. But, one by one they were given away courtesy of the "Free Puppies" sign my dad had constructed.

Muffin lived a very short life, dying of heartworms at a pretty young age. But, through Muffin and her puppy experience our lives crossed paths with the greatest dog who ever lived, Buddy.

BUDDY: If Muffin was a tramp, Buddy was the Tramp. You know, from the Disney movie? He was a stray who seemed to have been abused in the past. He had either run away or been abandoned and started hanging around our neighborhood. He would sleep underneath our deck and sweetly, with starvation in his eyes, try to befriend us. We were not supposed to pet him, feed him or give him any affection so he would carry on his way.  But, Buddy adopted us before we could adopt him, thus earning him his name.

Buddy was a friendly mutt. Black and white, possibly part Spaniel. And, he didn't just move in without earning his keep either. Buddy arrived shortly after Muffin's puppies did. (No, he was not the father. We consulted Maury Povich, so we're pretty sure about this.) Muffin, not being into motherhood, was definitely lacking in the parental skills department. When she would tire of nursing, she would simply get up a try to walk away with six whiskered little mouths still attached to teet. Buddy would frustratedly pace around her outside cage, speaking in some kind of dog language to the babies, he would fix whatever was wrong and they loved him like a father.

That summer when we were returning from a week-long vacation, we came home to six little puppies running around the backyard. Us kids had run to the backyard cage (that they should have been locked in) to greet them and they had already run half the distance to meet us. Muffin must have been neglecting them again (and the human dogsitter was between visits) so Buddy had dug an escape tunnel for them and was playing when them in the yard until we showed up. Oh, the joy that seven wagging doggie tails running to greet you can do for a kid!

Buddy was my compadre for the rest of his life. I would nap with him behind the couch. He would sleep with me in my bed at night. Buddy's street senses never did leave him though.

He started out on a chain in the backyard, which he repeatedly pulled loose, escaping and usually wrapping himself around a tree with. Moving on to the dog house in the large dog cage that Muffin and the pups once occupied. He dug himself out on a daily basis. Moving on then to a modified version of the cage in which my dad had cemented the floor. He would chew his way through the metal fencing! Once the metal fencing was boarded up in the mangled spots, he tried jumping over the top of the fencing and that's when Buddy got a roof. Around his dog house was essentially built a larger doghouse. He never lasted many nights outside in his luxury accommodations anyhow. He was the neighborhood yapper and usually would end up coming inside to sleep with me.

Mr. Cool, even in his old age.
He was also the neighborhood ringleader amongst all the pets. His best friend BoJangles (just Bo, for short) lived at the corner. They were quite a pair. Back in these days the dogs ran loose in our neighborhood. We lived on a quiet country road that no one knew existed. Suburbs on one side of us, city on the other. But, our little dirtroad was a childhood (and pet) paradise. The kids were free and safe to run up and down the streets playing until dinnertime and so were the animals. It wasn't unusual to see a posse of dogs (led by Buddy and Bo, of course) forming a parade down the bend in the road at just about the time leftovers were being gathered at each pets home. The posse would usually consist of about six dogs and one cat.

Whatever horrors in Buddy's past, I'm so happy he got the chance to live this life. And, Buddy lived a very long life. He even battled heartworms, won and lived for several more years after.

My dog allergies worsened as Buddy aged, but he remained my Buddy forever. On bad nights when I thought the watery eyes, sinus pressure and constant congestion were too much to bear, I'd try closing him outside my bedroom door. It wouldn't be long before I'd hear his head knocking against the door over and over and over again. My love for him would soon best my physical discomfort and he's be welcomed back in, "Just try to stay on the floor," I'd plea. With compassion in his eyes, he would comply. How I loved my Buddy.

Well, I realize today's entry was rather self-indulgent. Probably, best enjoyed by myself and other family members who also miss the same furry friends. I left out a couple hamsters, a few stray cats that came and went, one rabbit and countless goldfish (and Casey, of course! But, you know enough about Casey for now. She could have her own book at this rate! Buddy too for that matter!) But, the pets mentioned above were the ones who left special pawprints on our hearts.

Unconditional love is hard to find in the human world. I'm convinced that's one of the reason God gave us pets. Whether they're a star on my Facebook page or an afterthought on my blog decades after their passing... every pet deserves its day in lights. No matter if they're the rescue, the runaway, the ringleader or the teen mom who had to grow up too soon. Their stories should live on whether it bores my readers to tears or not.

As kids, we all heard about doggy heaven. That big farm in the sky that all dogs go to when they leave this earth. Well, I hope it's right next door to the human version, because I can't imagine Heaven being Heaven without getting to see these guys again one day, allergy-free!

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