Dogs Have Masters, Cats Have Staff

From the “Things We’ve Always Known But Refused To Believe” files:

Excerpt from New York Magazine:

“A new study from the University of Tokyo found that when researchers played voice recordings of a cat’s name being called by its owner, the feline subject displayed recognition, i.e., reacting to the familiar voice by “moving their heads and ears to locate the sound,” but then remained totally unresponsive — they didn’t meow or move toward the voice or anything. They just sat there, withholding love.

The study, published in the journal of Animal Cognition, reasons that cats haven’t been domesticated to respond to human command. But we know the heartbreaking truth: Love your cat, love it well, but never expect it to really care about you unless you put it on one of those weird harness leashes and force it to be more like a dog.”





Things That Go Bump…

Halloween is fast approaching, and even though it can’t begin to compare with the sheer bowel-wrenching scariness of the current government shutdown/debt ceiling debacle we have Ted Cruz to thank for, I thought I’d give it a nod with a ghost story from my past.

About seventeen years ago we moved into an old house in Texas which was built in the late 1800s.  It was constructed partly of limestone blocks that had been hand-quarried and featured an upstairs room running the length of the house.  This had served as a sort of dormitory for the boys in the family.  The house is quite small, but it held two families of ten kids each over the years.  When we moved in, it was just the two of us and we marveled how those early folks had managed to thrive in such small quarters.  By the time we bought the place, all the modern conveniences were there, but outside there was a remnant of an old outhouse.

A reminder that we had it pretty good, so no complaining allowed.

Eight months prior to our move to Texas from California, we had to have our 16-year-old long-haired Chihuahua, Lolita, put to sleep.  We had one other Chihuahua, Pepe, and a mini-Dachshund, Rudy, who made the trip with us, along with four big Collie-mix dogs.  All six of them and the two of us traveled together in our Econoline van.  When we stopped at rest stops it was like the clown car at the circus.  We opened the back doors and the dogs just kept on a’coming.

About a month after moving into our new (old) house, we’d turned in for the night in the bedroom downstairs.  Not long after turning out the light, we heard the sound of a little dog running across the wood floor.  It came from the adjoining dining room and ran toward the door to the porch, which was at the foot of the bed.  It stopped there, scratched the door two or three times, and then ran back across the room.  This happened several times over the course of the next hour.

Pepe and Rudy were soundly asleep under the covers.  It wasn’t them running through the room.  The big dogs were outside.  The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.  What the…?

Just about every night thereafter the same routine occurred.  Sometimes it started right after lights out, and sometimes it wasn’t until one in the morning.  A couple of times, soon after turning out the light, I would hear the “ghost dog” (as we’d started to call it) get up from the sofa near the bed, shake its ears enough so I could hear them flap and then jump down to the floor.

We had become friends with one of the “kids,” now in his late 70s, who’d grown up in the house and we nonchalantly inquired if the family had a little dog at any time in the past.  He said no, they hadn’t.

Then it dawned on us that when we moved we’d brought along Lolita’s old dog bed.  Why, I can’t say.  And then we realized that we’d stuck it in the dining room which was serving as a catch-all until we could get everything sorted out after the move.  That’s where the activity seemed to be emanating from.

So we took the dog bed and put it upstairs in the dormitory room.  It wasn’t long before we would hear ghost dog come clicking down the stairs on her nightly run.  She also was heard rustling in the wastebasket next to the desk upstairs while my husband was working there.

I took to sleeping with a little flashlight I called my “ghost buster.”  Whenever the activity started, I would take the flashlight from the table next to the bed and scan the room on the off chance I’d finally see something.  All it did was stop the activity—for a bit.  Some nights I would hear her drop what sounded like one of our other dogs’ Nylabone chew toys on the hardwood floor.  When I lit up the room, there was nothing there.

Other nights, Lolita (by this time we figured it had to be her) would bonk around under the bed like she used to do when she slept in her dog bed under our bed back in California.  We would even hear her tripping over the extension cord on the floor.  Sometimes Rudy and Pepe would look up after hearing her, but they never growled or seemed disturbed by any of it.

This went on for almost a year until the terrible day that Pepe was bitten by a rattlesnake and died hours later on my bed.  We were grief stricken.

Maybe a week or so later, we heard two little dogs running around upstairs, like they were chasing each other.  There was more rustling in the trash and just double the activity in general.

Then, the noises gradually subsided and finally stopped altogether.

I’d had a dream (or visitation?) from Pepe the morning after he died.  He used to wake me up by standing on my chest and licking my face.  That’s what I awoke to—or dreamt I was waking to.  He was backlit by white light and I was crying, I was so happy to see him.

Then he faded away and I realized I was awake and he was gone.

But maybe he wasn’t.  Maybe he hung around with Lolita for a while before they both went off to doggie heaven together.  Maybe…

Happy Halloween

Lolita swami



Out of the Slammer and Into the Good Life

We went to our local county fair today, the oldest continuing fair in Texas.  We wandered around in one of the exhibit halls, ogling prize winning tomatoes, stalks of sorghum and sacks of wool.  Then we stopped in front of one of the displays that the 4-H kids had assembled.

The tryptich display featured our SPCA, with lots of information on its “no-kill” shelter status.  It included a number of photos of the 4-H teens who volunteered their time.

As I scanned the photos, one of them caught my eye with its immediate familiarity.  It was Kelso, the little long-haired Chihuahua we’d adopted three weeks ago!

He was behind bars in his pen, with his ears pinned back and his tail drooping.  If there had been a caption under the photo, it could have said “Please save me!”

Then we noticed another photo showing one of the boys kneeling in front of the pen, offering his hand to Kelso through the bars.

Here’s how Kelso looked in “the slammer”—

And here is Kelso with his new best bud, Culvey—

What a difference a few weeks make!


Farewell to My Muse

A little over ten days ago, my beautiful Himalayan cat, Neferkitty, suddenly became ill in the evening and died by the early morning hours of the following day.

She had shown no signs of an impending illness.  Always a quirky cat, she would pick a different spot to sleep every few days; sometimes behind my computer screen, or under the bed, or wherever suited her fancy of the moment.

So when she started sleeping on the tile floor behind my bathroom door, I didn’t think much of it.

But when I saw her wobbling, unable to keep her hind legs underneath her, I knew she was in trouble.  Of course, the vet’s office had been closed for hours, so I could only pray she would hold on until morning.  But as the night wore on, I knew that wouldn’t happen.

I spent the hours from 11:00 until 2:15 lying next to her on my bed, petting her and telling her how beautiful she was and how much I loved her.  Then, she took her last breath.  I listened to her chest as her heart slowed down, became erratic and finally was stilled.

I had never known a more affectionate cat.  Some would say demanding.  You could pet her all day until her hide became raw and that wouldn’t be enough attention.

Neferkitty epitomized feline beauty too, which, I’m convinced, was her undoing.  Himalayan and Persian cats have been bred and inbred to create their particular characteristics, such as the flat face and shortened nose.

But they also have a tendency for genetic conditions like cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure.  My guess?  That’s what finally caught up with her at the age of approximately ten years.  I don’t know for sure.  All I know is, I felt bereft.

We still had Culvey, our other inside cat whom we had rescued from a culvert in the road at the age of six months.  Our old Toy Fox Terrier, Spunky, had shuffled up them Golden Stairs back in January at the age of sixteen.

Culvey is a great cat, but not uber-affectionate and I really missed that.  After about a week of living with the huge void left by Neferkitty’s passing, I decided maybe I should go to our local SPCA (a no-kill shelter) and check out their cats.

I went back a couple of times and, although I spent time with some very deserving kitties, none of them struck the chord in my heart Neferkitty did.

After Spunky died, my husband and I both said “No more dogs!” because we’d certainly had our share over 36 years of marriage.  Almost all of them either came from shelters or had been dumped off on our property, taken in by us, and given a loving home.  We always said there must be an invisible sign outside our place saying:  “Suckers for Dogs Live Here.”

But, cats are much easier to take care of, what with their independent nature (not to mention their litter box skills.)

Culvey had been visibly depressed with both of his housemates now gone, and I think he secretly enjoyed having Spunky around to watch and stalk.  So, I thought “Hmm, maybe another Chihuahua…”   I never imagined I’d own one of those bug-eyed critters, but we’ve had three of them.  They’re just personality kids, with a capital “P.”

Enter Kelso.

When I saw him at the shelter, all the other little dogs showed off by leaping and barking, but Kelso, a blonde long-haired Chihuahua,  just rolled over in his doggie bed and offered up his belly for a rub.

He had me at “Herroh.”

I still get teary-eyed when I think about all the love Neferkitty gave me and how much I miss her beautiful self, but I know Kelso needs me as much as I need him.

And the void has become a little less deep.

One of many artist trading cards Neferkitty inspired.

Kelso on his first day home.


Requiem for a Neurotic Dog

Our Toy Fox Terrier, Spunky, may not have been as ancient as Uncle Chichi, purportedly the world’s oldest dog who passed away at either age 24, 25 or 26 (depending on the source) on Tuesday, but he was definitely pretty old when he shuffled up them Golden Stairs this last week.

We figure he had to be at least 15 or 16, since we acquired him (read:  were talked into taking him by our daughter, his rescuer) in February of 1997.  He wasn’t a puppy then, so he must have been somewhere around a year or two old when we adopted him into our already dog-filled lives.

You see, in our 35 years of marriage we’ve been the ultimate suckers for abandoned and abused animals.  Mainly dogs, but the last few years we’ve expanded into the feline realm.  Currently we have six of those.

(It would be laughably easy to turn into The Crazy Cat Person.  I don’t say “Cat Lady” because my husband is probably more gaga over cats than I am—and that’s saying something since he originally wasn’t what you’d call a “cat person.”  Now, if he comes home from a trip to Walmart without a new cat toy for the two indoor cats, I’m tempted to take his temperature to make sure he’s not ailing.)

But back when we got Spunky, our lives were dominated by canines.  We had four “outside” dogs—all Collie mixes.  Three were siblings and the fourth was the mother, whom we had discovered lying by the gate to our place out in the country in California.

She’d been dumped on our road (unfortunately a common occurrence since we were not too far from Sacramento) and was really thin, with bald patches in her fur and was only one or two weeks away from delivering what turned out to be a litter of ten puppies.

Needless to say, we found homes for five of the eight puppies that survived and kept three ourselves, plus the mother.

Over the course of the next couple of years we also adopted a mini-Dachshund from the animal shelter and then a Chihuahua.  All six of our dogs made the trip to Texas with us when we moved here in 1996.

We all traveled together in our Ford Econoline van and spent the night at a rest stop on the border of Arizona and New Mexico.  When we took the dogs out in the morning, a lady who’d been parked next to us with her two Chihuahuas looked on us in amazement as one after another of the dogs came out of the van, reminiscent of one of those clown cars at the circus.  She said “You’ve got a real herd there!”

So, when my daughter called from Houston in 1997 during a visit to friends and asked if we would be willing to take another “Chihuahua” that was living a miserable life with two little kids and an overbearing Boxer dog, what else could we say except for “yes”?

The “Chihuahua” turned out to be a Toy Fox Terrier.  Kind of the same thing, but then again–not really.  He was nervous, not particularly affectionate, and it was hard to tell if he was happy because someone had docked his tail so close it was essentially non-existent.  Not much to wag there.

I really don’t know if he had a happy day in his whole life because he always looked kind of anxious and worried.

Sort of the Woody Allen of dogdom.

Plus, the other little dogs of ours did not cotton to him—at all.  There definitely was a pecking order, and he was at the bottom.  But, since he was so neurotic, I think he liked it that way.

Long after the other two passed away, he would always want us to go through what became a mealtime ceremony for him—the ritualistic “taking away of the food bowl.”  He wouldn’t eat unless one of us pretended to try to take his food from him so he could pretend to snap and snarl at us and ultimately “win” his prize.

I told you he was different.

So, last week old age, cataracts, deafness and general senility caught up with Spunky and we (meaning my husband) had to take him for that last trip to the vet.

Today we got a nice sympathy card from them, along with a doggie angel pin to remember him by.  I think that was really thoughtful of them to do that.  Our vets here have been great.

So even though Spunky didn’t live as notable a life as Uncle Chichi, it was a pretty good one.

Even for a neurotic.

Spunky as "spokesdog" for t-shirts my daughter created a few years ago.

Warming his behind in the kitchen of our previous old house in Texas.

Tolerating the proximity of Culvey, one of our indoor cats.


Culvey, the Internet Celebrity

Wow!  Was I surprised today to get an email from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) letting me know that my cat, Culvey, was being featured on their website.  I had submitted his photo and a brief “bio” about him to the HSUS “Pet of the Week” contest they administer.  Every week a pet that has been rescued in some way or adopted from a shelter is featured in their email newsletter.

This article for December is called Home for the Holidays.  (Click on the link to go to that page.)  There’s a photo slideshow you can scroll through to view the pets whose corresponding stories appear on the page.  Culvey is the second photo–and a very handsome fellow he is too, if I do say so myself.

Please consider adopting your next pet from a shelter and, as always, please spay or neuter your pets.  Help prevent pet overpopulation, which always leads to the tragedy of euthanasia for unwanted animals.

Culvey says “Thank you!”