A full twenty years since our days of dodging peas scattered about the floor by our Saint Bernard, we still find ourselves with an unimproved collection of needy, eclectic, and perhaps downright retarded pets. Some things have changed, certainly. After years of squishing used food between my toes, I, like my mother, have taken to wearing slippers – regardless of how silly they may be. There are also fewer numbers of pets as whole. But those we do have are not without their share of problems, phobias, and irritating habits.
The present cat, eleven years ago replacing the one that uniformly hated every last one of us, is entirely the opposite. She needs us – desperately so. At eleven, she is the fittest “senior” cat the veterinarian has seen in years. But she still hates him.
She, like a normal cat, will hunt around for little animals to kill, disembowel them, and leave various unrecognizable organs on the doormats as a gift. I suppose we are to thank her for the contributions – now small pools of gore glued to the porch paint. A few she’ll bring back alive, somehow sneak in the door, and proceed to release these injured, cute little furry things inside the house for our viewing pleasure. They, and she, are recaptured and thrown back outside. From what I understand of cats, though, this is relatively normal behavior. They spend 99% of their time pleasing themselves, and the other 1% trying to please the master, yet succeed in only being irritating and gross.
What is NOT normal behavior, however, is her lack of cleanliness. I have always presumed cats to be tidy creatures that divide their days equally between grooming and sleeping. This one focuses her energy on competing with the dog for bringing in as much dirt as possible.
If the weather is nice, she’ll be outside. She will find dirt, roll in it, and immediately be stricken with the urge to come back in. She will alert us to this by hanging by her claws on door. The screen, suffering from years of her pull-ups, is beginning to sag at the top corner. And then she’ll come in, leaving a visible trail of dirt from the door, all the way to her food bowl, or wherever else she elects shakes off. Consequently, there are always two, dark heaps of dirt lying about the house. The gap between them is where she stood. Every couch, chair, and bed has been littered with her filth – even more frequently as the weather warms. She just likes dirt, I guess, and keeps us all terribly interested in vacuuming the house on a near-daily basis. She is an utter slob.
At her age, one would expect that she would invest most of her time sleeping and seeking laps, but her time inside is instead on being as much of an irritant as possible. When she’s not leaving dirt, she’s fussing for somebody to open a closed door for her – usually into a closet. Or she’s scratching random patches of the wall. Or generally being as loud and obnoxious as she is able. She’ll make a racket to go out, then do pull-ups on the door until she is promptly let back in. When in, she’ll follow people around the house demanding attention and dropping dirt, and hop onto whomever occupies any couch or bed – and leave an obligatory ring of debris where she landed. During the several months when she sheds, the filth is mixed with large clumps of hair that always end up on pillows.
“Normal” cats chew on garbage bags. This one chews up groceries – but only bread bags. Nor does she much like tuna, but chicken will send her into a frenzy that has her clawing at the legs of anybody in the kitchen for a taste. She is, to say the least, a total nuisance.
The dog, now a shaggy husky/Newfoundland mix, weighs in at just under 100lbs, and carries in not only a profusion of dirt clinging to his coat, but an assortment of sticks, briars, leaves, mud and sand. Everything sticks to him and his behavior does little to prevent it.
He is, for lack of a better way to put it, intellectually challenged. Newfoundlands, by their nature, love water. So does ours, but he’s afraid of swimming. He will never go into the “deep end” of any body of water, and usually won’t even get his head wet. If his feet (complete with webbed toes for superior swimming) can’t touch the bottom, he won’t go in. This is despite multiple efforts to lure him into deeper water, including people holding treats. His terror of swimming leads me to believe that a far shore littered with disabled, ground-restricted squirrels would be completely safe, so long is the water is deeper than his chest. His lack of swimming is an embarrassment.
And he has other odd habits, too. He never jumps or even licks people – ever. He just leans on them and knocks them over. He’s unaware that he’s not a lap dog.
His desperation for attention sends him chasing cars whenever they leave, which resulted in an expensive invisible fence being installed around the perimeter of the house and yards. All good and well, save for the fact he largely ignores it. While otherwise an incredibly sweet (albeit stupid) animal, he will jump said fence in pursuit of other dogs. Perhaps it is territorial instinct, but he would eat other dogs given the opportunity. This aggression and the apparent ineffectiveness of the invisible fence necessitated the construction of an elaborate real fence to keep him from giving chase to hunting dogs (and cars). While this is fine, but I’m the one that usually ends up assigned these projects, and I have spent more time preparing dog confines over the recent years than any other chores around the property. In the absence of real grandchildren, I suppose he and the cat have become the adopted ones – just as spoiled and useless as real ones.
And this doting means that whenever he goes on a walk, there is an aversion to leashing him – in part because he’s almost 100lbs and barely controllable, but also because it’s just nice to let him run free to wade up to his chest in streams (never swim), and dutifully pee on everything he can find. But to avoid him eating other dogs, he now wears a muzzle.
He doesn’t much like it, naturally, and it looks particularly stupid on him, but it’s effective. He can’t bite anything, so he just nudges them to death. Otherwise, his activities remain unfettered. He still chases things, still goes carefully wading, still rams his nose into the dirt and continually crashes through the woods in search of more things to ferociously nudge. His “magic face,” as well as his fur, come back stuck with full branches, briers, and a bits of nature that would otherwise be left to decompose in peace.
That applies also to carcasses and bones he finds throughout the area. Despite being muzzled, he will furiously punch at something until a large enough piece sticks through that he can bite – and he will come wandering home with something gross hanging from his mouth – through his magic face. When he drops them, he is put inside, and the decaying flesh is thrown on top of the woodshed roof. Following a particularly robust hunting season, there will be a heap up there that will one day corrode through the roof itself and fall onto the wood pile. Better that, however, than having these things strewn far and wide across the yard. It would look like a horrible crime scene.
The poor dog also appears to have troubles with stress. Maybe he needs doggie meds. Whenever he is fenced in his real fence with nearby goats to keep him company, he seems perfectly content. But when he is left free to roam his invisible fence domain, the pressure of defending it may be too much for him. He routinely gets diarrhea, a tasteless addition to the sticks and other debris clinging to his fur. I become all the more conscious of how gross he truly is when he then tries to lean on me and sit on my feet. I usually flee in disgust.
Despite his penchant for aggression against other dogs and a burning desire to collect dead things, it seems he’s learning about the invisible fence – at least better than he did in the past. While he may have been shocked a time or two on his own, I think what really drove the message home was when my mom forgot to remove his “magic collar” and lead him right through the fence. He was, of course, zapped.
For the moment, he will go nowhere without her directly leading him and the muzzle firmly on his maw. Remarkably, he still trusts her – and his magic face – to lead him safely through the DMZ.
There are other pets, yes, but the dog and cat both seem to be engaged in serious competition for the greatest collection of neuroses. Some days, it’s a tossup. Between their dirt, their dead animals, and their constant need for attention, these two adopted grandchildren receive far more doting than any real grandchildren ever will. Why get real ones when the ones you have already keep you thoroughly exasperated, entertained, and busily cleaning your house after each visit? And you know what’s best? I’m allergic to them both…
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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