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Riding Shotgun–Some of Our Pets

Floofy was William’s first dog. Charles had stoutly insisted William should wait to have a dog until he was five years old and able to take care of it himself. He’d had his birthday several months ago. Finally, one magical day Charles took him to the animal hospital and introduced him to a fully grown smooth-haired brown, black and white beagle. When they brought the dog home and William said her name was Floofy I started to say, “Oh, no, she’s not a floofy. She has such short hair.” But Charles gave me a look that said leave the boy alone. Later he told me he’d already argued with William but “Floofy” was definitely the name he’d chosen.

So Floofy it was. She was a well-mannered dog, did not jump on us, barked when company came but stopped politely when everyone was settled, and ate happily everything we set before her. That is, until Charles said she was unhealthily fat from all the leftovers and we’d have to put her on a diet. “How would it look,” he posed, “if I’m trying as a good veterinarian to get my clients to feed their dogs healthy meals while my own dog is rolling in butter-fat?” That’s when Floofy started visiting down the street and would come home grinning around a crisp chicken leg or a wonderful meaty ham bone. William and I visited that neighbor and asked her not to feed Floofy since she was on a diet. The neighbor agreed but paused not one day in her feeding program. Floofy’s requests obviously spoke louder than our request because the fattening leftovers kept coming.

William tried to teach Floofy how to fetch but she was pretty lazy (that goes along with too much fat!) and the main game they enjoyed together was simply rolling over and over on the grass, dog and boy barking and giggling.

Floofy gave William a fantastic late Christmas present about 1975. On New Year’s morning we woke to the sound of puppies squealing–under our house! We’d been in our one-hundred-year-plus house only a couple of years and hadn’t underpinned it yet. Thank goodness we hadn’t put in air conditioning ducting yet either. The house is only inches above the ground so when Charles crawled in to retrieve the puppies, he had to maneuver in many places with his face sideways on the dirt. William shouted with glee as Charles brought the wiggling little blind puppies out, one at a time, eleven fat puppies!

I took a picture of William with that tumbling mass of puppies when they were about six weeks old. He was seven years old and hating to give any puppies away. But we had to and we did. Feeling we had saturated our field of folks wanting puppies, Charles then took Floofy to the office for an operation so she wouldn’t have any more. William seemed to understand his dad’s explanation and didn’t object, just went along to watch.

Much later, when Floofy died, William was eight or nine and Julie was part of our family. The two of them watched as Charles buried Floofy out near the pasture fence while I sobbed. William asked if a tree would grow up out of Floofy’s stomach. Charles said no, because he didn’t want a tree there so he’d be sure to pull it up if it started growing. I left the scene to shed my tears elsewhere.

After Floofy we had Lucky, an Australian cow dog, who tried to punish us all for not being in line, I guess. She was a terrible jumper, meaning she jumped terribly high and often. I could never get to church without having railroads up my stockings during Lucky’s days. Charles found a farmer who wanted her and none of us cried when she left.

Julie had acquired by then, through the generosity of Linda Wells, a cat named Misty,a beautiful Persian cross with fluffy gray fur. She had a sweet disposition which was very good to go along with a little girl’s whims at dressing her up and toting her everywhere. My only problem with Misty was that she was extremely good at catching anything, including our songbirds. I wanted to put a bell on her neck as we had always done in my family, to warn the birds to stay away. But Charles absolutely refused. That would be more cruel to the cat whose instinct it is to hunt than it would be for the birds to be snatched literally from the air. I still don’t agree with him. But Misty didn’t wear a bell. I can see her right now in my mind sitting on a well cover behind our house calmly bathing herself while a mockingbird bomb-dived her, pecking her back. An hour later the mockingbird would be a heap of feathers on the same well cover.

Misty got ornery as she became elderly. One day she slashed at Julie instead of playing with her. Or was that William? When Charles saw the blood on his child’s arm he grabbed Misty up and threw her bodily into a bed of lilies. That same evening I found Charles asleep over his newspaper with Misty curled in his lap looking at me with round eyes that said, “He’s mine, you know. Lay off.”

Misty went with Charles to the office one day for her annual shots and a check up. Her fur looked all ruffled, a sign she’d probably eaten a bad lizard or something. On his way home Charles stopped to leave some medicine at a client’s house, and Misty leaped out. We never could find her, though we looked diligently for weeks.

The only way not to endure heartache over your pets is not to have pets. But what a vacancy would be in our lives with no pets to make us smile–and laugh out loud–and cry.


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A Cat Story

            I’m including in my book called “Riding Shotgun” a chapter about our own pets. Everyone is interested in what kind of animals their veterinarian goes home to. Here’s one segment of that chapter I’d like to share with you.

            Fussy was our first pet to share, a cat Charles acquired during a working summer in Atlanta. After that summer I kept her at my home in Clarkesville until we got married that December. Then she moved into our tiny Athens apartment with us where she provided worlds of entertainment. It might have been a small apartment but she figured out how to run and leap and attack from under the bed and hide in the closet and generally to make of it a “deep, dark forest” or a New York borough, certainly a place of adventure. When Charles was buried in his books on histology, anatomy, poisonous plants and parasitology, Fussy kept me company purring in my lap, swatting at my knitting needles, and chasing my pencil when I dropped it.

            When we moved to our first house (a rented one) in Cairo in 1968, Fussy was there for me. Charles was gone for long, long hours and Fussy, along with the wonderful little person growing inside of me, kept me quite occupied. Even before William was born, neighbors would prophesy that Fussy was going to be a handful when the baby came. “You’ve spoiled her rotten,” they’d say. “She’ll smother that baby when your back is turned.”

            The house we lived in had inherited a dog, a collie named Laddie who had belonged to former renters. The Wards across the street fed him. Mary said she told the family she would feed Laddie. But Laddie didn’t move to her house. He stayed on our open carport. Whenever I let Fussy out, she’d investigate Laddie and they were good to each other. But I didn’t let her out much. She had free range in the house, perching in window sills to watch the birds, hiding under beds when she didn’t want to be found, lying on soft pillows and, often, in my diminishing lap, or even on top of my bulge.

            When William was born, Fussy was very curious. She’d sniff the baby, edge carefully around him. I watched her very closely. I loved my cat. But I loved my baby more and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. One day when he was two or three months old and beginning to move a lot, I noticed Fussy was ever more interested. She sat by his infant seat when I set it on the floor watching his every movement. I realized one day that I could not afford to turn my back on the two of them for fear she would attack a little tender hand or rake one paw down a sweet little cheek.

            “Okay, Fussy, today you are going to stay outside until 5:00,” I told my gray striped cat the next morning. “It won’t be so bad. You need to learn to enjoy the outside as well as the inside.”

            She howled from one window to the next all around the house for hours. I steeled myself to wait one more hour before letting her in. It would be best for her and for me and for Baby William. I slid a pie into the oven and opened the door calling jubilantly, “Fussy! It’s time! Come here, come on in.” But there was no Fussy. When had I last heard her crying at the window? Charles and I both hunted for her that night, and the next day I called and called her all around the neighborhood. Then Dot Crozier, a neighbor, heard me calling her and stopped by looking stricken. “Brenda, your cat’s missing? I—I think I saw her out on Highway 84 yesterday—she’d been run over. In fact, I moved her off the highway. So she wouldn’t get—you know, mutilated. But I didn’t recognize her at the time. I didn’t realize it was your cat. I thought your cat was always indoors. Oh, I’m so sorry!”

            She was right. I went where Dot directed me and there was my cat, my poor stiff cat. I wrapped her in a towel and hauled her home where Charles tenderly buried her under a pine tree. I could not stop sobbing for a week. Why had I put her out so long? Why hadn’t I figured out a better way to handle the situation? Nothing Charles could say entirely took away the sting of guilt and sorrow. In a way, I’ve never gotten over losing dear Fussy, though there have been many more losses that were also very sad. Aside from mourning the demise of many of our own pets, I’ve mourned both on the phone and in person, with bereft pet owners. I can honestly and fervently tell them I identify with their grief.

              The best picture I have of Fussy is one I took when we were packing to go away for the weekend and she got in the suitcase and just sat there staring calmly and steadfastly at me with those brilliant yellow eyes of hers.




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