THE TRUTH ABOUT KITTIES AND DOGGIES
My first pet was a Dalmatian puppy that my brother and I received as a Christmas present. I was the family name chooser and to honor the season I picked St. Nickolas and the puppy was called Nicky. I was only about 5 so please cut me a break on my disappointing lack of creativity.
Nicky was a total disaster. According to the American Kennel Club, “Dals are bright, loyal, and loving house dogs.” That’s the good part. “They are strong, active athletes with great stamina—a wonderful partner for runners and hikers.” Nicky was the only athlete in the house. When she was a baby, she was happy to spend her days being wheeled around in a doll buggy, but she grew startlingly rapidly and was soon as big as I was and much bigger than my 3 year old brother who had a bone disease and walked with the use of crutches. And she was bouncy. We were not a family of hikers and runners. We were a family of 2 parents who smoked Luckies and played Bridge, and 2 small children who got knocked over a lot.
ENTER THE WEINER DOG
The next pet was chosen with more wisdom, or maybe luck. One of my mother’s friends had 2 dachshunds, Nip and Tuck. They were nasty, nipping little creatures and we were extremely wary of them. They were also homely with muzzles that were oddly curved, causing them to resemble a grizzled, moth-eaten Jimmy Durante. Their beady little eyes were dull and lifeless and their coats sparse and dry looking. After my experience with these creatures, I was not a fan of wiener dogs!
But it is a smaller breed with short little legs, unlikely to be toppling the kids, so a couple Christmases later, there was a doxie under the tree. Red Plush (yeah, my work again) was a fat, squirmy little wiener dog who tinkled on your feet when he got excited, which was not infrequent. He was such an appealing little guy that we thought that these dribbles were adorable! If Plush did it, we were charmed and discussed each puppy idiosyncrasy as though a wondrous miracle. He was very sweet and loving but he was bred to catch badgers so when it was cold, he loved to burrow under the covers and would nip your feet if they so much as wiggled. More delight. Piddled on, bitten ankles. Love!!!
Looking back I can see how can see how much Plush contributed to our family dynamic. He was the true center. My parents were heading for a divorce. My brother and I were constantly squabbling over the television, the front seat, the bigger piece of cake. The unifying factor was this little doggy whom we all loved so much. Our mutually shared affinity and delight in our clownish pup tied us together and was a strong point of agreement, accord and bonding.
Decades after his leaving us to go piddle in Doggie Heaven, my brother and I speak of him with a shared fondness that helps keep us a family, though we have shrunk from 4, to 3, to 2.
Growing up I had little contact with cats. They were creepy and mysterious to me. But for some reason, in my early 30’s I decided that I wanted a white, fluffy cat that I would name Pouella. I had managed a clothing store in Coral Gables, Florida, and nearby was a shop that featured Victorian undergarments and newly minted garments inspired by their lacey femininity. The proprietress wore layers of these garments with cowboy boots. With her curly froth of white hair, and layers of handmade threadwork, she looked like a delightful wedding cake and my heart was captured by the Victorians- filigreed clothing, painted ladies (overly decorated houses of the period) gee-gawed furniture- and white fluffy cats, posing with pink cabbage roses.
My grandmother, born in the 1850’s, had a friend, Grace, whose father called her Pouella, meaning “little girl.” Moving back to Phoenix, I opened a vintage clothing store, and brought home a white, fluffy kitten and named her Pouella.
My relationship with her was very different from the one I’d had with Plush. He was the family dog. She was a Mama’s girl. She slept on me. She followed me around the store. The last year of her life she stayed in my arms night and day, a skinny old lady who loved her mother.
Plush had been a very laid back dude. Other than feet under the covers, everything was copacetic. He loved everybody and everybody loved him- especially the neighbor’s prize doxie girl- though the neighbors weren’t so thrilled! Pouella’s nickname was Prissapuss because she was finicky and determined to do things her way. She wanted to be where she wanted to be when she wanted to be and would scratch at a door until we grew concerned about her paws. Our vet was much intimidated by her and always insisted that her dad assist in controlling her during treatment.
When she passed, my dear friend Joanne offered to accompany me to choose another cat. For several weeks, I numbly banged around the house, mourning my lovely white cat. One day I woke up from my fog, ready to get a new daughter. I called Joanne and said, “Now.” Dear friend and animal lover that she is, she simply said, “Let me grab my purse,” and was at my door in about 2 minutes.
MAHJONG THE AMAZING WONDER KITTEN
We lived in Eagle Rock, a historic neighborhood in East L.A., adjacent to Pasadena a charming historic city. The Pasadena Humane Society is a country club for pets. The Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA was founded in 1903 by a local Methodist group, with the goal of ensuring the humane treatment of draft animals, as well as rescuing and finding good homes for orphaned and abused children. Now focusing solely on companion animals, the PHS is smoothly run and offers many services. The kennels where the animals are keep are clean and temperature controlled. The many volunteers keep the animals groomed and entertained. Still recovering from a broken heart I was in no shape to see hundreds of homeless animals in a cramped and hopeless shelter. The well-kept babies brightened my world and I quickly found my new love. He was in a cage that was at eyelevel to me. When we walked in he spotted us and began calling attention to his tiny self. He rattled the cage with one paw, then the other, then stood on his tiny hind legs and rattled with both paws. Dropping on all fours he gave it a shake with his little teeth. Repeat, punctuated with loud meows. He was really sellin’ it!
At only 2 pounds this boy was carting a 100 pound personality housed in a gorgeous body. His long, angora soft fur was white with champagne patches. His blue, blue eyes were complimented by the smear of black across his miniature pink nose. They called him Inky.
They took him out of the cage so that I could play with him in a kitty visiting booth. He was a maniac bouncing after the string, so fast that I had a difficult time keeping it out of his grasp. He was perfect, full of life and fun, fluffy, beautiful friendly and obviously wanted a home. Clearly, this was a boy who enjoyed the game of life, so I named him Mahjong, after a Chinese board game, played with ivory tiles. A game of skill, strategy, and calculation it involves a degree of chance and this bright, bouncy boy seemed worthy of the name.
I completed the adoption, brought him home and did the usual. I placed him in a small room, the study, where he instantly hopped up on the desk, speed dialed the phone and sent a fax. He had sniffed every inch in the place in about 10 minutes, then stood in front of the door, looking up at the knob, demanding the next adventure. Obviously well-oriented to that space, I let him go into the rest of the house. Within 1 hour he had full ownership of the entire house and would come when you called his name.
We sat at my desk together that day, his tiny body resting on my bosom. I thanked him for mending my broken heart and he solemnly said that I had mended his. “I missed my mother.” He has never spoken to me so clearly since that moment though he’s usually pretty easy to read!
He did not elaborate, but I believe the mother of whom he was speaking was his human foster mother with whom he had stayed while growing to the requisite 2 pounds required for adoption. He had been at the Humane Society for less than a day when I found him and his loss was fresh. That night, he slept with me on my bed. He stretched his wee neck to rest his head on my pillow and facing me, drifted off to a sound kitty sleep. Our bond was instantaneous. Pou and I had taken several weeks to get to know one another. We met as strangers and developed our understanding and appreciation of one another over time. Mahj and I seemed to have always known each other.
Everyone who comes into my house is bowled over by his huge personality. Standing on the back of the couch keeping sentry by the window, he is the first to greet any visitor, Highly vocal, he just pretty much doesn’t stop until his presence is acknowledged and he has gotten a good sniff and an introduction. He seems to like human speech as much as a good pet and will purr if you speak to him. Generally, he gets both a pet and a chat. The usual comment about 5 minutes in is, “He’s a person!” I frisk anyone leaving my house because everybody wants to take the kitty home.
He’s not just a person, but he’s an extraordinary person. I am ever inspired by his cheerful optimism. Never discouraged, he’ll jump on my desk and be put on the floor100 times and his nothing-is-impossible attitude never wavers. He still comes when his name is called, eager to know what adventure is in store. An ace cuddler, curling up on my tummy, purring at high decibel and gazing into my eyes, he always delivers.
And he likes everybody!