|Baxter with his white woman, 2009|
I’ve never been worthy of “such devotion,” but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I thought it would be easier with cats. Some stories...
Peggy and I went to a Christmas crafts’ fair, and behind one of the tables stood a “psychic” who, for a price, would go to people's houses, read their pets' minds, and share what she learned. I decided to test her ability: “My wife and I have a black schnauzer named Baxter who likes to sit in my wife's lap and stare adoringly into her eyes while she pets him. When she stops petting him, he slaps her.” (All of this was true except that it was a touch rather than a slap). “Do you think it could be a racial thing?” The psychic patiently explained that black fur on a dog doesn’t imply African ancestry, and that schnauzers don’t think of race in the same way people do. I thanked her for the information.
|Bonnie Blue, 1999|
Bonnie loved to swim, and one day she got caught in a strong current. Peggy was upstream of me, and yelled for me to swim out and grab Bonnie when she passed, but I’m a weak swimmer, and I had complete confidence that Bonnie could make it out on her own. I later had Peggy promise me that she would never, ever try to save a dog from drowning, lest she end up like a local woman who died in the Willamette near a downtown park when she tried to save not just one but three dogs, all of whom made it to shore.
I took Wendy everywhere I went. When I was a roofer, she spent her days on roofs. When I traveled the country visiting communes, she visited communes. Peggy, Wendy, and I, were at a Paul Winter concert at a Sufi retreat center in New York state when he invited the audience to join him in a howl. When he signaled an end to the howl, Wendy didn’t get the message, and people looked around angrily trying to locate the jerk who wouldn't shut-up. I considered stopping her, but since it was her species that had inspired the howl, I let ’er rip.
I left another concert with Wendy flat on her back in my arms. She often lay that way, but the day being hot, and Wendy’s limbs flopping loosely (schnauzers’ joints are unusually flexible), a lady asked, “Is your dog okay?” “She’s dead,” I answered, “but it’s okay because she was old anyway.” When people complimented me on what a neat dog she was, I would say, “I’m glad you like her. Give me $50, and she's yours.” When they declined, I would drop the price until they either caught on or went away mad. My mother said that I had an inappropriate sense of humor.
Twice, I left Wendy with other people while I ran an errand, and both times I met her on the road looking for me when I returned. The second time, I felt sure she would stay put because Peggy was there too, but no, she came after me. Despite her devotion, she never liked to be petted. She would endure a pat or two, but then she would walk away.
Wendy and I used to hitchhike. One cold winter's day, we got only one ride between Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Tallulah, Louisiana, and that ride was a short one. We surely walked fifteen miles on asphalt that day, which was far enough that Wendy’s footpads became blistered, and I had to carry her.
I used to bike all over Eugene with Bonnie and Baxter, and, unless there was a lot of traffic, I didn't leash them. One cold day when I walked to the heart of downtown, I leashed them, but my hands were in mitts with the mitts in my coat pockets. I was too lazy to loop the leashes around my wrists before putting on my mitts, so I didn't know that the end of Bonnie’s leash had fallen to the sidewalk until I got to where I was going, and she was nowhere to be seen. I soon found her standing on the far side of a busy intersection. Two women were with her, but she snarled at them when they tried to pick up her leash. Both women thought I was a complete moron, and I was in no position to argue.
|Scully and Ollie, 2016|
I have many dog stories but few cat stories. Our four cats miss us when we're gone, rejoice when we return, and are devoted both to us and to one another, but nothing can beat a dog for sharing adventures. One reason we got cats was that we thought their lack of interest in going places would protect us from a surfeit of grief when they died. We were wrong.
Scully, our tuxedo girl, tends toward timidity, but she would have to be a block of wood to not realize how much I love her. Two weeks ago, I was writing a post when she ran into the room crying insistently. I stupidly surmised that she wanted to be petted, but when I got up to pet her, she ran from the room, and I returned to my post. Two minutes later, she came again, and this time I followed her to the far end of the house where Sage had accidentally been locked in the laundry room and was crying to get out.
The next day I was in bed when Scully got tangled in a string, one end of which was tied to a stick and the other to a toy. I didn’t know of her trouble until she jumped into bed so I could free her. Free her? FREE HER!? Oh presage of death! I will never be able to free Scully, the weight of my love equaling the weight of my bondage. “She’s only a cat,” some might say, but what an empty saying it would be to a heart on fire with adoration.
“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”