I try to post regularly but the last week or so got away from me. We lost our cat, Casanova. “Lost” of course, is a euphemism for died. Casanova was my first cat after several dogs.
It seems that readers and book lovers are also animal lovers. So, today’s post does not focus on Peter Novak or 50 Shades of Grades. Rather it is a testament to how we feel after losing an animal. I give you me most recent essay, “Never Again”
Over 40-plus years of marriage, my wife and I have had no children of the humanoid variety. However, we have nurtured, loved, fawned over and cared for five fur-babies. The firs, Lassie, was an extremely intelligent poodle/sheepdog mix who came as part of the marriage package. She was the product of an Old English Sheepdog and a poodle fence jumper and had been the runt of the litter. An incubator baby that spent the earliest days of her life in a lightbulb-heated warm environment in hopes she would survive. She did.
Long before we met, Lassie grew up in a four-woman household that included my wife, her mother, and grandmother, and of course, Lassie. She never knew a man during her early life, human or canine, except occasional visitors, at whom she would growl to protect the distaff residents of the bungalow.
Lassie was about ten years old when I became the first man in her life. She fell head over heels in puppy love with me (the feeling was mutual) to the point that when she believed it was time for my wife to retire for the evening, she would sit on the carpet next to our divan and glare at my wife until she went upstairs to read. Then the two of us could spend quality petting time together
She was so loyal, smart and loving and learned so quickly but when she had a stroke at age 16, and had to be put down, we both agreed, “Never again.” Losing her was too hard to deal with. We did not believe we would ever recover from the raw pain that felt like it would never leave us, and did not believe another could ever take her place.
A few months after burying Lassie, during a freak desert rainstorm, the type referred to as a “gully washer,” a waterlogged terrier mix wandered into my wife’s elementary school classroom. As was the practice when a dog showed up at school, she took him from classroom to classroom in hopes one of the students would recognize and identify him and find his owner. Nobody claimed him, recognized him, or knew where he belonged, so she brought him home “just until we could find his owner.”
He had an off white coat with streaks of pumpkin colored fur and black streaks that I figured must have been grease from his hiding under cars during the storm. I stripped down, picked up the dog, and the two of us stepped into the shower where he thoroughly enjoyed a vigorous shampoo cleaning. Turned out the black streaks weren’t grease on his back, but part of his coat’s color. After we dried him the pumpkin color showed brightly enough that we began to call him “Pumpkin.”
He raced over to the couch, jumped on it, curled up and made himself at home. This would never do. He was sitting on a people couch. I said, “No! Bad boy! Not on the furniture.”
After all, Lassie never got onto the furniture. She curled up on the carpet, or on hot days, the tile in the laundry room. I picked Pumpkin up and set him on the carpet. He immediately returned to the couch. After a few more frustrating, unsuccessful attempts to get through to him that couches are for people, not animals, I rolled up a newspaper and swatted him across the bottom. The sound so frightened him that he raced from the couch to the guest bedroom, under the bed, and cowering, refused to come out.
I felt like a terrible bully. I had never struck a dog before in my life. I thought the noise of the rolled-up newspaper would move him from the living room furniture. Instead I’d terrified the little innocent.
I got down on my belly and reached for him but he backed further away and seemed to become even more terrified. In the gentlest voice I could muster I apologized, coaxed, and told him he could sit on the couch if he wanted to.
Sometime later he timidly approached the couch. I patted it and he climbed onto it and curled up next to me. That was an aha moment, learning who was boss.
We placed an ad in the daily newspaper and got a few crank calls but thankfully nobody claimed him.
Pumpkin was an Alpha male and pretty much ran his own show for the eight years he lived with us. But as he aged, his health deteriorated and he went blind. He loved to run so I attached his leash to his collar and we went outside onto the street where I ran with him, allowing no obstacles to impede him. Early one Christmas morning he had an episode. We called our vet who told us to meet him at his office in 20 minutes. Our wonderful vet said, “I can extend his life, but it would be for you, not him.”
We bade Pumpkin goodbye and tearfully said “Never again.” Losing him was too hard. It ripped the scab off wounds that had barely healed from Lassie’s passing.
We received a phone call the following Valentine’s Day. A dear friend was in tears. She had a teacup poodle in a “no pets allowed” apartment. The manager said he would not bring action against her if she got rid of the dog. We protested but our friend said It was either us or the pound. What could we do?
Zindi’s mistress took her jogging each morning and the little five-pounder ran like a deer, was very affectionate, extremely smart, and small enough to fit in my wife’s carry bag. We took her everywhere and she never barked in public, so most of the time nobody knew she was in our hotel room or theater or grocery store. If we went to lunch at a place with outdoor seating, we placed her in a chair next to us. People always fawned over her. Waitresses would bring her food and water. She was one of those special animals that nobody could resist talking to, making a fuss over, or saying a pleasant comment about.
Eventually she too lost her sight and her health began to fail. She was such a trooper that we did not know how close she was to death during a trip to San Diego. When we got home and took her to the vet, her kidneys had totally shut down and she passed away. Once more our hearts were broken. We agreed, “Never again.”
The house seemed so empty without another being. Having pets as part of the family is like having small children, in the sense that they are dependent on you for food, shelter, and affection. But children grow into adulthood and move on. Pets remain your children forever. They’ll never wreck your car, need a prom dress, get expelled from school, or get arrested, and you must always protect and care for them as for a child. You are their world. That’s why when you lose one it is so devastating. But the gaps they fill in the house, and the need of humans to care for the helpless, and even the havoc they occasionally wreak, makes a house a home.
One day while grocery shopping we noticed a pet store in the mall and decided to go in “just to look around.” Of course, there was a play area and customers were able to take any cute little fur-ball out of its cage and play with it. We spied a little white puppy that resembled both Lassie and Pumpkin, as well as Zindi. It was labeled a “Schnoodle,” which we learned was a hybrid schnauzer and poodle mix. It didn’t take long to make the decision to bring Lacey home.
Our other three dogs were smart, obedient, loving, easily trained and gentle. Lacey was the extreme opposite. She was hyperactive 24-7, never stopping. Her engine never shut down or even slowed! She needed constant monitoring during the day and kept us up at night. All efforts to train her for even the slightest behavior modification failed miserably. She would not be contained in any room, getting past all the baby-proof barriers we tried to establish. She was a catastrophe, a debacle, and a disaster all rolled into one.
By this time we had both retired from our professions and were not the young virile parents of yesterday. We could not nap, read, or have quiet time during the day or night because of the ruckus going on throughout the house, courtesy of Lacy Lulu. I’d expanded her name to better describe her.
We discovered that our vet had a day boarding option available, designed for working parents who were unable to leave their pet alone all day. They accepted dogs in the morning and kept them until after the workday. We began to take Lacy Lulu there in order to capture a few hours respite for us.
The staff at the clinic loved having her there. She greeted the customers and was very energetic to say the least. One of the technicians suggested she take Lacy Lulu home overnight and keep her a few days. She had several large dogs and thought they might be able to model appropriate behavior for Lacy. We agreed to give it a try.
The report was glowing! One of the technician’s dogs, an elderly German Shepherd, laid on the floor most of the time, his tail constantly flicking back and forth like the pendulum from a grandfather clock, one side to the other, all day long, all night, even when he slept. Lacy Lulu chased that tail all day and night until she finally fell asleep. Next day, same thing. We made a gift of Lacy Lulu to the technician and that wonderful German Shepherd whose tail provided such a terrific physical therapy service.
We were exhausted. Once we got the house back in order we agreed “Never again.” We REALLY meant it this time. We’re getting too old for this.
Years passed in a house with no furry-kids in residence.
One cold December Sunday morning we were putting up outdoor Christmas lights when I heard a noise. I turned to see a black cat standing a few feet from us. My wife picked it up and said, “Poor thing is shivering. Let’s take it to the vet tomorrow morning. Such a sweet thing. It must have a microchip embedded. We’ll have the vet read the chip and get it back to its owner.”
I’ve never liked cats. A friend had one years ago and whenever it came near me, my eyes watered, my nose ran, and I began to itch. Besides, this one was black and you know what they say about black cats.
Since neither of us had any experience with cats we called a cat-friendly neighbor. They told us that since we were only keeping the monster overnight, to go to the grocery store and buy a single use kitty litter box. They would bring over enough cat food for the day.
I had no idea if it was a boy or a girl and did not know how to tell the difference, except that if it had kittens it was probably a girl. I was also told to put a small container of milk down. If he drinks it, then it’s a boy, if she drinks it… well, you get the idea.
We put food, water, and the kitty-litter container in the garage along with the cat. My wife retired to the bedroom to read and I went into my office to do some computer work.
About ten that evening I decided to check on the feline. When I opened the door to the garage I saw the poor thing huddled in the litter box, not to do its business, but because its feet were cold on the concrete garage floor.
I was no lover of cats, but neither was I an ogre, so I said, “You can come in and sleep in my carpeted office. You can’t cause much damage there, but keep your distance from me.”
The fur-ball raced right past me like a cheetah on the hunt, and curled up next to my desk. I brought the water, food and litter box inside and set them as far from my desk as possible.
Once I sat down and resumed typing, the cat began to rub against my leg. I looked down and said, “Look, let me make something perfectly clear. I don’t like cats. I don’t like YOU, and I’m allergic, so leave me alone, understand?”
I went back to my computer and the cat jumped up onto my lap, rolled onto its back and began humming. Stupid cat. Didn’t understand English! I laid it next to the food bowl, shut down the computer, closed the office door, and went to sleep.
Monday morning, we dressed. I went into my office, picked up the cat and flung it over my shoulder, and drove to a nearby veterinary clinic. I explained that the cat was a stray but seemed to be well taken care of so do a checkup, find the microchip, and call the owner.
“Where’s the cat’s carrier?” The vet tech asked.
“The carrier. You must transport cats in a carrier. Otherwise they are like wild animals, especially in a car. You have to transport them in a carrier.”
I said, “I don’t have a carried. This is not my cat. It’s a stray. I’ve never owned a cat and never owned a cat carrier. Let the owner bring you the carrier once you call him. Besides, the cat stayed on my shoulder and purred during the entire drive up here. I don’t think it needs a carrier”
“That is very unusual,” replied the vet tech. “I’ll call you as soon as we’re finished.”
We left the veterinary clinic but before we arrived home my wife’s cell phone rang. The vet called. “Congratulations. It’s a boy! He’s spayed, healthy and from the looks of his teeth we estimate him to be between 18 months and three years old. He is the most mellow cat I’ve ever seen. He liked all the procedures except his bath. He was not happy about that. Otherwise he is a well-cared for specimen. Oh, we were unable to find an identification microchip. Come pick up your cat.”
We turned the car around and returned to the clinic. He rode home as he had earlier, draped over my shoulder and humming.
We tried giving him away, but to be honest, we didn’t try very hard. It didn’t work out so we had our first cat. Or rather, he had us.
The cat was solid black so we named him Licorice, but he was such a lover boy we soon changed his name to Casanova. My allergies eventually abated. He loved his way into our hearts and for 12 years we were members of his staff. But, as life cycles go, Casanova began having health problems until renal failure finally took him.
He’s been gone just a short time. The wound of the loss is open and raw. This time we mean it, “Never again.”