Friday, January 20, 2012

Animal Antics: Part 1 of Many

Ah yes, the age-old question: are you a dog person, or a cat person?

Everybody loves their pets. They serve as companions to the single person, and members of the family for those with children. In some cases, they are the glue that bonds a family. Occasionally they act up and cause some form of drama, but it’s usually something you can look back on and laugh at.

Dogs and cats don’t speak like humans do. They don’t understand a word we say. But they probably know more about us than we do, because they OBSERVE. If you’re having a bad day, your dog knows it, because he can read your body language. So can your cat. If you’re sick, a dog will stay by your bedside, when he normally sleeps in the kitchen. Your cat will come up to you as if to say: “pet me. It’ll make you feel better”.

I grew up with both cats and dogs, so I really can’t choose a side in the “which species is better” debate. All I know is that every individual animal is a unique personality, regardless of species. Also, the people who claim that animals don’t have souls are the ones who’ve never spent time with one.

One of the dogs I grew up with, Lucy the Brittany spaniel, was the most headstrong, self-centered dog you’d ever meet. She was, quite literally, a bitch. She was hyper and stubborn as a mule, but she loved her human family. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a World War II veteran who, in his later days, used a walker due to a still-unidentified neuromuscular ailment he acquired in Japan. Lucy would be running around willy-nilly, but whenever my granddad walked in the door for a holiday visit, she stopped dead in her tracks. She would calmly walk up to him and lick his hand. She innately knew to be quiet and gentle. But if the mailman, electric meter reader, or plumber showed up, watch out! The electric company had a file on her claiming she was a “vicious dog”. She wasn’t vicious at all…until a stranger entered her yard! Opossums were also a problem for Lucy…God help us all if a possum (or raccoon) entered our yard at night. Lucy would quickly tree it (or scare it to the top of the fence) and bark LOUDLY until something was done about the intruder.

We also had several cats over the years. Most of my memories of the first one, Tigger, are that she was ugly, very old, and would tolerate anything. I remember chasing her around and messing with her when I was a little kid, and she never once scratched or bit me…no matter how many times I pulled her tail or messed with her. My dad’s description was far less kind. She had long hair and shedded a lot, and he once said “She looks like the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag. But how would we know, because all of our vacuum cleaner bags are filled with HER!” She lived to be about 19 years old, and unlike most pets, died peacefully in my parents’ bed (rather than alone).

Then, along came Ranger and Bugsy, the ultimate odd couple. They were George and Lennie from John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men”. They even killed a mouse or two. Those cats were the ultimate comedy team. Bugsy, named for the gangster, was one of the smartest animals I’ve ever seen…he could climb anything, he could open doorknobs, and he had creative methods of waking my parents at 5AM to feed him…including turning on lights. My mom cooked a rum-raisin cake once, soaking the raisins in rum on the kitchen counter. Bugsy got into it and got drunk. He also climbed Christmas trees and nearly set our house on fire by playing with the toaster. I personally rescued him as a kitten from the innards of a neighbor’s pickup truck, and he lived in a tree in our front yard until my mother managed to tame him. He was fluffy, orange and the ultimate badass.

Ranger, on the other hand, was dumb as an ox. “Retarded” is a generous description. He came to us after my dad and I walked the aforementioned Lucy through a little league baseball park in the neighborhood. Usually Lucy wanted to kill and eat cats, but she seemed to tolerate this one…a scrawny stray thing with markings of white and bright red. Usually dogs follow people home, not cats. Ranger didn’t get that memo. He followed us, and we gave him his name due to his coloring (the Texas Rangers baseball team’s colors in the 90’s) and the fact that we found him at a ballpark. Ranger was sweet, but he was a moron. He would attack green beans, and stare at a white wall for hours and then literally pass out. He drooled like a dog. He was also a sore-head…he was smart enough to know that if any of us ever pissed him off, he’d piss on our things. He didn’t groom himself like normal cats, and he didn’t walk right either…so we’d hear limp, overgrown claws clicking against the hardwood floors in a galumphing fashion late at night. He howled randomly, too. Like a wolf.

But they all provided wonderful companionship and memories for my family. We also had other dogs, my parents still have dogs, and I currently have a cat. But I’ll tell their stories in other entries…because they deserve stories of their own. Which species is better? Neither…because they both provide hours of entertainment, companionship, and crazy stories.

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