Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Kitten Who Became A Girl

Arianna was born on a hot afternoon in September, two days before her mother’s birthday. We knew her gender and her name before her arrival. The first time I saw her I noticed the magnificent huge eyes, long lashes, and sculpted brows. Arianna had fur, lots of soft fur covering her perfect little form. She didn’t cry like most babies, but she did make an occasional “meow” sound.

When petted as a baby, Arianna would make a sound that sounded something like “coo- coo-coo,” or actually maybe more like a purr. She loved being stroked and I could listen to that wonderful sound for hours. Still, she didn’t cry. If she was hungry, she meowed softly. When Arianna began to crawl, she did it with a grace like I have never seen. She moved like a cat, silent as a Ninja! Arianna seemed to love quietly approaching someone and listening to their gasps of “where did she come from?”

Sadly, all that beautiful soft fur fell off when she was about a year old. When she was one, Arianna was walking as well as crawling. Everyone was amazed because she walked on her toes, always. It was just as quiet as her crawling. She would slip around corners and into small places where she would curl up and catnap. She was self possessed for a baby and could entertain herself for hours just playing with a jingle toy or a ball of yarn.

When she was four, she was at our house during a party. My husband found her sitting on the stairs alone, not moving and looking straight ahead. “What are you doing, Arianna?” he asked her. She looked at him somewhat disdainfully and replied, “I’m breathing, Alex.” She just looked at him with her enormous brown eyes and continued “breathing.”

Arianna just turned thirteen. If she resembles anyone, it’s probably Audrey Hepburn. She’s elegant and quiet, except when she’s playful and noisy! Arianna is a talented dancer and moves with the grace of a young feline; she also has a wonderful singing voice. Sometimes when she doesn’t know I’m watching her, she sits in front of the mirror and brushes her long dark brown lustrous hair and just purrs. She’s fascinating, mysterious, and beautiful. My Navajo husband, Alex, has a relative who was an eagle; I have a grand-daughter who is used to be a cat.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Pretty Cookie

We got our cat Smokey, a black dude with an attitude, a torn ear, and saber toothed tiger fangs in 1997. He was kept primarily as an indoor cat for a very long time. I used to hear him carrying on, vocalizing at least once a day when a big peaches and cream female cat would appear in our yard, on the other side of our window.

Smoke would occasionally slip out of doors and disappear for varying periods of time and God knows where he went or what he did. I would wander the streets at 2 AM looking for him and fear the worst. He had been run over; he had been catnapped and was now going to be used for witchcraft type sacrifices; he was caught by the Animal Police and sent to the pound. By 3 AM, Smokey would be yowling in the space outside our bedroom, annoyed as hell that he had no way back in his home.

The big female cat appeared outside our window about the same time every day. She was a beautiful creature, but so dirty and fearful. I started taking her a bowl of kibble and some water out right before I expected her. I named her Cookie. She ate and drank with gusto every day, while Smokey watched her with equal measures of love and lust. She was something, that Cookie!

We continued this pattern for about a year. One time, during a storm, I tricked her to coming into the garage where I had placed her food, and closed her in. She screamed like she was dying and I didn't have the heart to keep her there. (My idea had been to trap her, take her and get her neutered, and maybe, just maybe make her our cat.) Cookie was not going to be a house cat. I had to let her be free, a beautiful blond warrior princess.

One day she showed up with a bloody eye. Oh I hated to see her hurt! Smokey looked worried as well. She ate her food and rubbed herself languorously against the glass door next to our kitchen. Smoke would yowl and rub himself along that window in a mirror of her movements.

Smokey became more adept at running out of the house when I would open the garage door, or go out after the mail. He would disappear into the cellar at our neighbors house every evening. Cookie began to arrive less frequently for food. Then she stopped coming at all. My next door neighbor found Cookie dead in his cellar and called me. He knew Cookie had been close to Smoke for years. I think she was sick for a long time, and Smokey went to be with her in that cellar until she died. Sad and beautiful, their love affair was over.

Troubling Times

Alameda is a relatively small island city, 5 minutes away from Oakland, California, and 15 minutes (on a good day) from San Francisco. We have a fairly large police force and a pretty low crime rate. In the last year, I have seen a couple of things that really bother me. In May of 2009, a police dog died after being left in a private vehicle by his police officer handler for about 3 ¼ hours while the police officer attended a training session. The dog subsequently died of heat stroke. Less than 2 weeks ago on December 17, 2009, Billy, a 3-year veteran police dog, was shot and killed by a female police officer because the dog attacked her while she was investigating a burglary situation. Billy could not be called off by his handler who was also present at the crime scene.

At the beginning of this year, the Alameda Police Department had a total of four K-9 units. Now two of those K-9 unit dogs are dead; one the victim of a police officer's poor judgment, the other the victim of three gunshot wounds. I'm somewhat mystified about what happened in the second case. The police handler was unable to call the dog off from attacking a another police officer. Does this mean, that a police dog walking down the street is akin to an unstable loaded weapon and a high level threat to any person or bystander?

This whole matter gives me a bad feeling about the K-9 Units in general. I think it's fairly apparent that some of the officers have not been trained in some basic animal health issues and some of the dogs may not have the appropriate training either. Any dog owner or handler must realize that to leave a dog in an enclosed car is never a good idea. Cars heat up and the dog has no way to open the window or door to get relief from the heat. The longest we ever leave our dogs in the car is if we park and run to the mailbox at the corner, or over to toss the video's in the slot at Blockbuster. That's a 2 minute maximum of time. And even in those instances, you must be aware that running into a neighbor or friend and chatting is putting your dog at risk.

These police dogs are not pets, although they do live with their handlers and share his or her home life. If a police officer and handler cannot “call off” his dog's attack, this is a very serious matter for all concerned. Unfortunately, this is not a completely isolated occurrence, but one that happens from time to time. I believe that there have been several unprovoked attacks by working police dogs in the last year in the United States, and more worldwide. Perhaps one solution might be to better use the dogs in situations where the risk factor of serious attack on innocent bystanders is drastically reduced. Bomb sniffing dogs and drug dogs don't seem to have the same aggression levels or attack training as the dogs on patrol in the field. All of these dogs need to be utilized to their best capacity because they are expensive, intelligent, brave and competent animals.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Almost Princess

I know a number of princesses. These are women who can’t do unpleasant things. I have a lovely neighbor woman who has three dogs. She cannot pick up their feces from her back yard. Either she will hire someone to clean it up for her, or she will call me in a panic and ask me if I can “help.” Help? These are not my dogs! Never mind. She really can’t do it.

I have another woman friend who refuses to bring the garbage in or out of her yard. She won’t touch a garbage can. I have two sisters who refuse to cook and expect their husbands to do that job. I have a daughter who does very little cooking because she dislikes it. I know another woman who refuses to clean bathrooms. Simply says she can’t do it. It makes her sick.

As a dog (and cat) lover and owner, we have those awful moments when one or the other dog becomes violently ill and erupts all over the floor. (By the way, this never happens on the tile, or on the hardwood floor!) The vomiting or diarrhea will always land on the Oriental rugs, and generally on the most expensive one. If that rug is spared, I assure you that the next target area will be on the palest Oriental rug in order to ensure that the event will leave its mark in history.

I do somewhat understand my female acquaintances being “princesses,” but having my husband be a “princess” is somewhat disconcerting. Alex will look at the mess the dogs have made and start gagging. He runs from the site of the atrocity and hides. I will scream at him to bring me a pail of hot soapy water, paper towels and a big sponge. He will only bring the cleaning supplies to the door of the room. It makes him too sick to be around this mess. He just can’t do it.

Does he think that I enjoy cleaning up things like this? Does anyone really “not mind” doing it? No. Nobody wants to do it, but alas, it must be done. Maybe after having kids and being around grandkids as babies, I got immune to messy bodily function stuff. Still, I wish I had begun earlier saying, “I just can’t do that!” Then I could put the tiara on my head and wait for someone who was not a princess to come and do it for me!

Happy Turkey

My husband Alex just learned that he will spend three weeks in Germany for his job which will cover the Thanksgiving holiday. Just peachy! I had already invited my daughter and her husband and their two kids to come and stay for the occasion and they had accepted. I called this morning to un-invite them. I’ll be damned if I’m going to go to all that trouble without Alex even being home. When I told my daughter, Sheila, that I was canceling, she said “Bummer,” and then said she was going to get on Expedia to check out some tickets to the Bahamas over the holiday. In other words, she kind of kicked me to the curb.

My husband travels a lot. I hate it. Still, one of us has to make some money, and at this point it’s him, not me.

Because I complain about his absence to anyone who will listen, I was bitching about it to my mother-in-law not long ago. Her advise to me was “Linda, you just stay put!” Words to live by, I swear. And stay put I do. We actually discussed me going to Germany with him briefly. Briefly, since we have two big monster dogs (Harry and Honey), and both of them are “sensitive” and “finicky” and spoiled rotten, a kennel is not the answer. Also, friends hesitate to offer dog-sitting services because they are somewhat unruly at times. Okay, they’re fine with us, but “drop that cat” or “drop that baby” has to be said with just the right inflection, if you catch my drift. Honey and Harry and the cat Smokey are just too set in their ways for me to go off gallivanting to Europe right now.

There is another issue too. We really don’t have the money. We seriously do not have the money. We most definitely do not have the money. Case closed.

Alex is Navajo Indian. Not part, all. I sometimes call him “The little injun who could” because of his amazing success in life, in his education and in his career! Alex is a very successful guy. Oh, he is short though. I tell friends he’s about 5’ 4”, but he swears he’s 5’9”. All short men say they are 5’9”. Whatever.

Alex took the news of the trip better than I did. He said to me “Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday I really like anyway. It’s just a time to thank the white guys for not killing all of us.” I think he got that from reading “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, but it could be his own too. With Alex, I never really know. He sometimes tells people he’s FBI and then surprises them when he says that stands for “fat-bellied Indian.” FBI, Alex? Not so much.

To tell the truth, I don’t even like turkey. I’ll cook it and I might eat some of it, but I don’t like it very much. Turkeys seem kind of pitiful undressed like that with their legs up in the air and holes where their other stuff used to be. 

The Truth About Oakland And Pit Bulls

My husband Alex and I have two dogs. They both came from the Oakland, California shelter. Honey was called a “German Shepherd Mix” at the Shelter, and Harry was called a “Lab - Shar Pei Mix” at the Shelter. Uh huh. What do you think they are mixed with? 

I’ve come to the conclusion that all dogs that come from Oakland are part Pit Bull. Mine certainly are. They can say “French Bulldog Mix” all they like, but even if it’s called a “French Bulldog Purebred,” it’s going to be part Pit Bull if it comes from Oakland. My next door neighbor got her Pug from a breeder in Oakland. Oh, he looks like a Pug pretty much, but he’s got some Pit Bull in him too, I think.

For that matter, it would not surprise me if my cat Smokey (who also came from the Oakland Shelter) isn’t part Pit Bull. In fact, even the rodents and reptiles in Oakland are part Pit Bull. Come to think of it, a lot of the kids over there have might big jaws and muscles galore.

I love Oakland. It’s got a bad rep, like Pit Bulls do but it’s a scrappy little city. Fine dining, some gorgeous homes, some slums, wonderful views, an African American power structure—it’s a cool town. It has life and soul! It’ s not glamorous like its pretty big sister, San Francisco, but I get tired of people talking about it and thinking it’s all about murder and gangs. Sure, there’s some of that. There’s poverty in Oakland, like many cities. When you have poverty, you’re going to have crime. Enough said.

When my cousin Kelly was here from Oklahoma, she came to Oakland to have lunch with me. When it came time for me to go back to work, I left her on the street waiting for a bus. Kelly looked around nervously and said, “Will I be safe standing here?”. There was a tall, good looking, African-American guy standing fairly near us, also waiting for the bus. I said to him “Excuse me, sir. Would you keep an eye on my cousin here? Don’t let anybody snatch her or anything. She’s from Oklahoma.” Of course, he smiled and said sure. (Yeah, she talked to me again, but it took a while.)

I worked in Oakland for many years and walked the streets. I was never afraid even at night. I knew the people in the area and they knew me. I do not believe I was ever in any danger. Oakland hills have some of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen and magnificent views. Jack London Square is right on the bay and it looks like you could swim to the high-rises of downtown San Francisco from there. The Square has a fabulous farmer’s market every Sunday. The freshest produce and seafood right off the boat! The people are gorgeous! You will see every ethnic minority gloriously represented. Music is always present. Everybody is happy in that wonderful environment.

I would not trade my Pit Bull Mixes for any purebred dog. Neither would I exchange my next door neighbor, the City of Oakland, for any more sophisticated city in the country!

Oh Rats!

Hearing critters scamper over your roof is a little unnerving at night. We have a tree next to the house and for a while, I thought it might be squirrels up there. Uh, no. Not squirrels at night. Next assumption? Another kind of rodent, a rat. Oh tell me it's not a rat, or rats! They are not my favorite critters.

Dutifully, upon my husband's suggestion, I called an “exterminator”. What a nasty sounding profession, huh? The guy came out and found rat droppings under our house. Yuck. He told me that we needed to put some wire over some areas that were open to the outside to keep the rats out. Meanwhile, he was going to put out some baited traps.

Now, wait a minute. Was he talking about poison? Oh yeah, he was. The exterminator explained to me that the poison was slow acting and would only work after the rats drank water. Dear God in heaven, isn't that the most brutal thing I've ever heard of! Poor dear rat gets hungry and eats some bait, goes outside, gets himself a drink, and he croaks. Dead! Oh no, this isn't going to work at all.

I want to trap the rats and then take them over to the country and release them. I think that's the most humane way of dealing with this problem. Of course, they could also be taken to the beach which might be kind of nice for them for a change. Because I don't want them here doesn't mean I want them dead! I've had house guests I feel exactly the same way about.

The exterminator guy kind of smirked at me and said perhaps I should have called a limousine service instead. I thanked him for his time, and told him I'd think it over. I thought it over and decided I won't bother them if they don't bother me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rez Dogs

Going to the Navajo Nation with my two dogs, Honey and Harry is quite an eye-opener. Dogs are everywhere. They are a sweet, smelly, and hungry army of canines. These dogs eat just about anything. None of them had collars, and I’d bet that all of them had fleas. One thing that stood out with the Rez dogs was a lack of aggression. They don’t seem to bark very often, and they seem to trust humans and other dogs. They are really very accepting of their circumstances.

Honey is pampered old girl. She has the best food money can buy (I cook organic for her) and her coat absolutely gleams. Honey is a shepherd pit mix and for a “pound dog,” she lives like a canine queen. Harry (actually Prince Harry) is the same. He’s a young red-orange dude; he’s big and he gets the best of everything too. Both dogs get their teeth cleaned annually. They have flea medication, acupuncture when needed, exercise, health care, quality diets, schedules and training. They have it all.

When the Rez Dogs saw Harry and Honey, they seemed unsure of what they were looking at. These dogs could be wolves maybe? Or a different sort of coyote? They didn’t look like, smell like, or have the same attitude as the Rez Dogs. Honey and Harry tend to bark at other dogs. This made them sort of a curiosity, along with their freshly shampooed coats, expensive leather collars, full bodies, and snowy white teeth.

We gave our lunches to the Rez Dogs and they were embarrassingly grateful. They ate Navajo tacos including the lettuce and tomato, and were so glad to get it. I wanted to load up the truck and take them home, but that wasn’t really feasible. Such a wonderful and calm group of dogs! I loved them all.

You Ain't Nuthin but a Pound Dog

When I was a teenager, I only liked bad boys. As an adult woman, I only like electronic toys. So maybe it’s no surprise that my taste in canine companions are as strongly developed. I only like shelter dogs. Pause, not totally true, I only want to live with dogs from the shelter. I like all dogs just fine, but I just have never had the urge to own a dog with papers and defined breed. I take care of my son’s mini-schnauzer, Lola, and she is a delight, but I don’t want one just like her.

I love a mystery. Where did you come from? What’s your upbringing like? What do you like and what do you hate? With a shelter dog, I love the opportunity for us to learn from each other. These dogs will keep secrets from me as I will from them, but it's all such a wonderful discovery trip.

Take Mitch, my little cocker spaniel. She was a rescue dog and about five years old when we got her. She was the most loving and sweet dog ever. Mitch never met a person she didn’t like. Her tail was cropped, but she wagged her whole body as hard as she could to show you how glad she was to see you. She loved the mailman, the UPS man, the meter reader, the neighborhood children, and her family. Mitch looked so adorable in her yellow slicker in the rain! I think everyone who met her fell a little in love with her because of her sweetness. She and our cat, Smokey, became the best of friends and even slept together from time to time.

If she had a flaw, it was that she was a total chow hound. If there was anything left anywhere that she could eat, she’d grab it and run. Walking her, I had to look out for food on the sidewalk because if I didn’t see it first, it was gone.

We never found out how Mitch had ended up a homeless stray. She was obviously not abused. When we got her, it was very difficult to tell what she was because she was just black curly creature with a pink tongue. You could not even see her eyes. When we had her groomed, my husband and I were amazed to find a cocker under all those wild curls.

When my husband was serving in the Middle East during the Iraqi Freedom Operation for a year, Mitch and I got even closer. We shared my bed and when Christmas came, we both had fillet mignon for dinner together. If I was reading, she was on the couch next to me. If I was working, she was at the computer station lying patiently at my feet. We were inseparable. We were blessed to have her for six years. I still miss her to this day and always will.

When Mitch died, I knew for my own mental health, I needed another dog right away. I found Honey at the shelter and she was a calming spirit. I fell in love at first glance. She was big, beautiful, muscular, and well-mannered. She had signs that she had been on the street for a long time. Honey’s legs and chest were scarred with wounds, old and new. What happened to you, Baby? How did these things hurt you but leave you a tranquil, self-contained, and loving dog?

Honey, a seventy-pound German Shepherd–Pit Bull mix, has her share of health issues as well. But she is stoic about pain, never nervous about the vet, and takes her medicine without protest. My husband Alex says “she doesn’t worry about things above her pay grade”.

Honey is never fawning and she never engages in puppy-like behavior (of course she was about five when we got her). To show affection, she simply comes over to me and press her shoulder against my leg. Honey prefers quiety watching the perimeter of her yard to playing. If someone she doesn’t know comes too close, she warns them with a deep growl and a sharp bark. (Her appearance and size tend to make people back off.) I sometimes call her “Marine Corps” because she seems so regimented in who she is. She leaves the kitchen when cooking is going on, and won’t return back into the room until dinner is finished. Honey is gentle and loving and I’ve never seen her behave in an aggressive manner. I’m so glad I found her.

Harry (or Prince Harry) was gotten as a companion for Honey, (whether she wanted a companion or not). He’s an orange red big guy who at eighteen months had been returned to the Shelter night drop box three times by families who decided they couldn’t keep him. Harry is eighty-five pounds of love! He doesn’t walk, he springs up and down like a dog on a trampoline!

My husband nicknamed him “Agent Orange” but he also goes by “Peace Corps.” He’s sensitive, joyous, and exuberant! You can’t bring him down. He worries about things though; Harry hates the country; he hates travel; and he hates fireworks. He adores other dogs and loves to play. I wonder how he could have been abandoned so many times and still have the most optimistic attitude I have ever seen. His manners are not quite a sharp as Honey’s. (Harry plants his face firmly on my lap when I’m eating, and tries to taste the air that smells like food.) He’s one big beautiful pound dog!

Like my penchant for bad boys, I love these canines “with a past.” I never tire of trying to solve the mysteries of their being.

The Death of Le Petit Poisson

My thirty-seven-year-old daughter, Sheila, called yesterday in tears. Her beloved goldfish (Le Petit Poisson) had died unexpectedly in his fishbowl. Sheila was even afraid to name him (or her, as the case may be) because she had lost so many goldfish in the past. Le Petit Poisson, however, was not just an ordinary goldfish. He was a gift for Persian New Years from a good friend and he had qualities not normally attributed to goldfish.

When anyone approached his bowl, he came up to the top of the water and tried his best to communicate. He actually jumped up to say hello! LPP even had “fish sitters” when she and her husband traveled. This was a communicator of a fish. Everyone said so! I fully understood her unhappiness over this event. LPP even knew how to smile!

Ten years ago, my husband and I had a marvelous sixty-gallon tank of freshwater fish. There were about thirty inhabitants of the aquarium. Two fish stood out: Snow and Jake. We got Snow from Lucky Goldfish in Oakland, California and she was a gorgeous white molly. Jake was obtained some time later from PetCo in Alameda. Snow, from the time we brought her home, was a very depressed girl fish. She hung around at the bottom of the tank and looked near death for the first two weeks we had her. She put on weight even though she seemed to stop eating, and was letting herself go. There was nothing we could do to help her. Jasmine (one of our female fish) used to go by and nip at Snow every chance she got. The large male fish (Lester) in the tank who impregnated at least half of the females, completely ignored Snow. (By the way, each and every one of those fish had a name.) Delilah used to nip at Snow every time she passed her. In other words, she was not the most popular girl in the class.

When we brought Jake home, a very small black molly male fish, all things changed. Jake, for whatever reason, spent his time becoming the pack (school?) leader of the tank. Nobody messed with Jake. He was small, wiry, and probably quite intelligent for a fish. He made it his mission in life to pursue and win the affections of Snow. She began to lose a little weight, get out of the bottom of the tank and fixed her self up a bit. Jake became her constant companion and she was on longer a girl on life support! I had a difficult time leaving for work in the morning because I wanted to see what was going to happen next.

When my husband and I decided it was time to clean the aquarium, both Jake and Snow did not live through the experience. At least they died together. We were heartbroken. About two years later, when a severe sickness swept the tank, we lost them all. I can’t imagine ever going though such a terrible period again.

In any case, Le Petit Poisson gave so much pleasure to so many people. I’m so sorry he (or she) is gone.

Smokey Joe Trouble

About fifteen years ago, my husband began talking about getting a cat. Now, I am not (or make that “was” not) a cat person. They are just a tad aloof for my taste, but since Alex wanted one so badly, I conceded that if our landlord gave us permission, he could go ahead. (Of course, all this was with the assurances of “You’ll never have to clean the cat box, I promise” and “I’ll feed it and do everything for it, I promise.” Uh huh. Well, that’s another story.

Alex went to the shelter and got a cat while I was at work. I had images of a tiny white bundle of fur we could name “Snowflake” or “Sweetums.” I got a call at the office saying our new cat had been adopted. “Wonderful,” I replied. “Tell me everything.”

Well, he’s about five months old (what? not a little kitty), and he’s black tabby. (Snowflake? I think not.) Fine, whatever made Alex happy made me happy. When I got home I was somewhat surprised to see a cat with canine teeth like a saber-toothed tiger (which actually showed even when his mouth was closed) and a torn ear and what can only be deemed a unique sense of humor. My husband had christened him “Smokey Joe” and Smokey had attitude to spare. He did not particularly like to be petted; he got a lot of pleasure out of yowling and jumping on our heads at 3:00 a.m., and best of all, scaring our visitors.

An unsuspecting guest would go in to use our guest bathroom, (but there was a little space at the bottom of the door). We could count to ten and wait for the scream. Smokey would stick his long furry black arm under the door and bat and/or claw the guest’s foot and leg while they were on the commode. He thought he was a pretty funny guy!

When my dear mother would come to stay, he would torment her by catching her hair sprayed coif in his claw every time she walked down the stairs.

We took Smokey to the vet to get his teeth cleaned (who would have “thunk” it?) and his teeth were pretty bad for a young cat. They had to remove about half of them, including the saber teeth that I had actually gotten quite used to and become fond of. The removal of teeth did nothing to remove his sense of humor!

A couple of years ago, now that Smokey is an older cat, we noticed some changes in him. For one thing, he began singing opera (Chinese or Indonesian maybe) in the middle of the night. This vocalization would continue for three or four hours. Smoke would also come in and awaken us in the night because he was hungry. Something wasn’t right.

We took Smokey to the vet and her diagnosis was that Smokey had a hyper-active thyroid condition. He would need treatment by a specialist. She gave us the name of a specialist and we hurried home to contact the Feline oncologist who would be treating Smokey. We were told that Smokey would have a treatment that would in essence kill off his thyroid gland and this treatment would take two weeks of hospitalization and cost about $3000. Oh Lord! How soon can we get him in? We made the appointment for the next week and I tried to do every bit of research I could about hyperthyroid cats.

We sent Smokey’s favorite ratty blanket to the hospital with him. My husband took Smokey to the hospital because I couldn’t take such an emotional situation. Alex said when he took Smokey into the hospital, all the mostly pedigree hospitalized cats looked and him and sort of jeered, “Why fix you? You’re ugly.”

The doctor called me after a few days to say that Smokey had not come out from under his blanket once since he’d been admitted. I begged to come and get him and bring him on home, but they insisted that my radio-active cat remain hospitalized for the full two weeks. They did drag Smokey out and give him IV fluids but other than that, he played the cat who wasn’t there.

I’m glad to say he’s home, healthy and fine for a toothless, torn-eared cat, and he still has his attitude. Thank God some things never change!

Crazy Daisy

Honey is a natural born dancer. She has rhythm and she has soul. She’s about seventy pounds and she knows how to shake every ounce for maximum performance. For an old dog, she’s got moves! I sing to her at least once a day. Honey loves the sound of my off-key voice. Her favorite songs are, “Crazy Daisy, Crazy Daisy, Oh my Darlin’ Crazy Girl,” (sung, of course, to the tune of “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine”). She grins at me and starts her happy feet going along with her tail which is going round and round like a lasso.

My husband Alex gets embarrassed because I sing loud and not well. Our neighbors can hear me. I also sing a sad song to her, “I was at St. James Infirmary, and I saw my Daisy there! All stretched out on a table, so cold, so cold, so bare.” Honey ignores that it is a sad song, it prompts her to start her boogie!

Her favorite song might have something to do with, “Four foot two, eyes like glue, oh what those four feet can do, has anybody seen my gal? If you should run into, a four foot two, covered in fur, diamond rings, all those things, betcha bottom dollar that is her! She can sing, she can dance, oh that girl can make romance ... has anybody seen my girl?” By this time, she’s shaking and frothing at the mouth. Girl loves to dance. (By the way, eyes like glue means that golden brown colored stuff that we used as kids.)

Unless I sing for her, she is a very stoic dog. She does not seem particularly excited except when I begin my warbles. She’s staid, obedient, almost military in her bearing. She has a sense of humor but she only shows it to me. Most people find her scary because she is so serious. (Oh, and there’s the pit bull thing too.)

Harry, her male companion, has no rhythm. He watches her silently from across the room (or backyard) while she and I make musical. He’s never inclined to join in, but he looks on longingly sometimes. Harry is also accomplished at “happy feet” but it’s totally different. He reserves his energy for chasing squirrels. Plus, he just won’t get out on the dance floor (like so many guys).

Prince Harry

I was thinking about getting a second pup since Honey (my Pit Bull/German Shepherd mix) is getting older. I got Honey from the Oakland Animal Shelter when she was about five and by the time she was seven, it was a now or never time. Dogs get too “set in their ways” with age and I wanted to get her a companion before she was too old to accept one. Honey had come to us very soon after my adored Cocker Spaniel, Mitch, had died, and she was and is the light of my life. The first time I saw Honey, there was a calmness that just emanated from her. My husband didn’t feel the same way. I told him to come and look at this gorgeous small German Shepherd and he took one look at her and said, “That’s a Pit Bull.” What rubbish!

When we brought Honey home, I did notice that she was quite a bit larger than my Cocker had been and she had the most muscular body I had ever seen on a female dog. She also had amazing jaws! Hmm. Okay, I finally understood that she was part Pit, but a smarter, gentler, more soulful dog has never lived. She’s wonderful with kids, and people. The only negative is that she is not crazy about other dogs. She’s golden and gorgeous, still people cross the street to avoid walking by her. Her honey colored eyes were what prompted me to change her “shelter name” (Fern) to Honey. Still, even if you call a Pit Bull “Honey” or “Sweetness,” there are folks who are going to cringe at the sight of a very muscular seventy-pound dog who has a huge chest and an enormous jaw. Whatever, that’s my baby!

From the time we got her, we were aware that Honey had some health issues, severe arthritis in her hips for example. We have taken her to vet orthopedic doctors, as well as having a dog acupuncturist and herbalist treating her. This is one expensive “mutt.”

It was only fair that my husband, Alex, be allowed the final say on dog child number two. We drove down to the Oakland SPCA to look at a German Shepherd who looked like he might be the perfect family addition for hour home. It was not to be. When we arrived, the GSD was being vetted by two darling little girls with their Mom. I said we had also looked at a dog on-line named “Abner” and the guy who was helping us, Dan, said “Oh that’s one great dog! He’s a puppy, about eighteen months old.”

Apparently, Abner was one of his favorites and I said we’d like to meet him. The first time I saw Abner, he was a blur of red gold fur that jumped up and down constantly. He was presented as a “Retriever/Shar Pei Mix,” but this dog is one who defies classification, unless that classification is of “Jack in the Box.” Abner burst out of his kennel, and he was the most exuberant dog I have ever seen. He was a tornado of a dog. He was absolutely the most hyperactive, crazed creature in the whole place. Damn!

Of course, this is the dog my husband wanted. Dan explained that Abner had been left in the night drop box THREE times. This was something of a worry to me, but not to Alex. This was his dog! We brought Honey from the car to the yard so we could see how the two interacted in a neutral setting. Harry play bowed to her and then proceeded to jump over her about twenty times in a row and race around the grassy area as if to say “Ha ha! Ha ha! Try and catch me!” Honey frankly looked overwhelmed and a bit dizzy. Alex by this time was convinced that this big red crazy dog was the only one for him.

Because he’s a redhead, and a young guy who has a few issues, we named him Prince Harry. It did take a little time for Honey to accept him, but it all worked out eventually. Harry soon learned that Honey was the “alpha” in our pack. If he approached a toy, she taught him that it was her toy. If he wanted food, yup, it was her food. If he wanted water, she taught him that it was her water. If he wanted air, Honey let him know, in no uncertain terms, that it was HER air. She did graciously allow him to breathe, eat, play, and drink eventually, but it took some time.

Prince Harry is now about four and about ninety pounds. He still realizes that Honey is the Queen of All She Surveys. She may be smaller, but she’s a lot more mighty.

Honey and Her Mohawk

Honey is about nine years old. Fairly old for a big dog. She’s part German Shepherd and part Pit Bull. She has the typical German Shepherd coloring, along with a gorgeous face with permanent eyeliner on her big golden brown eyes. She’s calm, smart and scary. She weighs about seventy pounds and is about twenty pounds lighter than her companion dog, Harry. She is all muscle with big white teeth in a massive jaw structure.

Honey is a soldier. She’s brave, bold, and breathtaking in her demeanor. She’s also gentle, soulful, and caring. Honey is the girl you want around you if you aren’t feeling well. She’s also the one you want with you if you walk through a bad neighborhood. Honey knows her commands and obeys them. She’s equally comfortable being told to “sit” or “platz” in German. She walks with or without a leash in exactly the same way. Perfectly.

The only time Honey is aggressive is when something isn’t comfortable for her. The PG&E guy reading the meter has come too close to her domain. She lets him know this is not okay. Fortunately, the PG&E guy only comes once a month, so he has time to recover his nerve from her aggressive challenge. When she’s not pleased about something, she gets a Mohawk. Her fur stands straight up down her back. It’s awesome to see, if a bit scary if you aren’t used to it. She rapidly changes from “a seventy-pound dog” to “a 150-pound dog” with the embellishment.

Most people who encounter Honey are afraid of her. No reason to be. She’s a very civilized girl. She actually is something of a flirt and really loves male attention. Honey will smile (okay, to some it’s showing her teeth, but it’s actually a smile) and give wonderful sidelong glances over her shoulder at some guy. We have met Hells’ Angels who adore her!

Honey won’t be here forever. I dread the day I lose her. She is my forever girl.

Harry and His Squirrel

I went to the store late this afternoon to pick bread and cheese, my staples when my husband isn’t home. Nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich. Too bad my husband is away for over three weeks because that grilled cheese can get kind of boring over that length of time. Oh I could cook for myself, but I don’t want to. And I could go out to eat, but I don’t really want to, because it would involve going alone and looking like I have no friends. Okay, I’m shallow. I have friends, but I’m not really in the mood to see them. So, I’ll quit my complaining about grilled cheese sandwiches for now.

When Alex, my husband, travels, it’s usually not for this long a trip. He’s in Germany and calls frequently telling me that the days are really flying by, he’s so busy! Uh-huh. The week and a half he’s been gone seems like six months to me. I have two big dogs and a cat to give me solace and protection. (Yeah, my cat went to a terrorist training camp before we got him out of the pound.) Honey is my girl dog and Harry is my boy dog. Harry is big (about ninety pounds) and sort of goofy. He’s part lab, part pit, and part God knows what. He’s a bright orange and has ears like a shar pei. Harry loves chasing squirrels in our back yard. He tries to climb trees after them. He’s fast but the squirrels are faster! That is, well, okay, you know what’s coming.

I got back from the store and Harry came rushing up to me with a big gray toy in his mouth. For a second I thought, where did he get that? A second later I realized that he was trying to give me his prize! A big dead squirrel. I am not a girly girl, by any stretch of imagination, but I do kind of avoid dead animals. Okay, yes, I screamed, “Drop it” and Harry did obey for a change. He dropped it right on the Persian rug in the dining room, and Honey ambled over to sniff and investigate her partner’s wonderful plaything.

I stuck both dogs in the office, and closed the door on them. They were both howling with outrage. I ran over to my friend and neighbor across the street and said, “Can you help me?” Our friend Henry looked concerned!

What could be wrong? When I told him, he got that silly look on his face that men get when they think woman are being girly and said he had to go put on his shoes. He came back with a plastic shopping bag and said seriously to me, “The coffin.” I nodded. I was trying to maintain my sense of self-respect but it wasn’t easy. I could not even walk in the room with the dead squirrel, much less touch it.

Henry took the squirrel and went home. (Why did he take the squirrel with him?) Oh, who cares? Harry is still mad about me getting rid of his squirrel. And I’m getting madder by the moment because my husband is not here when I have an emergency!

Always Room for One More

My next door neighbor, Fred, died a week ago Friday. He was a lovely man who my husband and I cared about very much. Fred never said a bad word about anyone and he was always friendly, helpful, and considerate. We’re really missing him. Nine years ago, we moved into our house and met Fred and his wife Mary. They had a huge Chesapeake Bay Retriever dog by the name of Beau.

Big Beau scared the hell out of me for the first year I lived here. He was frequently outside in the unfenced front yard and weighed about 200 pounds. He also had kind of goofy looking eyes, I thought. If I spotted Beau out in front of his house, I would go completely around the block to avoid him. After a year of terror, I took the time to get to know Beau and then realized my fears had been foolish. Beau was a delight.

Beau fell in love with my little cocker spaniel, Mitch. He was an unaltered male and many times tried to consummate the relationship. Mitch, a spayed female, would stand up on her hind legs and smack Beau on the nose with her paw when he got too aggressively amorous. She was quite the lady.

Because my husband and I both worked, we had to leave Mitch in the back yard all day. She had a doghouse, but we were a little worried that she might bark too much with nobody home. We talked to our neighbors and were assured by Fred. He told us, “Don’t worry. This is a dog-friendly neighborhood.”

In 2005, on Easter Sunday, I lost Mitch to a sudden and horrid sickness. I was distraught. I went to Fred and he drove me to the local Shelters to look at the dogs. His kindness was such a help to me. In November, Fred lost his dear dog, Beau. We took Fred and Mary to dinner that night and we had a toast to the wonderful canine who was now romping in heaven with my Mitch.

Fred decided that he wanted to get another dog after a few weeks with Beau gone. Houses seem so quiet and empty without your pet. He and his wife got an eight-week-old Rhodesian Ridgeback and named him Dutch. Dutch was the light of Fred’s life. He was so proud of him! And justifiably so, Dutch is a gorgeous dog. He’s well mannered, friendly and smart.

A couple of years ago, Fred was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent cancer treatments, including surgeries and chemo and radiation. Fred was seventy-three years old, and in wonderful shape for a man that age. He worked out at the gym every day and really took good care of himself. About three weeks ago, we quit seeing Fred and I called Mary to inquire how he was doing. We learned that Fred was terminal and hospice people were taking over his care. Fortunately, he was able to die in his home. It broke my heart to lose him, but I was glad his suffering was over.

Today, Mary told me she was going to have to give Dutch away because he was too much dog for her. (He weighs about 100 pounds.) I told her that Alex and I would take him. We have two big dogs, but I think we can manage with one more. Maybe I feel so strongly about this because in a way, it keeps my connection to Fred. I know Fred is in heaven playing with Beau and Mitch and I know they are having a great time in that Big Dog-Friendly Neighborhood!