Pets can make such an impact on our lives, become our best friends, give us unconditional love, yet when they leave us, we feel awkward grieving for them. Though their lives may seem short in comparison to our own, they are no less significant than a human friend we have gained. They are our comforters when we’ve had a bad day, our stress relievers when they show us their playful side, our blood pressure medicine when they let us pet them just because that’s what we need.
My dad had pets growing up, but my mom never did. When my mom was dating my dad, she went over to his house to meet with his mom. While in the living room, my mother considered ending the relationship then and there. My grandmother saw a cat through the screen door, sitting on the porch like it wanted in. My grandmother went over to the cat and told it to come back later, that their own cat couldn’t come out to play right now. And the other cat left! Not only did my grandmother talk to cats, they understood her! Coming from a no-pet background, my mom wasn’t sure how sane my grandmother was.
I’ve always had a cat or dog in my life and soon I’ll be without either; when I move into my own apartment, I won’t have a cat or a dog. Just Whirly (my daughter’s betta) to keep us company. I’ll probably eventually get a cat, but it’ll be awhile; they’re expensive to house (pet deposit plus extra rent) and to care for if they get ill.
I’ll miss having a pet I can touch and hold. But I’ll always have the memories of the ones that have left me for the big yard upstairs (and the ones still living).
Angel: Part Springer spaniel, part beagle, she was the first pet I can remember; my parents got her shortly after they got married. She loved chasing and eating bubbles. And escaping down the street. But she was never gone long: we’d drive the car down the street and when we opened the car door, she’d hop right in expecting to go for a fun ride. And possums drove her nuts! She lived a good long life, losing her sight to cataracts long before she gave up for good.
Kitty Cat: rumored to be named after the cat in The Family Circle comic strip, she was a pound kitten that had a waiting list a mile long, but we got her first! She was a calico, mostly white but with black and brown spots. She was a petite little thing, never looking more than a year old. She was sweet and well behaved. She became my cat, following me around everywhere. She’d follow my mom and I as we walked to kindergarten, stopping about halfway there. She seemed to know she didn’t want to attempt to cross the street at the signal. Once when I was walking to a friend’s house a block over, she walked with me halfway and stopped to rest under a motor-home parked on the street. When I got to my friend’s house and found she wasn’t home, I walked back home and Kitty Cat walked with me from the motor-home to my house. She lived to be about 12 years old or so, her kidneys failing when I was in high school.
Cracker Jack: a calico kitten we got from the neighbors across the street whose cat had had a litter. She ended up being my sister’s cat and seemed to need to be the opposite of Kitty Cat; when she jumped up on the bed, you weren’t sure if it was her or a little earthquake that woke you up. She gained more weight after she was tumbled by a car; she wasn’t hit, but she ducked under the car as it drove by. The air from the moving car rolled her a few times on the road. From then on she had a couple quirks: if you pet her on her back right near her tail, she’d turn her head toward you and lick the air while making very strange mewing noises. And she seemed to have short-term memory loss: she was always going into the room where her food was kept. We eventually called her SMO: Slow Moving Object. She was a very sweet cat until the end, but definitely a little strange.
Topaz: a purebred Golden Retriever, so named because when asked what she wanted for Christmas one year, my mom asked for a Golden Retriever puppy. She got a blue topaz ring instead. When she got her puppy, the name was already picked out. Topaz was a digger. We soon had to get her her own dog to keep her company and from completely destroying the backyard and house. And being a retriever, she was a guilty klepto: if anything of my sister’s or mine was on the floor (scrunchies, socks, stuffed animals, tissues, etc.), she took it. But she’d bring it to us with her tail between her legs and this look in her eyes that said, “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t help myself! Here, take it, please!” She loved to chase balls and would even “accidentally” roll them under the gate so they were in the middle of the sidewalk and, oh darn, a passerby would have to throw them back into the yard for her. And she loved water. She’d play so hard at the dog beach that she’d need help getting back into the car because she’d tired herself out. Topaz always stayed close, we never really had to worry about keeping her on a leash in the front yard. She was always within a few steps from you. Topaz died young, having to be put down due to major hip problems.
Lucky: a mutt made of chow and black lab, he was brought into the family for Topaz. The 4-5 month old puppy was named Lucky because my parents got him from the pound where’d he’d been for a whole 4 hours. He was the only dog at the pound that wasn’t barking his head off. When my folks took him into the little “interaction pen,” he just wagged his tail and wanted to be pet. He either didn’t know what to do with a tennis ball, or didn’t care. He’s got the short, stocky body of the chow, the sleek hair of a lab, curly tail like the chow, lab-shaped head, and he’s all black except for a tiny spot of pink on his tongue. He calmed Topaz down and has always been very calm himself. We’re quite sure he’s part kangaroo too because he could get into your lap on the couch so fast you never saw him coming. He never took a running leap, he was just on the floor one minute and in your lap the next. He’s always been a gentle dog, moving away from noisy children rather than freaking out and nipping. Until he went deaf, he was terrified of thunder. His kangaroo genes would kick in and he could be up on the trash cans and over the gate in 3 seconds, then we’d find him on our porch. If he got out of the backyard when there wasn’t a threat of thunder, he’d be found wandering the neighborhood, sometimes blocks away; he never figured out how to get back home. In the last year or so he’s started going orange – not gray, orange. Tufts of his black fur look like my 6-year-old tried to dye his hair with a bottle of home hair color. Other than being deaf and almost 13 years old, he’s still hanging in there.
Pepper: Imagine you’re eating a nice steak dinner (if you’re a veggie-saurus, suck it up), seasoned perfectly with a blend of spices. You get a little stuck in your teeth and you get it out and bite into it…only to discover it’s a giant piece of pepper from the seasoning. You know the face you make after that bite? That’s the face we made a lot around Pepper. We named her after her salt-and-pepper coloring, but she lived up to the name. And it wouldn’t have been polite to change it to Piss-and-Vinegar; I’m sure the neighbors would have appreciated me yelling that name out in the street when we tried to get the cat back in the house. Pepper came from an adoption day at Petco. She was already a few years old and the details on her previous home were suspiciously vague. We soon figured out why. I’m surprised I don’t have scars on my arms from all the times she attacked me. Her badness level was off the charts. Within a year or so she disappeared. We sometimes get wandering coyotes in our neighborhood; it wouldn’t be a totally off-base assumption that she met up with one of them. But if we ever see a one-eyed coyote, we’ll know it’s the one that messed with Pepper.
Misty: my little pound kitten! She was so tiny when I got her in high school, a little grey and white furball. And it turned out she was sick. She hated me for the first few weeks because I was the one shoving the nasty pink antibiotics down her little throat. But she eventually forgave me and became my cat. She got along with everyone. Literally, everyone. If she was outside when someone walked by, she’d step in their path and rub on their legs. She feared no dog, playing a game with our Bailey where she’d rub on Bailey, Bailey’d grab Misty by the neck, shake her a bit, then let her go. And Misty would just come back for more. And she always found her way into other people’s homes. At first it was only if it was raining; she’d sneak into someone’s garage or a neighbor would bring her into their house until the rain stopped. One time a neighbor found Misty sleeping on their bed; not quite sure how she managed that. But she was loved by everyone and no one on the block seemed to mind. When I’d take my daughter for a walk in her stroller around the block, Misty would follow us everywhere. It didn’t matter how far or long we walked, Misty was always just a few paces behind us. I think that’s why the neighbors were so forgiving towards her cat-burglar-ness – she was just so amusing. She loved to leave us presents on the front porch: half a mouse here, bird feet there. And she played with her prey for a LONG TIME before she actually did any harm to it. She’d keep a mouse cornered for hours, only hitting it hard enough to stun it so she could take it back to the corner until it woke up again. Misty was a great mom to Thai, taking care of him when he was little and ignoring him when he was annoying. She was friendly to any cat she met, but if the other cat wasn’t friendly in return, she’d just leave them alone. Misty died a couple of years ago after coming down with feline leukemia.
Thai: I got my little Siamese kitty while my now-ex-husband was overseas. I had brought Misty down from my parents’ house to live with me and my then-husband and she needed a friend to keep her company while I was at work. I found an ad in the Penny Saver selling Siamese kittens. I got to pick which one I wanted, but couldn’t take him home until he was a little older. Forgetting how long the mail took to get from California to the Middle East, I wrote my then-husband a letter, asking for suggestions on a name for the little kitten. After bringing the cat home and still not having heard from my husband, I decided to name him Thai (Thailand/Siam). A couple of weeks later I got my husband’s letter. He wanted to name the cat Porthos (Porthos = Musketeer = candy bar = the color of the cat’s fur). I decided that being a purebred cat, he needed a purebred-type name. His name became Sir Thai Porthos Stillson, the Turd. The “Turd” title came from the poor thing being so small that he couldn’t seem to get over the lip of the catbox, so he’d do his business right outside it, telling me that he did his best. Thai was a momma’s boy. He followed me everywhere. If I moved to another room in the apartment while he was sleeping, he would call for me until I answered and then come running. He was fascinated by the springy thing on the bottom of doors to prevent them from hitting the wall. When he woke up in the morning, he’d stick his paw under our bedroom door and play with the springy thing until we got up. When I was pregnant, he was ever more the dutiful guard; he’d even stand in front of the closed bathroom door when I had morning sickness, as if to tell anyone nearby to leave me alone: his mistress was busy. He was fascinated with water, running or still. Faucets were his favorite, sticking his head under it to get a drink and thus getting completely soaked in the process. A glass with a little bit of water left at the bottom was another temptation. I can’t remember how many times I had to take a drinking glass off his head because he’d tried to reach the water with his tongue. We kept the cat food and box outside on the balcony so as to eliminate the cat smell from the apartment as much as possible. Thai’s favorite thing to do was come running down the stairs from the loft and plow through the vertical blinds onto the balcony to go get some food. In the winter, we still kept the cat stuff outside, but would close the sliding glass door that went out to the balcony almost all the way, leaving a cat-sized gap so Misty and Thai could get to their food and box. Thai, being the brilliant cat that he was, would forget that the door was mostly closed. Multiple times a day you’d hear “pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter THUD!” I think he eventually knocked out the brain cells that were supposed to tell him that there was a glass door standing between him and his food. And he was terrified of the outdoors. Misty, his adoptive mom, loved to go outside, so I’d leave the front door open so she could come and go as she pleased. This freaked Thai out to no end. He’d stand at the door’s edge crying for her when she was out, or for me when I left to take out the trash or go get the mail. If he even tried to come outside, his little legs would shake and as soon as you started back up the path to the door, he’d rush inside. After a while he’d venture out to the landing outside the front door, but he’d never go down the stairs. One afternoon I heard him calling for me, so I answered back with where I was (apparently it’s genetic). He kept crying and crying for me. I finally looked around for him. It took awhile, but I did finally locate the silly cat; in the bushes under our balcony. He’d plowed through the blinds so fast and hard that he couldn’t stop in time from going over the edge of the balcony and into the bushes. And since he was terrified of being outside, he didn’t move. He just sat there until I came and got him. He did eventually get over his fear and go outside for extended periods of time, but he preferred to be near me. When my daughter and I moved back in with my parents after my separation from my husband, I got to drive a rental truck with all of my belongings across 2.5 states. I only had one cat crate, so one of my cats had to be loose in the cab while I drove. Knowing Thai’s penchant for “talking” I chose to put Misty in the crate and let Thai loose. Thai was like a dog, trying to get his head out the window, standing on my daughter (who was barely a year old and in a forward-facing car seat) to do it. It was quite hilarious to see my daughter shove the cat off her lap, saying, “Off, Thai!” When we’d reached our half-way point, I finally got tired of Thai getting in MY lap, so I switched the cats: Thai into the crate, Misty out. Thai cried most of the way home and Misty decided to take up the little space between the brake pedal and the floor mat. How I managed not to kill us all, I’ll never know. Thai’s carelessness eventually became his end (curiosity killed the cat). When my daughter and I made it to my parents’ house, we both shared my old room as my sister was still in high school and had her own room. In my sister’s room was a tropical fish tank that had a makeshift lid because the proper fitting lid had broken. So instead of aquarium glass, it was just a piece of glass on the top shaped almost the right size. It did the trick, mostly. One day we were hanging out downstairs when we heard a loud crash from my sister’s room. Graceful Thai had jumped up on the tank to look at the pretty fishies and broke the makeshift lid. In addition to being soaking wet (and probably giving the fish a heart attack), Thai cut his foot on the lid bad enough that I had to take him to the vet’s office immediately. Ever try to carry a water-dripping, blood-leaking, scared-out-of-his-wits cat? You know that pillowcase trick? It totally works. Anyway, the vet was able to stitch him up good as new…except that apparently some cats have an allergy to anesthesia. A few weeks later Thai left us being just under 4 years old.
Peekaboo: my mom and I both worked at the Orange County Fairgrounds for a while; mom was the one that got me the job, and she stayed longer than I did. We both worked in the administrative buildings, which of course are busy year-round. One of the unofficial programs at the fair is the catch-neuter-release program for cats. For some reason, people dump their unwanted cats at the fairgrounds. The employees neuter them, but then put catboxes under some of the buildings so they don’t “go” everywhere. And the cats reciprocate by keeping the rodent population to a minimum. One day, a little black and white cat was spotted closer to the admin buildings than usual. She eventually got brave enough to come up to the building and look in the window; she was then given the name of Peekaboo. When she let someone hold her, my mom knew she’d be okay being a pet and not a feral cat anymore. It was hard to tell how old she was, but she was probably almost a year old when she came to live at our house. For the first couple of years she was “just fine, thank you” with being an indoor cat. She’d sit at the window by the door and look out, but she’d had enough of the outdoorsy life at the fair. She goes outside now, but usually only within our property. She’s a bit skittish around new people, but once she gets to know you, she won’t leave you alone. She’ll lick you until your skin falls off if you let her. I’ve got a video of her licking a friend’s head. And she’s a bit off in the head. She’ll be perfectly content letting you pet her and then in a split second she’ll turn and bite you and run off. She’ll play with her claws out with me, and I’ve mostly got her trained to stop when I use the word “nice.” She didn’t really like my two cats when we moved in, but she just kept her distance. She was my mom’s cat when she was brought home, but she adopted me as her “mom” shortly after my surgery about 3 years ago. While I was in the hospital, I called home to ask my mom to bring some things to me. Mom put me on speakerphone so she could collect things and still hear me. Peekaboo heard my voice and came running, meowing at the phone. When I get home each night from work, she usually greets me with about 30 seconds of “talking.” I get more of a lecture if I get home later than usual. She talks to each of us, but I’ve yet to train her to say “thank you” when we let her in/out of the house, give her treats or refill her food and water. And she knows that Bailey is afraid of her. If the dog gets too close, she’ll hiss and threaten to hit her. It’s really quite funny. And she has this weird need to be under the blankets with me at night. But only for a few minutes, then she crawls back out again and sleeps on my head. I’m sure she’ll be fine when I move out, but it’ll be interesting to hear her lecture after being gone for a whole weekend or more.
Bailey: a chow-something (probably shepherd)-something mix my mom got from a neighbor of a friend whose dog had escaped one day and returned pregnant. Her colors are brown, tan and black. She is about the same age as my daughter. She’s where all of Lucky’s energy went. When she’s in a particularly playful mood, we call her Rocket Dog. She’ll “thermal” (a recently coined term from my glider pilot dad: she goes in circles but doesn’t go anywhere) and then she’ll run up and down the stairs. The entry, living room and piano room rugs are almost always slid up against furniture as she’s running around. She’s very loyal and always wants to be inside with whoever is home. She used to be very friendly with cats, playing with Misty. She used to be…then she met another kind of kitty. My folks go camping about once a month. Sometimes my daughter and I join them, meaning we take the dogs with us so they’re not home alone for the weekend. When it’s bedtime, my folks will walk the dogs before they’re locked in the trailer with us for the night. On one particular walk, Bailey disappeared nose-first into a bush (on a leash, of course). When she finally emerged from the bush, she had a kitty in her mouth… a really pretty black kitty with a white stripe down the length of it’s back… My folks finally got the smell out of Bailey after bathing her in tomato juice (yup, it works!) in the shower facility in the campground. Bailey fully recovered, but she remembered that mean black-and-white kitty the next time she saw Peekaboo. Bailey’s still cautious of the cat, approaching her slowly and pulling her own tail between her legs. She’s a sweet dog and usually remembers you once she’s met you. Occasionally she’ll give a short bark when someone approaches the front door, and if it’s someone she’s met before, she then apologizes by whining and bumping her head into their hand to get pet.