Sunday, August 8, 2010
It continues to surprise and amaze me that at 43 years old, I still take too many things for granted. For example, the impact that pets have on humans. As the current “mother” of a 12 yr old cat, Max, I am stunned when I take a step back and realize the bond that he and I have.
I have had several pets over the course of my life…a german shepherd/collie mix that my parents got me when I was 6, who I aptly named Freckles. (I have not one idea as to why, but I give in to the fact that I WAS 6 and I’m sure it made perfect sense to me at the time) Being from a rural area of Tennessee, Freckles and I were quite fond of walking up and down the road that I lived on. We could be found at any given time down at the spring, playing in the yard, or exploring the creepy abandoned house up the road (Our Appalachian version of Amityville). He was always there, putting up with my younger brothers and I as we played horse with him, without complaint. When we were forced to go inside, he became the world’s best car chaser, which I thought at the time, was a pretty cool trick being as how there were only 4-5 cars on our road in a day’s time. My dad brought home several dogs for my brothers during our stay at the little house on Dry Hill Road. A St Bernard, Hugo, who thought he could chase cars as well and ended up killing a neighbor’s Maverick but also brought about his own demise. A small dog (I have no idea of the breed nor can I remember his name) that lasted a mere 2 weeks when we returned from a grocery trip to find him cartoon style stiff next to our front porch. Freckles was the only one that was tough enough to remain.
As I grew older, as did Freckles, my interest in playing with him was replaced by sports and of course, boys. But he never seemed to mind. The few times we did spend time together it was as if I had never stopped. He had, as most animals seem to have, this uncanny sense of when the bus was going to be dropping me off, ready to jump emphatically to give me dog kisses. Even though I was embarrassed and annoyed, pushing him away as I made my way into the house to do my homework almost daily, he never failed to repeat the tradition. When I think back, at times, I treated him as I would treat no other human being, with unadulterated rudeness but he never seemed to mind and always kept coming back for more.
I remember the day that I arrived home from school to hear the bad news. In fact, I will never forget it although apparently, I learned nothing from it. I had went to feed Freckles that morning before school, and as usual, I was annoyed and impatient. He jumped around excited, even at his age, like a puppy. One jump landed a paw in the pot of table scraps I was holding, flipping it all over my school clothes. I am ashamed to say that I immediately became angry and kicked my beloved dog, yelling how stupid he was and wishing he would just go away. I was tired of feeding him, tired of the jumping, tired of all the responsibilities of dog ownership. I learned, although it was short-lived, just how you should be careful what you wish for. At the age of 11, my dog had finally met a car that he couldn’t outrun.
I refused to have pets for many years after that and my son was born into this world without a best friend to play with. He went through many years not knowing the childish joy of having a dog. But as fate would have it, my days of having a companion weren’t over.
Max was adopted at the tender age of 3 months, when someone decided to toss him and his sister in a dumpster at a local pet store. The workers in the store were giving him away with everything that he could possibly need to anyone who would just take him home. My husband at the time, was dead set against having any type of animal in the house and with his arm propped on the counter, emphatically told me no, as I tried every female trick in the book to convince him to let me have him. At that point, this little ball of solid black hair, crawled out of the cardboard box he was calling home at the time, walked across the counter and laid his head on my husband’s hand. He didn’t make a sound but it was enough to cause this hard-hearted man to melt. Thus began my love-hate relationship with Max.
I had never had a cat and therefore, was taken aback at the lack of affection that I had once had with my childhood friend. Max was aggressive, as Freckles, but in a more contemptuous manner. He loved hiding behind furniture at night in hopes that someone would attempt to walk through the house without turning the lights on. Having the advantage of sight where I did not, seemed to thrive on the opportunity to bushwhack my legs, causing me to fall on several occasions. (Although no proof exists, I feel certain that he retreated back to his sniper post and snickered) Max and I were not friends. He didn’t climb up in my lap to watch television like in the commercials. In fact, our only interaction was our midnight rendezvous. But my son and husband had a different relationship with him. My husband was quite fond of playful roughhousing which Max never grew tired of. My son was constantly picking him up to carry around like a small child. Max never once bit or scratched them for such behavior. However, with regards to the carrying, was quick to jump down at the first opportunity. However, I began to notice that he had started sleeping on the end of my son’s bed and did so without fail, every night.
When my husband and I divorced last year, the question arose as to who would maintain custody of the hairball. Although I am sure it broke my son’s heart, he was unable to take Max with him as his girlfriend was the proud owner of 2 small dogs. Since Max had never had any interaction with other animals, all were in agreement that this probably wouldn’t prove to be an ideal situation for anyone. So it came down between me and my ex. I was the least likely candidate to keep him, especially with our tumultuous past. However, financially, I was the best person for the job. So, Max and I came to our new home and apparently, that was the appearance of the white flag for him. His entire personality changed. He seems terrified that I will forget to feed him or leave him forever. Although he is content when I am at home and doesn’t bother me much, he’s never too far from me. He has taken to sleeping either at the foot of my bed or standing guard over me (from the squirrels, I would assume) in the window sill above it. He has become fiercely loyal, even to the point of almost ignoring my son when he comes to visit.
But life with Max is not without its ups and downs. I am strangely comforted when he greets me at the door every evening but completely annoyed at his clinginess to me. He has developed a habit of sitting at my feet when I am talking on the phone while looking at me with this look on his face of “huh?” like I’m talking to him but he doesn’t understand the language. He refuses to leave while I’m talking as if there will be a revelation and he will finally understand.
He, as most cats, has the gross ability to hurl almost daily. I am constantly cleaning hairballs of puke while gagging myself off of anything he can make it to before spewing. There is nothing in my apartment that has not been de-virginized. He also has become the best alarm clock that one could have but only at 4am, a full hour before I have to get up, by smacking me in the face with his paw. His kitten-like ways have not diminished over the years and I still have to be careful to turn a light on if I leave the bedroom at night. With all of this, I have to say that I am dreading the day that I come home to find him gone. I honestly have spent nights sobbing myself back to sleep with nightmares of his passing. No human being on the planet would put up with me the way that he does. When I put things into perspective, I realize that he is a better “person” than I actually think I am.
It seems to me that pets possess more humanity that humans actually do. They are ignored and abused and they are treated worse than the fat kid in school and still continue to provide support and love for their owners. It is only when they are gone, that it’s too late to show them the appreciation that they deserve.
Dedicado a Freckles y Pikachu ... os echo mucho de menos