Friday, January 22, 2010


"Pet" is one of the few English words which is not only both a noun and a verb, but its own definition, like "fly"...a fly is what it is called, and fly is what it does. A pet is what it is called and also its primary purpose: to be petted.

Pets--primarily dogs and cats--have been mankind's companions for a couple of millennia now. Countless books have been written on our inter-species relationship, its role in our society and in our individual lives. Pets are not human, but our emotional bonds to them can often rival that of all but the very closest of our human relationships.

While comparing cats and dogs is like comparing tangerines and tangelos, they both fulfill basic human needs. Dogs provide around the clock unconditional love. Any time we need, or the dog senses we need, affection, it is right there to provide it. And while cats can also be great sources of comfort and affection it is far more frequently given on the cat's terms, not the human's. Call a dog, and it is immediately at your side. Call a cat and 9 times out of 10 it will just stare at you, if it deigns to look in your direction at all. It's just their nature. Dogs are and have since their first bonding with humans thousands of years ago been "pack" animals. They consider man to be just another member of the pack.
Cats are, by their genetic nature, far more "loners" than dogs. Being part of a group is not nearly as important to them as it is to dogs.

In my life, I have had innumerable pets...probably more cats than dogs, yet it seems on reflection that I am basically more a "dog person" than a "cat person." The first family pet I can really remember was a doberman pincer named Kaiser. Dobermans have the reputation of being a one-person dog, and my dad was that person. Kaiser tolerated my mother and me, but it was to my dad that he was totally devoted. Kaiser once got up on the dining room table when no one was around and ate an entire cake my mother had baked for some special occasion. If mother was not Kaiser's favorite person, he was not her favorite dog.

The first dog I remember distinctly as being my own was Lucky, a black mutt who my dad found one day and brought home. Lucky was my dog, and I loved him almost on the same par as I loved my parents. I'm not sure how long we had him, but when we moved into a new home, my dad said we couldn't have a dog there, and gave Lucky to my grandfather, who lived on a farm. It broke my heart, but Dad was adamant, and that was the last I ever saw of Lucky. Grandpa reported that he had run away. And within two weeks of moving into the new house, Dad bought me a boxer pup, Stormy. I never forgave him for taking Lucky from me, and I have never, after all these years, stopped grieving for him.

I of course eventually grew to love Stormy, who we had from the time I lost Lucky to after my two years in the Navy and completion of college. I forget just how Stormy died, and I don't want to remember. When I moved to Chicago, I got another boxer, Thor, who had very serious mental problems as a result of inbreeding. He became impossible to keep in our apartment, so I gave him to my aunt, who had a large yard. Thor tried jumping over her chain link fence while wearing his leash and hanged himself. I felt terrible, but it was not the depth of sorrow I felt over Lucky

When I moved to L.A., I had Cindy, a German shepard, and Boy, a wonderfully loving large mutt, both of whom died of old age at my home. Overlapping Cindy and Boy was Sammy, another mutt who strongly resembled Toto from the Wizard of Oz. Sammy was a total delight and lived to be 15 or so. She moved with me from L.A. to northern Wisconsin, and died of old age while I was on a trip to L.A.
Bozo, a huge golden retriever, was surely one of the most loving dogs I have ever had. He loved to sit at my feet, with his head on my lap while I was watching TV, waiting for me to feed him popcorn, a kernel at a time. One day I let him out and he did not come back. I found him dead by the side of the road. For months after, I could not eat popcorn without crying.

My last dog was Duchess, a beautiful pure-white Samoyed I found on the street and who no one claimed even after I put an ad in the paper. Duchess was my only "outside" dog in that she loved winter; the colder the better. I built her a large doghouse attached to my garden shed, and filled it with bales of straw. And then one harsh winter I noticed her drinking a lot more than normal. I thought it was because the water in her bowl had frozen, so I brought her fresh water more often. She couldn't seem to get enough, and I noticed she was getting thin. I will never forgive myself for not taking her to the vet immediately. When I did, I was told she had severe diabetes. I hadn't even known dogs could get diabetes. The vet said they would keep her overnight to see what could be done. When I called the next day, I was told she had died during the night. Is it any wonder I think so little of myself?

I now live in an apartment and having a dog is out of the question, so now I just have my cat, Spirit.
And I see that I have rambled on and on and have not yet even mentioned the cats in my life, some of which were, like my dogs, memorable.

Well, another time, if you're interested.

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