On Living With Cats and Dogs

On Living With Cats and Dogs

My wife and I have three cats: Chloe Anne, Isabella Elena Marie and Nina Louise. In that order they are 8, almost 3 and almost 2. Chloe is a tortoise-shell, Isabella is a tuxedo (black with a white chest) and Nina is a muted calico. Each has a different personality and different characteristics. Before we ever had cats we had dogs. Over our marriage we have had three dogs: Sam, Callie and Maggie. Do you see a pattern here? All of our pets have human names. Sandy and I have treated each and every one of them as a member of the family. The dogs overlapped. We had Sam the Beagle when we were first married and living in New Jersey. I think that he was our baby before we had a baby. When our daughter was born Sam was a little jealous. After all he was here first. After we moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin he became very protective of her. He wouldn’t let the neighbor children approach her before a good sniffing–over. Liz, our daughter, once described Sam as her brother when asked if there were any more like her at home (she was four at the time). After she volunteered that he had fur and a tail, I had to point out that Sam was a dog.

We acquired our next dog, Callie, in New York. My youngest brother had gotten her from a friend. However, he was going to college and my father was a widower. Sandy immediately said: “We’ll take her” and we had a new family member. We went to the Mall, bought a carrier and brought her back to Wisconsin with us. Callie was a Lab-Collie mix. I once told my wife we could stuff a pillow with her long black hair. Sam and Callie became fast friends. Sam had someone to command. He was in seventh heaven. Sam was the colonel, Callie was the private. Beagles are sentinels and Sam was the ultimate sentinel. He trained Callie to guard the perimeter from dangerous intruders: squirrels, geese (we lived on the Milwaukee River), rabbits and of course, the mailman. Callie was the least-demanding pet that we ever had. When I began to work from home she would come into my office a couple of times a day and “ask” for a pet, then leave.

In the fullness of time Sam went to “Pet Heaven”. About a year later we adopted Maggie. Now Maggie was interesting-looking dog. Someone asked me what kind of dog she was. I described her as a miniature, short-haired German Shepherd Pointer because that was what she looked like. She was the fastest dog we ever owned. She could leap up and kiss my wife on command. Eventually, she and Callie became friends but not as friendly as Sam and Callie had been. Callie died from a brain tumor and for the longest time Maggie was our only pet. We moved to Virginia in 2002 and of course, Maggie came with us. By then she was 13 or 14 years old. In 2003 we adopted our first cat, Chloe. She had been rescued by our niece, Gabrielle. Chloe was a stray who was living at the Scottsville Baptist Church. The janitor kept putting her outside and by the time winter came Gabrielle was afraid that she would die from the cold. She wrote a four page picture book to get her parents to let her bring the cat home. It was a classic. My brother just couldn’t refuse her. Chloe came to our office where she lived for several months. Eventually, she wrapped herself around my heart and I asked my wife if she could come to our house. We took her took the vet, where she had her shots and was spayed. After an initial “feeling-out” period Maggie and Chloe got along famously. They lived together for three or four years as buddies. When Maggie died at 17 ½ Chloe was despondent. She cried at the windows, moped around the house and chewed her tail. We had to put her on Valium for several months. When we went to our local ASPCA (a no-kill shelter) to pick up Maggie’s ashes we saw a little black cat all alone in a cage. Have you ever made an instant connection with a dog or cat? Well, I did. It was as if this little cat was saying: “I don’t belong here, take me home” and we did. She was about 6 lbs. so we gave her a long elegant name, Isabella Elena Marie, to compensate. After a couple of weeks the two became fast friends. Isabella (my wife calls her Bella) is a very affectionate cat. She’ll curl up on your lap and sit there for the longest time as long as you pet her. She has the biggest eyes and turns them on you when she wants something. She’s also our living alarm clock getting her “sisters” and us up at 3AM to be fed. She wakes my wife up with “kisses”. Chloe on the other hand is not so subtle, hurtling across the bed to get us up. Nina, who sleeps under the bed, sits politely waiting for my wife to get up.

We had another cat before Nina who we named Lilli. We also adopted her at the same shelter. Lilli was a cream-colored cat with tiger stripes on her tail. She was a very loving cat who also loved to sit on any lap available. Unfortunately, Lilli’s kidneys failed and she died six months after we adopted her. We were devastated. We both cried all the way home from the vet. For the longest time I blamed myself for not realizing how sick she was but by the time we realized it was too late.

We adopted Nina a couple of months after Lilli’s death. Again, we went to the same shelter. They had so many cats available for adoption that we couldn’t decide. Then we saw this little cat alone in a small cage who meowed so plaintively that I said, “We’ll take her”. Nina had belonged to someone. She had been spayed and was trained (as best as cats can be trained). While she’s waiting to be fed she sits so politely and never complains. The other two can’t sit still and sometimes wrestle. Chloe whines the entire time that we’re preparing their meals. Nina loves to sit on my wife’s lap in the morning and evening. She is very protective of that time with Sandy and will make a run at the other two to preserve that time.

Rush Limbaugh who has a cat and at least one dog (his wife Catherine is a dog person) says that dogs have masters, cats have staff. Isn’t it the truth! Our cats are quite miffed if they’re not fed on their schedule. Chloe will stand on the counter nearest the garage door and read you the riot act so to speak. It’s as if she’s saying, “We’ve been waiting, where have you been?” I work from home and there’s a regular routine in the afternoon. First, Nina appears next to my desk and bumps my leg as if to say, “Did you forget something?” I’ll tell her that it’s too early to eat and she’ll go away. Then about an hour later Isabella will appear on my desk and give me a kiss on the cheek. When I point to my watch and say that it’s too early she’ll sit down to wait me out. After a while Chloe (aka Big Mama) will come to the office door and start whining as if to tell me that enough is enough, time to eat. By then it usually is and I’ll feed them.

There are some lessons that we’ve learned over all these years. Dogs are for younger people. They require more attention. You need to walk them, clean up after them and they sometimes have “accidents” in the house. On the plus side they will adore you until the day that they die. Cats are for older people. They don’t need walking, never have “accidents” (at least ours don’t) and use a litter box. Our cats live only inside. The closest that they get to the outside is a screen porch where they watch the birds and geckos. Other than eating and napping cats only other activity is making you love them.

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