Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In praise of dogs and cats

It has been just over a year since Sam crossed the Rainbow Bridge and still too short a time for traces of her to fade in the house, and definitely too short a time to get used to life without a cat. An incredibly quiet cat, she never had a proper meow - more of a rather horrid screech when she wanted something; her preferred method for getting you to do something for her was to wind around legs, head off in the direction of litter box or food bowl and look back to see if you were following. For the past few years she was unable to jump to get her food out of the reach of dogs, so Hamish became somewhat portly on his diet of what ever the cat left. I always knew when he'd raided her sanctuary and cleaned her out - she had a certain accusing way of getting my attention and very pointedly identifying the dog as being in trouble. Must admit to still seeing her in the shadows and looking for her at bed time.

Dog and I plus a "cousin" dog to keep him company , went up the the cabin for a few days. It was strange arriving there with no Sam to settle and see to immediately upon arrival - she was a great traveler, no trouble. I know Hamish misses her. He still wanders into the huge walk in closet that was her lair, sticks his head around the door and looks at me quizzically. When I was getting ready to go up to the cabin, he recognized the routine of packing a cooler and promptly went into the storage room and sat next to Sam's travel carrier as if to say, "OK, I know we're going to get her now".

How is it that animals wind, purr, snuffle and drool their way into our lives? I think it's their total trust and non judgmental acceptance of whatever feast or famine of love we throw their way. They are never stingy in return. Rana, the dog who joined us on our trip, belongs to my son and his wife. They are on assignment Ethiopa and my youngest son is looking after her. Quite honestly, she's not beautiful but she is the happiest and most loving of dogs. Her owners went to the HSSA looking for a fuzzy, big, potential hiking mate. They came home with this rather fearsome looking gal who is primarily Catahoula Hound and then lord knows what the rest is - one thing is for sure- the mouth is cavernous. Their rationale for adopting her over the cute lab puppy was that her chances were minimal of getting out alive.

Three years ago Rana was suddenly paralyzed in her hind quarters, we were were at a family 4th. of July party when we noticed she was not moving. Long story short but her young owners found a canine neurologist and at not a small cost arranged for the surgery that gave back her ability to walk. She has a funny wiggle in the rear end now and occasionally, when over exuberant, her back legs give way. She absolutely loves snow and to see her tearing though the wood, leaping obstacles. literally a grin on her face, ears flapping, is a joy. Meanwhile Hamish, built low to the ground, lumbers around a bit like an obsolete tank!

Several years ago I worked at the Humane Society of Tucson (now the Humane Society of Southern Arizona) and although my position of fundraiser and public relations was removed from the daily shelter activity, the director encouraged all of us to be acutely aware of our mission. Both heartbreaking and rewarding, there were days when I couldn't go into the kennels or cat rooms and see all those beseeching faces, little paws and noses pressed to bars just looking. We went through a lot of foster animals at the house during those days, a couple became permanent residents and others, loved out of their fears and cajoled out of anti-social behaviors were eventually adopted into loving families.

Perhaps our most neurotic guest was Daniel, a huge and elegant Gordon Setter who had abandonment issues. He attached himself to me like a wet rag, shadowed me, wouldn't leave my side . Eventually I had to sleep on a couch because my husband, tolerant and loving of animals as he was, could not sleep with Daniel in the bed and despite every effort, where ever I was, there was Daniel.

And then there was Dougal, the Scottie, who came for a week and stayed 11 years. The vet figured he was well over 20 when he finally crossed that bridge. In his last two weeks he didn't have the energy to go for walks but so desperately wanted to. We borrowed a stroller from a neighbour and Dougal surveyed his old haunts in style - David and I wheeling him around the country club like proud parents. You know, I think I remember puppy breath more fondly than I do first teenage kisses! Dougal had been found chained to a concrete stanchion in a parking lot off the freeway - he had one of the worse ear infections the vet had ever seen and because he was going to need expensive and ongoing care, the shelter manager didn't want to put him in regular adoptions. He came to recuperate from surgery in my office and well, the rest was 11 years of unstinting love - never compromised the "terribles" however in his terrier spirit - boy, was he independent!

Dougal did not like cats and we had not only Sam back then but also Mr. Tubbs and George - a very elegant ginger chap. First day in the house Dougal determined these furry things needed putting in their proper place - he hurled himself after Sam, she leapt onto the counter, Dougal slammed into it at full charge. He sat back, somewhat groggy and the look on his face was "wow! they pack a wallop, best make peace". And he did. When we spent time at the ranch all three cats, Dougal and Patches our elderly Old English Sheepdog mix, would take morning walks together down the lane. All of them became adept at crossing cattle guards but only Dougal perfected the crossing at full gallop.

Hamish, the current fur bearing resident is the last of a log-line of resident and visiting dogs "trained" by Sam.

I know during these tough economic times that shelters around the country are experiencing an upswing in received animals. Heartbreaking for both the families who have no choice and the animal who is an innocent victim. I can understand this turn of events but I could never understand nor accept the excuses that people made when I was at the shelter. "My new husband doesn't like him" as a 9 year old dog was turned in. I think I would have turned in the new husband before the dog! "We got all new dark furniture and can't cope with the shedding" , as a 14 year old cat was pushed over the counter. And one that had me lose it and kept away from receiving for a while - two young college girls, each turning in "designer" dogs at the end of a semester because they wanted to go have fun for the summer; they commented as they left, "Oh, we'll be back in September and find something else cute."

Animals, short of hell and high water (and even then think twice!) are for life. They live and love and we are responsible for their well being. I can think of no more worthy cause than supporting your local shelter and preaching the spay and neuter message.

We've run three rescue group stories in Connections for Women to date and I for one am up for more. Don't hesitate to let me know if you a good cause or story to share.
Check out the work of volunteers in South America with Cat Cafe ; the Milwaukee based group that gives shelter to animals caught in domestic violence situations and, not the least, The Ironwood Pig Sanctuary that provides hope for abandoned Pot Bellied Pigs. All stories that brought me to tears...tears of gratitude for human kindness and despair for the indifference of some.

And this is a salute to my friend Sylvia Edwards - a busy woman, she owns Skin Care at Civano on Tucson's far east side - she also takes in former race-track greyhounds, loves and nurtures them along with her dog, Hera, until they find a new home. Click here to see her latest foster dog.
A huge hug to all of you who walk the talk in animal welfare.

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