Throughout my childhood there were pets. The first one was Trixie. I don’t remember much about her because she died when I was quite young. I do remember she was just there. A lovable cocker spaniel. A companion that hung around and followed you. My most vibrant memory was standing outside the grocery store when I was five. Sharing my piece of licorice with the dog. It just sticks in my mind. There was the Chihuahua named Tuffy that I shared with my brother. Lucky was a present for my tenth birthday. A mutt with some collie, cocker and who knows what else. She stayed home when I went off to school, got married and had kids. Lucky died when I was 28. The last child at home for my parents. There were the horses. Buck, Smokey and Lady. Lots of cats and kittens. They all seemed to be named Jackpot. There was always lots of love given and received. Unconditional.
Now when you are a child, pets are easy. No matter how much a child swears they will take care of a pet, in the end Mom is the caregiver. Just another body to take care of. So, when I was the Mom it was a little harder to be excited for a pet. My daughter was five when she asked for a cat. My husband always had cats growing up. Ours were more outdoors. Barn cats. The in-laws treated their cats like royalty. It wasn’t that way for me. But, we decided to get a cat. Five year old Drew already had the name picked out. Cuddly. So as we left for the animal shelter, my husband and I agreed we would try and steer her towards an animal that was already named. Who wants a cat named Cuddly. She looked at each one twenty times but Sasha was the one she asked to hold. When Drew decided against Sasha, my heart broke watching her being put back into her cage. I cried and my daughter was so moved she agreed to taking Sasha come with us. Her newly christened kitty Cuddly Sasha was the newest member of our brood. She was unique and over the years she became a fixture in the community. Loved by all.
My kids were taking a walk down memory lane the other day and we laughed at the stories. Sasha wasn’t an indoor cat. It was different back then. She made her rounds in the neighbourhood. She had friends. Sam remembers walking to his friends house and seeing her wandering up the street towards home. He just thought to himself “There’s my cat”. She sat with the old lady across the alley watching her hang clothes on the line. Getting her gradual pets on the back. I answered the door one day to a stranger from a block away. She was letting me know she was on holidays for two weeks and knew Sasha would be confused. This lady wanted me to keep an extra eye out, for my cat, as Sasha would be missing her. Turns out she fed my cat everyday and had a little visit with her in her house. I was so taken aback that I just agreed to give Sasha extra cuddles until the woman returned home. Sasha often laid in the middle of the road in front of the house sunning herself. The asphalt was warm with the heat of the sun. People slowed down and drove around her as she lolled on her back. She was like a queen. One neighbour was a police officer with a police dog. Sasha loved to hop into their retaining wall and taunt the dog. He would go nuts and she would just calmly clean herself and then saunter away with her aloof attitude. The neighbour asked if she was a stupid cat but I know she was well aware of her actions. Look at me stupid dog. I can do whatever I want while you are locked in the yard. Haha. Stupid dog.
She loved to hang out at the elementary school that my children attended. It was only a couple of blocks away and she would wander over in the afternoon. More than once a child would scoop her up and bring her home. The city would be called, her ear tattoo would reveal her ownership and we would go get her. It was exasperating because if they just let her be she would come home for the night. One woman was very upset with me that we allowed Sasha out of the house. I took the severe reprimand because she was still holding my cat. Finally as she handed Sasha over I was left with a threat. The next time they found Sasha they were going to keep her. The ladies children were crying as I took MY cat. My parting shot was “Um you know that is stealing, right?” Seriously, what was the matter with that woman. If she wanted a cat there is shelter full of unwanted kitties who would love a home. Maybe take a drive over there.
Eventually we got a Dog. A little Boston Terrier named Ike. Sasha was so good to him. They cuddled and Sasha would groom little Ike. Ike would suck on her fur and knead her as if he was nursing. He spent so much time with Sasha that he started to behave more like a cat. It was as if Sasha was his Mom. One day Sasha didn’t come home. We were concerned but not devastated. As the days passed we became frantic. Every shelter was called. The road crew kept descriptions of animals killed in traffic. No one saw her. No one reported her. I even stalked the crazy ladies house to see if she had our kitty. The days turned to weeks and then months. We were a pretty sad lot. Ike was so unhappy and lonely. Now, Sam had a friend with kittens so we headed over one day and a sweet little orange guy came home with us. Jack was a hit with Ike. They bonded and were like brothers. Jack was an indoor guy. Sometimes he would try to escape but even when he got out he cowered by the door. Outside is pretty big. And scary. And then after seven months without Sasha we got a call. Someone had found Sasha and again the tattoo led her back to us. We picked her up and brought her home. As I put her down Ike and Jack came to say hi. She was okay with Ike but Jack got a great big hiss, I got a big glare and she went and hopped up into a chair as if she hadn’t been away. We figured someone had taken her in and then accidentally lost her one day and of course since she was registered to us we got her back. So… someone was sad out there. She was quite old when we finally put her down. It was a sad time. I was surprised how sad I was as I didn’t really think I was that attached. We had to guess her age as she was older when the shelter received her but we had her for over thirteen years. Less seven months. Another neighbour asked about Sasha and when I said she was gone I heard more stories of her life. Every Christmas morning the neighbour family took pictures of their kids in their jammies in front of the tree. For years Sasha was in the picture. The neighbourhood let her in and out as she wished and she became everybody’s friend. Its like they say. You don’t own a cat. They own you.
Jack had become like a brother to Ike the dog. They would often be found curled up together on the window seat grooming each other. Since Ike thought he was a cat the two were fast friends. As he got older Jack kept trying to escape the house. We finally let him out to explore and we found that if he went out the back door he would come back to the door to be brought inside. If we let him out the front he got confused. The front was huge. The yard. The world. He had trouble finding his way back. He never went far but we often had to go find him. He was a big guy but not wise in the ways of “outside”. So a big wuss. In the back he was a ferocious hunter. We had to to be on our toes or he would have killed every bird in the yard. We often had presents waiting for us at the door. He never ate any of them. Just left them for us to see. Mice on the other hand weren’t interesting to Jack. My oldest daughter had a mouse infestation so when she was leaving for a week holiday we brought Jack over to stay in her house. I left water but no food. After two days I went back expecting to see dead mice everywhere. Nope. Not a one. In fat, he had managed to get the pantry door open and tipped over the bag of dog food. He ate that since I was so horrid in not leaving him food. He was not impressed. They called the exterminator and Jack come home to hunt birds. His preferred prey. In time we found out Sam was allergic to Jack. He was then sent to live with his auntie on the farm. She already had an orange cat of her own and it was a full three weeks before Uncle T even realized Jack was there. He was having coffee at the kitchen table and their cat wandered by on his way to the basement. A few minutes later Jack went wandering by and a confused Uncle T asked his wife “Do we have two cats”? He hadn’t noticed. Jack became a part of the family because Uncle T had no say.
Ike lived alone with us for quite a few years. He was my husbands best friend. If you were looking for the dog you just had to find Rene. He would sit on Rene’s lap no matter where he was. Rene’ sat down and Ike jumped up. He was great with the grandkids. Their stranglehold hugs never provoked him. He never nipped or snapped no matter what they did. He had a big alpha male small dog syndrome thing happening so we couldn’t let him near other smaller dogs. Britt’s boyfriend had two Doberman’s and they played tag with Ike whenever they came to visit. Because he was small he took corners better and when he was tired, or they gained on him he hid under a chair or table. They would wait patiently until he came out and the race was on again. He was the worst to go for walks. He would tug so hard on the leash he would chose himself and go into a fit of gags and sorts. So we bought a ball thrower and played fetch on the alley. He would do that forever. Sometimes he would be so tired he would just lay his head beside the water dish panting. He was a spoiled guy. So loved. After the kids all moved away Ike slept on our bed at night. I think he saw me as competition for his beloved Rene’. He never ate or drank when we went to work. Smart dog. When we came home, he went out in the back for a pee then headed straight for his food and water. He had stuffie’s. Little stuffed animals he used like a child’s soother. He sucked on them and kneaded them just like he did with Sasha. It was cute although in time they were just disgusting and he did not appreciate my washing them.
One year we spent a month in Europe and Ike went to visit Grampa and Gramma. My parents. His adventure was probably better than ours. One day my mom let Ike out to pee and when she went to let him in he was gone. It only took five minutes but their yard was pretty open and he disappeared. Now my parents were frantic. They lived in a small town south of Calgary and searched for days. They made posters and offered a $500 reward. But sadly, no luck. In the meantime, my oldest daughter received an odd phone call from her fathers boss. Now, she had met him earlier in the year which is why he had her phone number. He and his wife were downsizing and selling some furniture and odds and bobs. My daughter got a couple of things from them. It turns out that our little Ike had wandered to a gas station beside the highway and a lady from Calgary saw him there all alone. She saw his ear tattoo and Calgary City dog license and called the number. They told her we lived in Calgary so she brought him home with her. They lived in Inglewood and when she found out the pound was having trouble getting in touch with us, they decided to babysit Ike so he wouldn’t sit in a cage. Well within a week he made his escape again. This time he wandered up ninth avenue and into a small trendy art gallery. They too called the city pound. At this point the city, tired of leaving message on our home answering machine decided to call my husbands work number. Of course the calls were forwarded and his secretary relayed the message up the chain of command and his boss reached out to my daughter. Ike was picked up safe and sound after his holiday at the gallery. No one wanted to send him to the pound. He was just so sweet. My daughter called my parents and when Mom answered, Britt said “Gramma, where is Ike?” To which my mother replied “Here is Grampa.” She promptly handed the phone to my Dad. Not wanting any part of that conversation. In the end it all turned out well. It is a cute story but my Father was so distraught his blood pressure skyrocketed. His annual check up came soon after the puppies disappearance and my Father’s drivers license was temporarily suspended. Like I said. Everybody loved Ike.
But Ike grew old too. His eyesight went. His hearing went. We carried him everywhere. The vet said he had a mild stroke when Ike started to turn in circles. It was selfish to keep him. He was put down one afternoon while my husband held him. My daughter stayed with her Dad while I took my granddaughter out for a bit. Ike was cremated and now his ashes are on a shelf with those of my parents and my son. Perhaps one day I will put him beside my husbands ashes. That’s where he would want to be.
My husband used to tell a joke. If you want to know who loves you more, your wife or your dog, put them both in the trunk of your car for a bit and see who is happy to see you when you let them out. Silly but… true? There is something about the love of a pet. Their unconditional adoration. They wait patiently for just a bit of your attention. They become members of a family. And they teach us things we can’t always learn from other people. They don’t talk back. They don’t offer advice. They let you pour out your heart and ask nothing in return. When you are down they know. And they comfort you. And when you are up and busy, they wait patiently for their turn at your love. They say older people with pets are healthier and live longer. I think the pets take our stress. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have friends like that? I have a couple but its no accident. I have learned that I often reap what I sow and me and my girls are the pets in each others lives. Its not hard to love a pet so much. I’m not sure why it is so hard to accept and love the people in our lives the same way. It’s a choice really. A choice.