More cats & dogs...

Build a better mousetrap, and the world beats a path to your door. Announce in public that you're looking for a kitten to adopt--and prepare to be inundated! Apparently, Spring is Kitty Season! I've been informed of two recent litters, and two pregnant cats. And the awkward part of it is that I have already made a choice, sort of.

At a garden party at a friend's house last summer, I was cuddling her absolutely adorable cat and issuing warnings that if the cat suddenly vanished, it would be because I stole the sweetie away. The family who originally provided that particularly beautiful and friendly cat is expecting a litter. Their kittens are raised in a house full of kids of all ages and dogs, so my prospective adoptee ought to be able to cope with a loud-mouthed, geriatric German Shepherd. I'm only afraid the cat will be bored and lonely here.

Ah, back to the dogs of my life. After Snuffles, we took in a stray for a little while. She was one of those mutts who look like a small black Labrador, but had white toes and a white spot on her chest. With great creative insight, we named her Blackie. She was little more than a puppy, and we owned her for a few months, but the vet had to put her down, too...something about anemia. Later, one of my classmates heard about the dog, and insisted it was his runaway pup. They lived about five miles from us, so it seems possible, if unlikely.

We also briefly picked up a stray my sister called Nikki. It was about the size of a beagle, mutt-yellow, with a fox face, terrier ears, and a spitz curl to its tail. My parents never warmed to Nikki, and she apparently escaped and ran free on my Dad's trip to take her to the animal shelter.

Remember my grandmother's dog, the shaggy German Shepherd named Lady? Well, Lady had a tryst with what was described as an Irish Setter, and gave birth to a large litter of pups. There were about six black ones, one red one, and one golden one. Grandma kept the red one, and named him Sandy. My uncle took a black one, and named her Echo. We took the golden one, as our very last (and really, only) official family dog. My brother, my sister and I were all in agreement that we wanted to name the dog Sidney. My dad named him Oliver. My dad also read in some book that one person should be in charge of dog training, so forbade any of us to try to train the dog. Dad spent one or two weekend afternoons teaching the dog to sit, and that's pretty much all poor Ollie ever learned. He grew up to look like a purebred Golden Retriever, and his black sister to look like a flatcoat. (Sandy looked like a very red retriever. He and Lady were allowed to run loose on the old family farm in Marinette, and one day in winter they both vanished. Shot by deer hunters, was what Grandma assumed. Echo lived to a ripe and pampered old age.)

Oliver lived his life, mostly, chained out in the yard. He had a nice doghouse (it looked like a little barn, and when it was new and visible from the street, people used to ask for the pattern for it) but he was only turned loose when it was time to play with the kids. The signal for us to come into the house was my mom coming out on the porch and saying "Tie up the dog, now!" Olliver learned those words, and learned to run for the hills when he heard them.

Olliver was a strong dog, and broke several chains and slipped many collars over the years. If he had been content to stay in the yard, it's possible he might have been left loose more often, but he was a boy dog, and the world needed peeing on. If you let him loose, there was no question of his hanging around for a petting and a game--he got out while the getting was good. I was generally the one to go round him up, especially in later years. He would develop a route of wandering, and all I had to do was pick a point on the route and intercept him, which never failed to catch him by surprise and make him look sheepish. Eventually, he would catch on and change his route, and I had to learn the new one. I made something of an effort to take him for walks and try to train him further in my teen years, and my brother also tried to find time for our childhood companion. But as time went on, Ollie spent more and more time tied out, solitary, and barking for attention. And eventually, he died that way. Poor Ollie. He didn't have much loyalty or love for us, but we hadn't earned it. And I swore that when I had dogs of my own, they would live indoors.

There was one other, temporary dog during the Olliver years.

When I was young, there was a farm dog type all over Wisconsin, and I think it's a pity it was never recognized as a breed and standardized. They were stocky, friendly little farm collies, looking something like fat, oversized Australian Shepherds. They were the mutt descendants of loads of collies bought during the Lassie craze, and nearly all had the tan-with-a-ruff Lassie coloring, but with lots of streaky sable (possibly the heritage of an even earlier Rin Tin Tin craze.)

Anyway, one day my brother and I were out in the yard. One of us was playing a recorder--I remember that, for some reason. Suddenly we saw a squat little farm collie cut across our yard and join us, sitting at out feet with a big smile on his face as if he had been invited. He had a wonderfully friendly and loving personality, a sort of gentle dignity, and also very odd eyes. The iris of one was pure white, and the other....half white and half brown. I've never seen anything like it, before or since. Those were magic eyes. He treated us like family, not like inconvenient jailers to be run away from.

My brother and I fell in love, though we knew our parents would never agree to keep a second dog. We ensconced Badger, as we called him, in an old barrel in the far back yard, and fed him from Olliver's bag of dog food. It only took a couple of days before he was discovered, of course.

My father didn't have the heart to take Badger to a shelter. He drove the dog further into farm territory and put him out of the truck. Dad says he drove back after a while to see if Badger was still there, and saw an old farmer petting him. I hope the dog found a home.

Oddly enough, if you ask my mother which, out of all the family pets was her favorite, she will say that it's Badger...