Judging from the tsunami of pet photos on social media during this pandemic, a great many of us are being comforted by a feline or a canine companion. Oh, there were plenty of pet photos and videos posted before the coronavirus but the number has increased a thousand-fold, probably more.
All my children have always had fur. When I was seven years old, a tabby named Gingle, named for the warning bell on his collar, was my pal. Gingle was an outside cat which meant he lived inside the house, usually at the foot of my bed, but did his “business” outside. Unfortunately, the warning bell wasn’t always effective and, to my horror, he’d often greet me with a dead sparrow between his tiny teeth. My mother thought Gingle clever because when he wanted to come back inside after an evening of hunting or romance, he would jump onto the window box and tap the window to be let in. Our family would be watching an episode of Perry Mason and all at once Gingle would be tapping. My funniest memory of this striped cat was the night he brought a chum home. My childhood was in that long ago when people actually left their windows open at night. Whenever it was clear that the whole family had gone to bed, Gingle would hop through the open window in my bedroom and sleep beside my feet. One night, I woke to find two cats by my feet. I made a sound of surprise that startled the cat away. Perhaps, after a night of gallivanting, Gingle indicated to his friend, “Why not come home with me? The bed is comfy and the feet are always warm.”
I found Tabby (I get better with pet names later in life), foraging for food by trash cans. In my twenties and in my first marriage, I put together an elegant dinner party that, because of Tabby, didn’t quite work out. The marriage didn’t work out either. The evening I’m recalling, I’d prepared prime rib, roasted potatoes, fresh vegetables, and cheesecake for dessert. The table was set with my best tablecloth, china, crystal, and silver with a centerpiece of fresh flowers. And of course, candlelight. Everything was so elegant and perfect that my husband and I couldn’t help feeling a tad proud of ourselves. Our guests were new friends, a young doctor and his lovely wife. Enjoying our first glass of wine, the four of us were suddenly startled by Tabby jumping onto and running across the table. She had a white rectangular thing hanging from her mouth – a Kotex pad she’d somehow gotten out of its box! I don’t remember what I said in total embarrassment, probably something inelegant. The doctor laughed and said “Your kitten just got her ovaries!”
Middle-aged when I met my husband Victor, I was a pet parent to two Russian Blues, a sister and brother named Tania & Puck. These beautiful gray, green-eyed cats had been my companions for almost a decade. I remember thinking they were voice-activated because when I complimented them from across the living room, they’d purr in response as if acknowledging my appreciation. Unfortunately, Victor was allergic to cats. Eventually, I did have to give the cats away. Victor had been hospitalized several times because of his allergy so there was no kidding ourselves. A woman I knew took both Tania and Puck – and a piece of my heart. Victor was not allergic to dogs. Cue the entrance music for shelter dog Ollie!
Ollie, whose lineage baffled even our vet, was a pug mix who had a terrier’s face, a pug’s body (including the curly tail), and dachshund legs. He also looked just a teeny bit like Winston Churchill. Ollie was definitely Victor’s dog. They were inseparable. Victor said Ollie was his Mrs. Danvers. Ollie, our sweet little hodgepodge barely tolerated me but I loved him anyway.
Pip, a poodle mix known as “the napkin eater,” ate tissues, bathroom tissue, and even several pages of the Bible (the New Testament). My husband and I could not place a paper napkin on our laps. Forgetting to be vigilant about Pip's paper ploys resulted in shredded and dog-gobbled napkins or an unfinished Sermon on the Mount. What is it about dog’s and paper?
Darby, the dog of my heart is a Maltese, a breed known for excelling at snuggling. He’s snuggling beside me right now. Unlike Ollie, Darby never played favorites and loved Victor and me equally, allowing us both to spoil him daily. It’s quite possible Darby is the only dog who is served his meals on Wedgwood china. The runt of the litter when a puppy, the little chap weighed less than two pounds when he “arrived” in my home. Even a cat bowl was too large for him. The only thing small enough was a Wedgwood saucer. Darby is five now and apparently appreciates the finer things in life as he still prefers the good china.
On September 12, 2018, Victor passed away from cancer. One morning, reading an especially beautiful passage in a book on prayer, I was overcome with grief and began sobbing. I was sitting on the right side of the sofa, and Darby was on the opposite end. The second he heard me cry, he walked over to me, nestled beside me, kissed my hand several times, and rested his head on my lap. This is why we have pets.
Perhaps Socrates had a dog, one with soulful eyes. I like to think that Christ’s first follower might have been a playful puppy.
I have to end this blog now because it’s time for me to post a photo of Darby on Twitter.