Goodbye Little Mister

LilMrEleven and a half years ago, our son Harrison graduated from high school. That summer, he was left alone for a week while his sister, dad and I went out of town. We returned to a house wiped clean of any evidence of partying and a fluffy gray kitten to add to our menagerie of two dogs and three cats. (While we were gone, he’d encountered someone outside a restaurant with a box of kittens.)

We had more than enough cats. Harrison was, technically, the owner of one. As a child, he’d been given a short-haired, half feral kitten that he named Indiana Jones Riley. (Indiana turned out to be a girl.) He argued that Indiana was far from friendly and he’d always wanted a fluffy gray cat. We explained that he was going off to college in a couple months and we’d be stuck with it. In order to sway us, I think he finally said please or something nice. But I really don’t remember.

He named her Pancake. Laine called her Lily. I called her Harrison’s Parting Gift.

Lily was a feisty little thing that hated physical contact. In an effort to domesticate her, she was required to eat while sitting on someone’s lap and being petted. It didn’t take long before she begrudgingly relaxed. She lurked about with jaunty confidence, and tortured our two older females with surprise pounce attacks. Laine’s male cat Figaro would have none of that, whacking Lily with a paw whenever she got close. I nicknamed her Little Sister—the obnoxious baby of the pack.

When it came time for her to be spayed, the vet discovered that, under all that fluffy fur, Little Sister was actually a Little Mister.

Over the next few years, as the older cats died off, Little Mister reigned supreme. Our two large dogs gave him a wide berth whenever he strutted about the house. He was a talker and not shy about asking for what he wanted. “I need food!” “Let me in!” “Let me out!” “Pet me!” “Stop petting me!”

Two years ago, we were given a puppy and Little Mister’s dictatorship came to an end. All Lucy ever wanted was to establish a playful relationship with him. All he ever wanted was for her to go away. My efforts to integrate them failed. Relative peace was finally established by erecting a baby gate on the stairs. Little Mister spent his indoor time upstairs, safe from intolerable puppy energy.

***

On an early evening nearly four weeks ago, I put him out. He’d been sleeping all day and company was coming over. If he didn’t go out then, he’d insist upon it later and wake me in the middle of the night to get back in.

Before going to bed, I opened the front door, expecting him to rush in, scold me for leaving him out for three hours in the wet cold, and race upstairs with a chirp which translated, “I’ll never speak to you again!”

He wasn’t there. I called and called, but he didn’t show up. It wasn’t the first time he’d failed to come home. It was no longer raining. He’d probably show up howling in the middle of the night.

But he didn’t.

cat(7)It was the week of Christmas. We had a house full of people and activities. I was concerned about Little Mister, but consoled by the knowledge that he’d sometimes disappear for two to three days at a time. On our walks around the neighborhood, Lucy and I looked for him. Several times a day, I’d open the door and call his name.

As time went by, I wondered if he’d been ill. For the past few months, he slept a great deal. Unless it was three o’clock in the morning, he rarely demanded to go outside. I’d have to hunt him down in the afternoons to put him out where he’d usually spend less than an hour.

The day after Christmas, Laine suggested we check the Humane Society to see if someone found him. I agreed, but wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t there. Little Mister would never, ever let a stranger capture and transport him.

It’s an odd feeling to have a pet disappear. I’m sad, but not emotionally broken. Over the years, I’ve experienced the heart-wrenching grief of watching five dogs and three cats deteriorate to the point where they had to be taken to the vet to end their suffering. I suspect Little Mister wandered off to die, but carry the hope that he’ll return. A tad of wishful thinking allows me to fantasize that he found another home—one with a sweet little lady who doesn’t have a puppy and lets him lounge on her lap all day.

At times, I hear his chirp at the front door only to open it and find the porch empty. Whenever I go upstairs, I anticipate him nestled in the middle of the bed. I miss his insistence upon being petted as I read at night, wrestling his way onto my chest, between my face and book, purring and drooling.

I’ve finally washed his bowls, taken his remaining food to the Humane Society, and removed the baby gate from the stairs.

Four weeks ago, I watched his gray fluff scurry out the front door. If I’d known it was going to be the last time I’d see him, I would have at least said goodbye.LilM

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Lucy – A Year in Review

1185822_10151983487546844_1659436086_nWhen our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

CGC class is obedience training geared towards a test that certifies the dog is a bona fide good citizen of the canine community. She becomes licensed to do things like bring joy to hospital patients while having the good sense not to jump into bed with them.

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

dirt

After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”