Next to my immediate human family (consisting at present of my daughter, my sister and my niece), I love my pets more than anything else in the world. They are my family, too. But like every family, the members have their foibles and idiosyncrasies, sometimes to the point of forehead-slapping frustration. Let me tell you what I deal with on a daily basis.
First, the boys:
I just gave Gizmo (the Shih Tzu) and Munchie (the Pomchi) some new dental chewies, hopeful that maybe these will improve Munchie’s god-awful breath (although Greenies don’t seem to help much), and I suddenly realized that Gizmo’s breath is not too bad, actually. He’s got yeasty ears, goopy eyes and itchy skin and feet that he licks obsessively, primarily due to his allergies, but one thing he doesn’t have is halitosis. That’s some consolation, I guess. I’m well aware that Munchie’s death-breath is due to bad dental care, because he won’t let me anywhere near his mouth and will need to be sedated to have his teeth cleaned. I love my vet (shout out to All Creatures, Long Beach, NY), but they are not cheap, and I have a lot of expensive creatures.
Munchie and Gizmo are usually good walkers, although I think I could probably be accused of letting them lead me rather than having them under my control. Gizmo in particular is very jaunty, his little ears flopping as he skips down the street on his out-turned walrus feet. But lately Munchie has been pausing to sniff – and not always to “go” – every ten steps! I understand the appeal of the “odor tour”, but we barely move! Shuffle, shuffle – sniff. Even Gizmo seems impatient, poised like a chubby dwarf pointer looking off into the distance that he must believe he will never reach.
Another recent annoyance is cat-chasing. I swear Munchie – who spent the first four years of his life with me in a house full of cats (first 2, then 4) – was never disturbed or distracted by the cats, and he never chased them. When Gizmo arrived as a foster in October 2014, one of the reasons I decided to keep him was that, despite his many quirks (more on that in a moment), which ultimately may have made him unadoptable by anyone other than ME, he got along with Munchie and the cats with nary a grumble, as if he’d known them all his life. I blame Tobin, the foster cocker spaniel who was far more dog than I could handle, and who terrorized my cats to the point where I had to lock them away in my daughter’s room and visit them every night (for more on the Tobin story, see “The Pet Situation”, 3/17/15). [As a postscript: I finally convinced Posh Pets to find Tobin another foster home, ashamed at my inability to cohabitate with a really nice dog but truly at the end of my rope. Within days – literally days – a series of serendipitous events occurred that resulted in Tobin going to live in a beach house in West Hampton with a woman who fell in love with him immediately and who’s had cockers and knew how to handle him, so Tobin has ended up having the best life ever! Good on ya, Tobin!] One cat in particular – Raven, my cat of longest standing now that her sister, JoJo, is away at college with my daughter (#collegecat) — is the victim of the screaming and chasing that Munchie initiates and Gizmo imitates: Yet another bad habit to add to Munchie’s peculiarities.
Munchie is a screamer. He screams mostly in anticipation of pain but it’s also his way of being a bully to others. His groomer Tammy (shout out to Grooming Tales, Long Beach, NY) told me that she doesn’t even have to touch him with the nail clipper; as soon as the clipper gets within inches of his nails, he commences to screech. Bed time is always an adventure, because Munchie screams every time Raven tries to come up on the bed, even though they inevitably will end up sleeping right next to each other. (The trick is that she has to wait until he’s sleeping.)
Munchie hates plastic garbage bags and barks at them viciously, his little doggie lips ferociously curled, but he is deathly afraid of plastic water bottles. It has something to do with the crunchy sound of it, I think. And he has an amazing ability to see/hear/sense the nearness of a water bottle even though you try your best to hide it from him. He used to cower under the bed until he was certain the water bottle was gone but now, as I’ve got my bedroom gated off because Gizmo has a tendency to lift his leg on a small ottoman in there that serves as my clothes-piling spot, Munchie’s new hiding place is behind the bathroom door. There is no apparent explanation.
Gizmo is truly brain damaged, the result of being hit by a car, which precipitated his abandonment by people who pretended to be his family for nearly four years but who brought him to the kill shelter rather than get him much-needed medical treatment. It’s still a challenge to give him eye drops for his allergies, or to put on his leash if he’s not in the mood or cranky from being woken up before he wanted to, or to give him a bath without him biting the hand that feeds him. The bath he tolerates once he’s in it, but he DESPISES the towel, which led to a summer of a soaking wet dog “drying” himself on my living room furniture. It’s going to get tougher now that the weather has cooled, but he still needs weekly baths to help him deal with the aforementioned allergies. The last time he bit me – on my big toe – was when moved my foot a little too near him a little too quickly while trying to get out of bed. He’s completely unpredictable but I do see improvement, even though many activities still have to be done very gingerly.
Gizmo barks at EVERY SINGLE DOG he sees on our walks and seems disinclined to make any canine friends whatsoever. (I’m told he’s protecting me but, oddly, when we’ve brought foster dogs INTO the house, he doesn’t seem too bothered.) He and Munchie both bark at everyone who walks past the house or parks in front (he’s got the right idea on the parking, though); one will start and the other, like clockwork, will join in. But Gizmo also barks – all freakin’ day, pretty much non-stop – at his own reflection in my bookcase and sometimes the kitchen cabinet when the sun is shining on it just right and he catches a glimpse of himself. I frequently work from home and he’s been known to carry on when I’m on the phone trying to be a professional. In addition to his own reflection (I actually bought him a little mirror, like a lonely parrot in a cage), he also barks at the light reflected on the ceiling and wall off the shiny metal parts of my desk chair. Every time I move my chair and make a “ghost”, he barks at it. I’ve reached the point where I barely notice anymore; it’s just constant background noise.
I clearly need to bring the dogs to see my friend Marty Aynat, who runs a dog-training collective here in town called LB Dogs. They do some fantastic work, but I think we need a few private lessons first before subjecting those well-behaved LB Dogs to the incessant squawking of Muncho-man and Gizbutt. Neither of them listens to me at all.
Now to the girls:
Raven has been with us since December 2004, a few months after we moved into our house. She is, generally speaking, a very calm cat. She keeps to herself, primarily in my bed, and will occasionally call me in to give her a few pets before she decides she’s had enough and attacks my hand. But when it’s time for me to go to sleep, that’s when she wants the most attention, and she will bite my nose to let me know she is dissatisfied with the quantity and quality of my affection. She also hacks up hairballs on my bed instead of jumping down to do it on the floor, in spite of my constant reprimands. (She doesn’t seem to care, evidently.)
Luna, Savannah and the newest member of our family, Mimi , all have their annoying proclivities as well, but I find many of them kind of charming. My office area is always a mess because Luna takes up so much valuable desk top real estate, all spread out on top of my papers. Lately she’s been trying to sit in my chair WHILE I AM SITTING IN IT, which causes me to end up perched on the very edge of the chair, which isn’t terribly good for my back. But Luna is by far the friendliest of all the animals and always greets the dogs when they come in from their walk. Even though I often have to move her around to get at the documents beneath her (or shove her off the chair so I can sit), I love having her in arm’s reach for a little tickle. Sometimes she grabs my petting hand (gently, nails in) and hugs it close to her.
Savannah, my favorite cat (yes, I confess, I have a favorite! I’ve had a lot of great cats in my life, and in fact I have some pretty great cats now, but she is by far the best – my “soul cat”, if you will), has to follow me into the bathroom every single time I go in there, and then she tracks up the bathroom sink with her dirty little paws, head butting me adorably as I try to brush my teeth. (In point of fact, I am almost always accompanied by a 3-beast entourage when I go for a sit-down in the bathroom. One of these days, I’m going to take a video of Munchie, Gizmo and Savannah trailing through the partially closed or closing door, one after the other, and then they all want pets, and they sometimes even pet and rub up on each other, which is actually really cute.) But Savannah’s biggest issue is that she is a finicky eater. Due to a tendency to get bladder stones, the vet gave me these Chinese herbs in a capsule that I’m supposed to sprinkle on her food, which of course she refuses to eat. One of my huge cat frustrations is that I cannot for the life of me find a type or flavor of canned food that all of them will like (and sometimes NONE of them will like something they all liked the week before). Savannah and Luna were shelter cats, for goodness sake! They ate whatever they got and they had to fight for it! Now they’ve gotten spoiled!
(Munchie also has bladder stones: After a $2,000 operation, getting him to eat his special — and pricey — urinary health kibble was nearly impossible. He would eat Gizmo’s premium grain-free allergy food, and Gizmo would eat Munchie’s. I’ve finally resigned myself to feeding them the same thing, a mixture of both, and hope that Munchie’s bladder stones don’t return. I told you I had expensive pets!)
Last but not least, Mimi is a chill and sweet old lady. I fell in love with her a year ago, when she was first brought into the shelter (I think her prior owner was either an ill or deceased old woman) but it took me a while to risk bringing in a fifth cat and possibly upsetting the two-pairs-of-sisters balance. I needn’t have worried as Mimi has fit right in. Mimi had some digestive issues – it took a lot of poopy litter boxes to sort through what kind of “limited diet” she required, and it turned out Natural Balance Duck and Green Pea did the trick, so that is what she will eat from now until the end of time – but I also think a lot of it was stress. She was always a purr machine, craving pets and chin chucks, and letting out a cackling quack whenever you stopped and tried to move along to attend to the other kitties. I always dreamed for her that she would find a home where she could sleep on a comfy couch in a patch of sunshine in some old lady’s house. Well, it turns out that old lady is ME! At night on my way to bed, I distribute cat treats (and the dogs each get a biscuit slathered with peanut butter), but Mimi gets more than anyone because she is just so damn INSISTENT! She becomes obsessed, entreating me in no uncertain terms, in her Patty Bouvier 2-packs-a-day-for-50 years-smoker’s meow, that she requires more cookies IMMEDIATELY and don’t even THINK about stopping. Even though she’s black and white and not striped, Mimi reminds me so much of the B. Kliban cat, who was ubiquitous back in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. (My sister had the sheets; I had the hilarious comic books, which gave my college roommate and me hours of amusement.) She often has that “look” on her face, equal parts bemused and disgruntled. What do you think? (I think Mimi’s favorite word is actually “wackawacka”. She is truly one of a kind!)
Why do I put up with all this insanity? They’re my fur babies, my beloved companions. I couldn’t imagine my life without them.