In memory of Bobcat -a chapter from The Book of Barkley, where he was a star. We're going to miss you Bob - we hope right now you are at the Bridge with Barkley and Schmoo, your Lab sisters, frolicking without care or pain.
CHAPTER 29 Dogs and Cats Living Together
Words can do our bidding, but sometimes nothing else will.
Especially a cat.
I went for some years before Barkley without a dog, believing with my life and schedule and commitments I just didn't need one. But I never had cats.
Suddenly, as Barkley came into my life and we opened our world to a lot more than work, I met a lot of other animal people, and many of them had cats. Fortunately, Barkley stayed with a friend for a few weeks when he was a pup when I was traveling and his regular dog sitter was having surgery. It was comfortable country home that came with an assortment of dogs, cats, and grandkids, and he had a grand time with them.
The cats I am around now belonged to my friends, MC and Mr. B. There is Tank, oh, so aptly named, the one that sleeps with me every night when I visit them. Then there is lovable Bob, a big orange Nerf ball with legs, Socks, and Goldie. Our visits with them included Barkley and their black lab Schmoo just hanging out, lots of food and fun times, EJ joining us when he could. Knowing MC was like having a sister and Mr. B. was not just a fabulous cook, he was an engineer like EJ, so they got along great and these were times I looked forward to.
Since both Barkley and I were somewhat housing unencumbered, my friends with the four cats, needing to both be out of town for a few days, asked me to housesit. I had some vacation time I could use and would love to be out in the country, so I said yes and Barkley and I arrived. We'd be fine on our own for a few days, EJ planning to come over on a couple of evenings to visit and help Barkley and I as needed.
The house sitting was going pretty well I thought, after that first couple of days. Six animals in the house kept me busy, but there were many hours to read or write (or sit with a Big Orange Cat in my lap while I watched the Rifleman on big screen TV). I'd handled the litter box for four cats well (thank you, surgical mask!)
I might not even need EJ's help, though part of me wished for his company. The house was quiet; all the animals were snoozing, and all was right with the world. As it got dark, the lights off, I sensed movement from the master bedroom across the hall, where Barkley and a couple of cats were napping.
Barkley whined. It was a soft plaintive whine, not of pain, just of worry. I heard him moving, toward me, but he was not moving fast.
Another whine as he entered the hall that was lit.
He had been on the bed of my friends, the top coverlet a crocheted type. The little hook of his rabies tag had caught in it. Of course, with multiple pets trying to nest in it, it was wrapped up in all the covers, which he was now trying to run down the hall with it in tow. Lying on the tail end of all of it was Bob the Cat, riding it like a travois.
Barkley was unhooked; Bob was displaced (much to his displeasure) with only minimal blood loss on my part and the bed was remade.
I called for backup though.
There were some things I learned about cats that week. To start, out in the country, no matter how many cats are in the house, mice will still come in when it dips down into the low 30s at night. Even though all four cats are peering out the window at them, the mice would come in, a suicide mission if there ever was one.
I also discovered that four cats, defying all laws of physics and thermodynamics, can, on a daily basis, turn 36 ounces of basic sustenance into 16 pounds of poop. Outside of politics I’ve not seen a conversion quite like it.
I also found that cats can be so much fun (except for the morning I had to clean up a stain the size of
Vermont where Goldie horked up what appeared to be William Shatner's Toupee.)
Still, as much as those critters are family, I still am a "dog person." I love how dogs wait, they long for your return and greet you with an unbridled joy that knows no bounds. On those days that I came home drained from a difficult day, tears in my eyes and the worry of ghosts in my soul, he was there. Barkley simply laid his head on my knee and looked up, as if that moment is what he lived for. His tail would wag with a healing that humans can't always give.
He didn't care how new or fancy his house was, what he rode in, or what collar he wore. All he cared about is how to bequeath that which sustains him, in his too-short life: his faith and his love, as he patiently waited, only wanting me to come back into the room where he lay.
But I admire how that when I was away, he was fine, bonding with friends who care for him, some related by blood, some just related by love and friendship. Unlike most cats, which just have staff, dogs have their pack and Barkley had his own among my friends.
They cared for him as did I. Once while I was away, he injured a leg, jumping high for a toy, just like he always did, one minute happy, the next, hobbling with pain. My friends were beyond concerned, and we hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, he was a little better, and then quit eating, then drinking, and my concern turned to panic.
I called my friend, Tam, and she came over, helping me make a little stretcher out of a rug to get him into the truck and off to an animal hospital in the city that was open on a Sunday. It was a simple soft tissue injury where he’d overextended his leg, and they kept him overnight for some hydration, some pain, and anti-inflammatory meds and he was better. But I was like a parent there in the waiting room, the young male vet trying to soothe me as I fought tears. He said, "Are you by yourself" and I sniffed,"No, a friend is with me." He said, “I'll go find them, what do they look like?”
I said, "Look for the beautiful six-foot-tall, pony-tailed blond in the ball cap pacing the lobby looking worried." That young man was quite happy to share the news.
That is what family has always done, and pets are our family. But although you can own a dog, he’s with you because he wants to be. Short of tying him up, if Barkley was truly unhappy here he could just jump the fence and leave in a heartbeat, off to the land of unlimited biscuits and Moms who don't live out of a suitcase part of the year. He is bound only by choice, not vow or ring or law.
But he did not. Each day, be it rain, shine, or snow, he was here for me, even if I was not present. That was his gift to me, one I accepted gladly for as long as he lives.