MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE – BY TOM CURLEY

THE RAINBOW BRIDGE

I usually try to be funny or at least amusing when I write these blogs. Sadly, this will not be one of them. Yesterday, my furry grandson Banning crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was a sweet, wonderful little guy. It was only a month or so ago that he officiated at his Mom and Dad’s wedding.

For those of you who have never had the soul-wrenching job of having to have your pet put to sleep, you may think the Rainbow Bridge is the bridge Thor uses to get from Earth to Asgard.

That’s not the one. Although I guess it could be if your dog is a Viking.

Anyone that has done it knows it refers to a card the vet gives you when your dog dies. It’s really quite beautiful and if for some strange reason you should ever find yourself feeling just too happy or in too good a mood and feel the need to cry your eyes out,  just read it. Works every time. I got to thinking about this because there was a copy of it on the wall in the vet’s office.

I first experienced the Rainbow Bridge when my dog George had to be put down.

I’ve always found that term so odd. When you “put the baby down”, you put the baby to bed. But when you “put your pet down”,  you put him to sleep. Forever. Never quite understood that.

Anyway, George was my first time going through this nightmare. I just couldn’t do it. To me, I was playing God. I had the power of life and death over another being. How arrogant was that? My then-wife and I agonized for days about when to do it and even if we could do it. We decided to take a ride around the block to clear our heads. When we came back, George was in a coma.

We rushed him to the vet realizing we had waited way too long. We were both total basket cases. And then the oddest thing happened. The doctor who took care of us was a doctor we had never seen before. We had been going to the same vet for years. I didn’t think much about it at the time. New doctors come and go.

I was also too much of wreck to even think about it until later. But here’s the thing. He was beautiful. Not just handsome, beautiful. My ex even said at the time “that’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”

He did what he had to do. He was incredibly nice and kind to us. We didn’t really notice until later because we were so devastated. We went home, cried for about a week and then as it does, life moved on. One of the only cures for the grief of losing a loved one is time.

So, fast forward about a month or so. One day I get a bill in the mail from the vet. All the bill says is “George – $50.” I look at it and go ‘what’? I was pretty sure I had paid all my vet bills, so I called the vet and asked what the bill was for.

There was a really long pause and the lady at the other end of the phone finally said in a quiet whisper, “It’s for… George.”

I said “Yes I know that. It says so right here on the bill. But what is it for?”

In an even quieter whisper, she said, “It’s for… George. You asked for him to be cremated.”

Apparently, we’d been asked at the time if we wanted George to be cremated and we said yes. I have no memory whatsoever of doing that, I was such a mess at the time. But I had to chuckle. Enough time had gone by that I could see the humor in the whole thing. So, I laughed and then asked her why she was whispering.

She explained most people get very emotional all over again when they are informed of the cremation, so they try to be as gentle and kind as possible. I said that made sense and that was very nice of them. She then said, “And by the way… George is ready.” I said, “Ready for what?”

Again, the whisper came back “He’s ready. He’s here. You wanted to keep the ashes.” Again, no memory of asking for that either. I laughed again and spent a few minutes consoling her because she seemed more upset about this than I was. I said I’d be right over.

So, chuckling at the whole incident and sort of happy that enough time had passed that I could see the humor in the whole thing, I went to pick up George. I entered the office and said I was here to pick up George. Instantly everyone got very quiet and out came the whispers again. I reassured them I was OK, and I paid the bill. Then the nice lady behind the counter looked furtively to the left and the right and reached down under counter and handed me a plain brown paper bag. Sort of like a drug deal. I smiled to myself. For some reason this was just getting funnier, they were all so sweet.

As I was leaving, I asked if the doctor was around so I could thank him for his kindness. I didn’t remember his name. I described him and they looked at me puzzled. No doctor of that description worked there. They hadn’t hired a new doctor in years. True story, swear to God. As the theme to the Twilight Zone played in my head, I left with my paper bag and got in the car. I looked in the bag and there were two things. One, a very plain white box. George. And then I pulled out this postcard with the Rainbow Bridge on it. I read it and burst out in tears and cried my eyes out all the way home.

I’ve helped many more of my furry family to that bridge since then and I will do so again. I didn’t have to make the choice in Banning’s case. His Mom and Dad, David and Katie did. But it didn’t make it one bit less gut-wrenching. They did what they had to do.

The ultimate act of kindness. I’m proud of them.

Keanu Reeves was on Colbert a while back and for some reason, Colbert asked him what happens after you die. He paused for a second and said.

“You will be missed by the people that loved you.”

There was stunned silence in the audience and Colbert who was literally speechless. He just said. “Wow.”

My furry grandson was my little bud.

He was loved and he will be missed.

Say Hi to George little buddy.

A MUSICAL AND PHOTOGRAPHIC FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Music by Leslie Martel, SWO8 and photos by Marilyn Armstrong

When Leslie proposed this project to me, I wasn’t exactly sure how it would work out, but it came out fine!

Today is Father’s Day. The song  “Tribute to Clarence” by swo8 Blues Jazz from the album Osaka Time in iTunes, was written for Leslie’s father, Clarence. They had an organ at home — at one point, even a pipe organ (I’m so envious — I love the sound of those pipes).

Leslie’s father built a special room to house the pipes. When he played that organ the house rocked! Clarence had two loves in life: music and his dogs. It was at the “dogs” that I came in because I have pictures of dogs, probably because we have two dogs now and have had as many as five. If we took in all the dogs offered to us, we’d have probably been able to register as a shelter, but we were up to capacity.

A fine piece of original jazz! The dog is Leslie’s “grand-dog.” The man playing the organ is indeed the aforementioned Clarence, Leslie’s dad.

Enjoy!!

HOUDINI DOG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom’s brother, Todd, came for a visit with his dog, Houla, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She’s only fourteen months old so she’s still a puppy, with puppy energy and a puppy’s desire to play constantly with my two, older dogs.

My three-year-old dog, Remy, played with Houla a lot and the two of them chased each other around the yard at top speed. What’s surprising is that my nine-year-old, Lexi, also played with Houla. This is great because it gave my otherwise couch potato dog some exercise. So the three dogs got along fine, unlike Houla’s younger days when we constantly had to intervene to break up overly aggressive or enthusiastic wrestling matches.

The problem is that Houla discovered a way to get out of our fenced in backyard. We have a tall, reinforced fence covering a large area around two sides of our house. Our dogs have not breached the perimeter for years. Remy found a hole in the fence when we first adopted her but has not found another way out since we plugged that hole. Apparently, she just wasn’t looking.

Houla six months ago

One day we realized that Houla was not in the room with us and we went looking for her. She wasn’t downstairs and she wasn’t upstairs so we went out to the backyard and called her. She instantly appeared, happily wagging her tail at us, from the outside of the fence. We brought her back inside and in short order, she was out again.

Houla outside, looking for trouble

We had to figure out how she was getting out so we all took turns watching her when she went out. After a very short time, she made a beeline to a spot in the fence and started digging and prodding the fence with her nose. Houla had found a small area of fencing that had a hole on the inside, which Houla made bigger. Then she managed to pull on the fence with her teeth and dislodge it from the ground so she could wiggle under it and out the other side.

Houla in a rare quiet moment

This was the beginning of a two-day battle of wits and wills between Tom and Houla. Tom started by putting logs up against the loose part of the fence, but Houla just pushed them aside and escaped under the fence again. Tom then put a large garbage can on the outside of the fence and rocks and more logs on the inside. No problem for Houla.

Tom’s early attempt to stop Houla from getting out

Tom was frustrated and kept piling more things on the trouble spot. Each time he was sure that he had come up with something that Houla couldn’t possibly get around. His confidence was adorable, but he was always wrong. He even used stakes to keep the fence attached to the ground – to no avail.

Another cute photo of Houla as a younger puppy

To add to the problem, when Houla got out, she found a large mud hole to splash in and kept reappearing wet and dirty at the outside of the fence. We had to hose her down and dry her off before I would let her back into the house.

Houla with Todd

Now things got serious – except that I kept laughing at Tom each time he’d get outsmarted by a dog. But we couldn’t all leave the house at the same time because while Houla was adept at getting out, she couldn’t get back in and we didn’t want her wandering out to the road or getting lost in the woods.

Finally, Tom pulled out all the stops. He put a heavy bucket of salt from the winter on the outside of the hole and blocked the inside with an even heavier metal ramp that we use to get the dogs on and off our boat. Success! Houla has gone outside and poked around her escape route but has not managed to get through again.

Tom finally managed to plug the hole in the fence

Crisis averted! Tom is vindicated! For now.

AHAB THE WANDERER – Marilyn Armstrong

Back in another life, I lived in a little house on Long Island, not far from the university where I’d gone to school and at which my husband worked. We always had a dog and several cats. In those days, we let our cats outside. There wasn’t much traffic and everyone’s cats roamed the neighborhood.

One day, while we were out in the yard, we had a visitor, a medium-sized black and white cat. He was extremely friendly. Sidled right up to us, purring, and doing that little head butt that’s so endearing. Maybe he was hungry? Of course, we fed him.

My son fell immediately in love and we said he could keep the cat.

ahab

My husband had a passion for the classics. He named the cat Ahab, which he said meant “wanderer.” Princeton University agrees, except the name in Hebrew means “uncle.” Which is irrelevant but I threw it in because I did the research and wanted to do something with the information.

Back to the story, already in progress.

Ahab was a sweetheart, the most laid-back cat I ever knew. My 4-year old felt he needed a bubble bath in a bucket. Ahab purred his way through the bubbles and the rinse cycle then continued purring all the way through dinner and a relaxed evening on the sofa with the whole family.

We couldn’t figure out why anyone would let a sweet fellow like Ahab go. He was young. Healthy. Litter trained, though he preferred going outside to do his business. His coat was shiny and he showed no sign of abuse or neglect. He oozed charm.

Ahab settled in like he’d always lived with us. He got along with the dog and the other cats. Loved children. Loved everyone. We made a date to take him to the veterinarian for shots.

He never went to the vet, at least not with us. The following day, without so much as a “by your leave,” Ahab moved down the block and took up residence with a different family. We were a little wounded. We’d never been abandoned by a cat before. His new family adored him but Ahab only hung around a few days, then moved on.

We eventually lost track of Ahab. He moved from house to house, charming everyone and purring his way to his next home. He never stayed longer than a few days and was always the perfect house guest.

Was he a stray? If he was, it was what he wanted.  Ahab was a wanderer by choice.

REMEMBER WHAT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag o’ medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.

After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television for Garry. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker. I put my medications into a cup which is really the lid from a medicine bottle. Convenient and it keeps little round pills from rolling off the table.

I never remember everything. Typically, I forget to turn off the fan in the living room or in winter, turn down the thermostat. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t.

“Ah,” I think. “Thermostat.” I go back to the living room. Turn down the temperature. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.

Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. Need to refill antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the big bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I limp back to the bedroom. And get the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else.

Ah, that’s right. I left an extra light on in the living room. Up the hall to the living room. Turn off light. I am currently embattled with the electric company about my bill. I pet the dogs again, which with three dogs always involves some kind of weird arrangement of arms and hands. Then, it’s back to the bedroom.

Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. I recently relocated all of our copies of National Geographics and The New Yorker to a shelf in the bathroom. Right in front of the toilet. I suppose I have only myself to blame.

He settles into watching highlights of a Sox game, followed by a movie or three. I turn on my audiobook.

An hour later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy. Everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic sets in.

Which is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. Where I put them. Like two hours ago. With all the walking up and down the hallway, I never got around to taking them which explains why they aren’t working.

I laugh. Garry takes off his headphones long enough for me to explain why. I got to the punchline, he looks at me and says: “You didn’t take them?” He Laughs — and puts the headphones back.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines, calendars, and Google. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re less likely to forget. Or fail to remember if we did it today or yesterday. If that fails, there’s Google.

Google is not useful for remembering if I have a doctor’s appointment or whether or not I called in that prescription, but it’s great for all the other trivia of life. All the missing words, titles of books, movies, TV shows, actors, historical events, kinds of dogs.

Actually, I use posts the same way. I may not remember whatever it is, but the odds are pretty good I wrote it down in a post. If I could only remember the title of the post!

The other evening, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right, usually. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog.

Recently, they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to find simple information. In fact, the whole AKC site seems to be a place to sell puppies — something I find more than a little suspicious.

I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same kind of pooch as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.

Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.” Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show. First I had to find the name of the show.

Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about a psychiatrist.” Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first appeared, but I couldn’t remember its name, either.

One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

DOG TRAINING CLASSES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My daughter, Sarah, is involved with a dog rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. A rescue group is different from a shelter in many ways. A shelter is often a city or local entity that keeps a, usually large, number of abandoned dogs in cages awaiting adoption. Many euthanize animals when they run out of space or if a dog seems “unadoptable” for a variety of reasons, including medical reasons.

Rescue groups pull dogs from shelters and put them in either foster homes or brick and mortar facilities with much nicer ‘rooms’ for the dogs. There are a manageable number of dogs and each dog gets more human attention and training than shelter dogs can get.

A rescue utilizes mostly volunteers to do their work, which includes taking dogs to vet appointments, supporting the foster families and helping them whenever needed, as well as socializing the rescue dogs as much as possible. Rescues pay for all the dogs’ shots and spaying and neutering, and all medical care that the dog may need before they are ready for adoption.

Rescues make an effort to get their dogs used to dealing with people and other dogs. They learn which dogs are good with kids and which may not be so good with cats.

This helps with the primary job of the rescue group – matching a dog to an appropriate family. Rescues are much more particular than shelters in vetting their potential adopters because they want to find a ‘good fit’ between the animal and its new home. They want to minimize the number of ‘returns’ as much as possible, although this does still happen.

Angel City started offering free dog training classes a few years ago and my daughter assists the trainer in these classes. Today they offer three different classes on six consecutive Saturday mornings.

I visited Sarah in LA for a week and I went with her to her Saturday classes. It was great fun watching the interactions between the owners, the trainers, and the dogs. The first class is open to the community but most of the students are recent Angel City adopters and their new dogs.

It’s a Movement Class, which works on leash skills for both the dogs and their masters. Walking on a leash without pulling or getting distracted by other people or dogs, is not as easy as it sounds. Dog and human have to work together and at first, this process involves lots of treats. The dog should eventually learn to walk by the owner’s side when the owner is walking, and stop and sit when the owner stops. That’s a goal I have never reached with my two current dogs.

The second class works on Owner Focus and attempts to establish a relationship where the dog looks to the human for direction – what should I or shouldn’t I be doing now? The trainer teaches basic commands, like sit and down and works with owners to keep their pets focused on them and not the other dogs or the environment. This again involves lots of treats.

The third class is just for current Angel City fosters and residents. Volunteers commit to taking one dog through the six-week class, which will help the dog get adopted because basic training and social skills are a big selling point for potential adoptive families.

Sarah with a new student

One dog in this class had a unique story – he had just been rescued off the street two weeks earlier by a wonderful family. This dog, who was one or two years old, was still decompressing from his life on the streets and needed a lot of patience and TLC. His new owner was great with him and was committed to giving him a good life in a loving home.

I’m very proud of my daughter for devoting her time and energy to such a good cause. Her example has stimulated me to try to get one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog. I did this with one of my other dogs, many years ago and it was a gratifying experience. The dog loved it and the seniors at the senior center I lit up when they said, “me and my dog.”

I can’t wait to do this again!