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.
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.
A few weeks ago, my very expensive kitchen scissors vanished. I was sure they would reappear, that they had maybe fallen under a cabinet or something. I decided it could not be the dogs because why would a dog be interested in scissors? They don’t have thumbs, so what could they do with them.
But today, the truth came to light.
Garry went to The Crate.
This where all three dogs “save” stuff. Toys, bits of wood, whatever things they’ve stolen (socks, slippers, hairbrushes, small blankets, odd items of clothing (underpants [mine are very popular]), plastic medicine bottles. Weirdly, they leave each others’ treasure alone and attack their own. Bonnie prefers soft things. Gibbs like anything which squeaks — except balls which he totally doesn’t get — and mess with their own stuff. Except for food.
If it’s edible, first jaws get the bite.
So it was obvious that the crate was overflowing and Garry decided to clean it out. He found lots of stuff including the usual empty plastic medicine bottles (gnawed), with or without lids. Old mail. Not so old mail. And half of the missing scissors with a chewed-up handle.
These were expensive scissors that were designed to come apart for cleaning, so I’m pretty sure the other half is somewhere. As are a few of my missing socks, underwear, and at least one nightgown.
I’m not even sure how the Duke — it had to be the Duke because I doubt either Bonnie or Gibbs would want the scissors — I didn’t think it was any of the dogs. I was blaming gremlins, pixies, brownies, and other house elves.
Maybe The Duke IS a gremlin. Or at the very least, a house elf. That would explain a lot.
Our two-and-a-half-year-old rescue dog, Remy, is a Daddy’s girl.
She shows her love for Tom in a variety of ways, some endearing and some annoying. For example, when we go upstairs to bed, Remy immediately lies down smack in the middle of Tom’s ‘spot’ on the bed and won’t budge. She follows Tom with her eyes and wags her tail, but no amount of Tom’s cajoling or commanding will get her to move. When Tom gets into bed, he has to physically push her out of the way to make room for himself.
Remy has problems with her anal glands (if you don’t know about dogs’ anal glands, you’re lucky) and she has to go to the vet every three weeks to have them cleaned out. That’s a lot of vet visits!
Originally I took her myself, but she would sit bolt upright in the car and cry, howl, whine and scream for the entire half hour ride. It was unnerving and probably not pleasant for her either.
Then I got the idea to have Tom come with us on our torturous rides to see if it calmed Remy down. It was miraculous.
With Tom in the car, Remy was quiet and even lay down peacefully and closed her eyes, so now Tom is stuck going to the vet with her every three weeks.
Another weird expression of affection comes every morning right after breakfast when Remy starts to jump around, wag her tail expectantly and bark at Tom as if she wants him to do something. But when he goes into the backyard with her, she just sits on the steps and looks at him.
Occasionally she’ll run around with him for maybe a minute and then run back inside. We can’t figure out what she wants Tom to do, but whatever it is, she doesn’t want the same thing from me.
In the same vein, when I’m getting the dogs’ dinner ready, Remy will go up to Tom and bark and whine and jump on him and paw him. I always feed the dogs, never Tom, so why she is pestering him while I’m actually preparing her food, is another mystery. But it’s always all about Tom.
One other unique token of love happens when Tom gets out of the shower. Remy obsessively licks his legs while he brushes his teeth. I think it’s funny – she may be attempting to groom him.
Tom finds it disconcerting though and tries to get her to stop. While she may give me a few perfunctory licks when I get out of the shower, it’s nothing like her devotion to Tom’s legs. I adore Remy but I have to admit that she has something special with Tom. I actually feel good about that because the dog we lost before we got Remy, Lucky, was also more Tom’s dog. Tom missed that bond.
Our other dog, Lexi, is my shadow, who thinks her job in life is to protect me from errant squirrels, cars on the road and especially the cleaning lady with the vacuum cleaner. She loves Tom but is clearly ‘my’ dog.
Remy does have an independent streak. Lexi is always on the sofa with us but Remy sometimes disappears while we’re watching TV. Lexi is always on the bed with us, but Remy sometimes goes off on her own. It’s nice that she feels secure enough to do her own thing, but it’s also nice that she shows us how loved we are – especially Tom.
We got him by accident. We kept him because he needed a home. We thought eventually, he’d calm down.
He has not calmed down.
He has not become mellow.
He has not recognized that he is home and it safe to relax. Mostly, he wants to be attached to Garry all the time. Physically joined if possible.
He has calm periods, but mostly, he’s like a giant, over-wound spring and if the hour strikes just right, he goes into hyper action and zooms madly around the house, knocking over fences and making the two, relatively quiet little Scotties looking lost and confused.
Duke is not our first dog. We’ve had a big selection of hounds, terriers, and mutts of various backgrounds, sizes, ages. Somehow or other they have all fit in here because anyone or anything can fit in here, assuming they want to. For years, there has been great howling and yapping and barking in this house and that’s the way we seem to like it.
The thing we’ve never had, however, are truly obedient dogs. We don’t demand obedience, so we don’t get it. I wasn’t a very good disciplinarian as a mom, either.
Discipline makes me feel guilty. Who am I to demand obedience? Who do I think I am anyway?
Garry is worse. Garry was born with a gene that says “whatever you tell me to do, I won’t do it.” It’s a special piece of DNA that screams “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?” Even in the Marine Corps, when his drill instructor yelled at him, he laughed.
It got him a lot of days scrubbing bathrooms with toothbrushes, but it’s in his blood. He cannot help himself. I cannot help him either. He’s a tough nut. People think he’s so easy-going … and he is … unless you get him mad. Then he isn’t. Easy-going.
Duke is the dog Garry deserves. Duke also has no grip on “Do what they tell you. Be a GOOD dog.” You stare at Duke and he stares back. You can see every inch of Duke screaming “Oh yeah? Who’s gonna make me?”
Certainly not Garry. They try to stare each other down, but Garry starts laughing long before he manages to get obedience … and anyway, I don’t think Duke can do it. It’s not in him. The other dogs, if they hear that “tone” in my voice will do what I say because they hear the “alpha” note — and figure they ought to behave, even if it’s just a few minutes.
Not Duke. Nope. Never. He doesn’t do “obey.” He would make a feral cat look like a well-trained pup.
Unless I’m holding a piece of chicken. Chicken is another level of training and if I actually needed Duke to behave, I would need a lot of chickens. Possibly a whole cow. Or an entire flock of sheep and maybe a school of shrimp. Do shrimp swim in a school or is that just fish?
Anyway, Duke is the dog Garry needed. He is the dog that will go eyeball-to-eyeball with Garry until they are both laughing themselves silly. Well, Garry does most of the laughing, but I swear Duke is grinning.
So we know why Garry wound up with Duke, but what did the two Scotties and I do to deserve him?
Two Scottish Terriers and a mutt of Asian extraction.
2. How long have you had your current pet(s)?
We’ve had Bonnie since she was 9 weeks old and she is now 11. After that, We’ve had Gibbs for two years and Duke for one year
3. What’s the longest period of time you’ve lived with a pet?
Bonnie wins that one. We got her when she was only 9 weeks old. And suddenly, she’s 11. How did that happen?
4. What type of animals do you generally gravitate towards when adopting pets?
At this point? Dogs.
For a long time, we didn’t live anywhere we could keep dogs, so we didn’t have them, but once we could, we got one, then another. And then some more.
5. What type of animal do you think is the easiest to care for as a pet?
Pets are not “easy” really. When they are healthy and happy and not old and cranky, they are all easy. But time does to dogs what it does to people.
They develop physical issues, including arthritis and cancer and because their lives are so short, it feels like no time passes between puppyhood and old age.
6. Do any of your pets have annoying habits that you can’t break them of?
Gibbs barks continuously when Owen is around the house. NO idea why because he doesn’t do that with anyone else. Duke tends to try to bully the Scotties.
They don’t like it and neither do I, but he has a passionate yearning to be top dog and he’s pushy. The Scotties are not pushy, so he gets away with it.
7. What, in your opinion, is the most difficult thing about being a pet owner?
Vet bills. And losing your dogs to age.
8. Do any of your animals have amusing traits that are particular to them?
All of them.
Bonnie is just adorable, stubborn, funny. Duke lived most of his life in a cage, but he has come a long way in a short time.
He’s quite the cuddler these days when The Duke doesn’t try to muscle him out of the way.
The Duke is totally wacko. Seriously nuts.
9. Which type of pet do you think requires the most care?
Fish, absolutely. Fish tanks always need care.
10. Was there a furbaby that you bonded with more closely than any other?
Griffin, our big boy PBGV was my favorite. He didn’t live nearly long enough.
But I love them all. He was just such a big heap of love and he made me laugh.
11. Do you spoil your pets? In what way?
Basically, they run the joint and let us live here and feed them. We are very good about that.
12. How do your pets react to strangers in the yard? at the door? in the house?
It depends on the stranger. Mostly, strangers don’t come into the yard. I have signs everywhere warning people away.
It’s not to protect them. It’s to protect the dogs from them.
13. Do you tend to anthropomorphize your animals? If so, how far do you take it? For example: Do you dress them in clothing?
Not so much as I’ve gotten older. I often wish I could get into their heads and understand them better.
14. Have you ever had what might be considered “unusual” or exotic pets?
We had a pair of ferrets, Bonnie and Clyde. They were adorable, but they weren’t our pets. They were our cat’s pets. He adopted them.
15. How old were you when you (or your family) adopted your first pet?
I grew up with Doberman Pinschers. I think we got the first one when I was four and they were there until I was a teenager. Then they got a German Shepherd, but by then, I was out of the house and living a separate life.
Garry and I both had cats when we met. He had two, I had one. Getting them to like each other was not easy, but neither of us was willing to give up a cat!
16. What’s the most trouble you can remember a pet getting into?
Bonnie was stolen, but the cops brought her home. Sirens and all.
18. What does your relationship with your furbaby mean to you?
They keep us sane. I swear I’d never survive life without them.
19. How do your pets react when you sing and/or dance?
We don’t dance and our singing seems to be mostly ignored.
20. Have you ever adopted a pet and found out you didn’t get along with them? What did you do?
Yes. We rehomed them to people who loved them.
21. Where do your pets sleep in relation to you? Do they have their own bed, or do you allow them to share yours?
Our pets own the living room and sleep on the sofas. My back is too twisted to share it with three dogs and in any case, the Scotties are too short-legged to get up on a bed without being in danger of getting hurt falling off.
22. How do you come up with names for your pets?
Garry picked Bonnie whose full name is Bonnie Annie Laurie if you please.
I picked Gibbs.
Garry picked The Duke.
23. Putting aside money and sanitary issues — If you could fill your house and property with animals, what type would they be?
Dogs. And maybe a donkey.
24. What was the most expensive pet you’ve ever adopted?
A Norwich terrier who turned out to be a horrible mistake. We rehomed her and she lived a GREAT life, but she was not a dog who got along with other animals. And she was dumb as a rock.
25. What, in your opinion, is the best thing about adopting animals into your home?
They remind you to keep living! Because you need them — and they need YOU.
I haven’t written about our dogs in a while. That’s unusual for me because they are such a big part of our lives.
Our two rescue dogs are my constant companions, or nearly constant. More often than not, wherever I am, they are too. But, they each have favorite spots around the house that they like to go to hang out on their own. So sometimes Tom and I will realize that we humans are the only living beings in the room. When that happens, we usually get up and go looking for our furry pals. I’m embarrassed to admit that we often try to cajole them to come back and hang out with us again.
Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I like that independent streak in our pets. Especially with Lexi, our eight year old. She is generally too attached and dependent on me and has separation issues. She is usually my shadow so I’m thrilled when she goes into another room on her own. It has taken years to get her to this point.
Our two-year old, Remy, is much more independent. But she is such a lover and a cuddler! She is one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever known. She greets us each morning with sheer joy! She is so thrilled to see us again after a long night. It almost feels like she is excited and grateful to see that we’re still here and so is she. I believe that most rescue dogs have a deep sense of gratitude for being rescued. And also a great appreciation for being part of a family. I see that clearly in Remy, who was eight months old when we got her.
Remy exudes doggie charisma. Everyone loves her instantly. People sense her sweetness and take to her like bees to honey. She sits next to our friends and cuddles with them. She paws them gently to get them to pet her. She rests her head on their arm or thigh. She sniffs and occasionally licks their faces and hands. She just charms the pants off of everyone she meets.
Stacked on sofa
Sometimes I feel bad for Lexi. She is a shyer and more obviously neurotic dog. So people don’t realize right away how special she is. But once she warms up to you, she is truly awesome. She is very interactive with people. And she is the most verbally communicative dog I’ve ever had. She ‘talks’ – not just barks. She has a wide vocabulary of distinctive sounds and she responds verbally when you talk to her. It’s delightful to have ‘conversations’ with her.
Lexi, like Remy, as also very affectionate. She elicits attention from people with her paws and her voice. She drapes herself over people she’s comfortable with. Sometimes Remy is sitting next to me so there’s no room for Lexi at my side. But that doesn’t stop Lexi! If she wants to cuddle with me, she’ll just climb over Remy and onto my lap. Or she will climb onto the sofa cushion BEHIND me and wrap herself around my neck. Very creative cuddling!
Remy’s favored modes of verbalization are whining as well as barking. I’ve never had a whiner before. Apparently it’s a breed trait of the Red Boned Coon Hound, which seems to be part of Remy’s DNA. (She also looks similar to dogs of that breed and shares their unique and beautiful color).
Her whining can get really high-pitched and shrill, not her best feature. We’re much happier when she just barks at us. But to get Tom to play with her, she whines. She starts softly and then escalates into shrieks if Tom dares to ignore her. This tactic usually works to motivate Tom to get up and take the dogs into the backyard. Or to run around the house with both dogs frantically chasing him and barking with glee.
Both dogs are still skittish, as are many rescue dogs. They startle at sudden noises or movements. They bark frantically when people come into the house and it takes them a while to calm down. Even when we come home after being out for a while, they greet us with frenzied squealing and barking and crazed jumping and running around. They’re a bit over the top, but we enjoy our enthusiastic greetings whenever we walk into the house. It’s a family ritual.
Me and my dogs
Captain Tom and his boat (Serenity) and dog – Photo: Ellin Curley
Remy and Tom
Our dogs sleep in bed with us. All our dogs have. Like most dogs, Lexi and Remy have nighttime rituals they follow religiously. When we first go to bed, Remy lies between Tom and me and cuddles with both of us, in turn. Lexi curls up against my legs or feet. Then at some point towards morning, the dogs switch places. Lexi ends up cuddling with me and Remy takes up her place at my feet or up against Tom.
Sometimes when we get up to go to the bathroom during the night, we get back to find little or no room for us on the bed. We have to push and prod the dogs to get them to move over and create a viable, albeit small, space for us.
In the morning, when the dogs sense we’re getting ready to get up, they pounce on us. Lots of licks and nuzzles. They climb all over Tom and lick him until he finally gets out of bed. What a great wake up call. We start the day with a big dose of love and enthusiasm! Lots of joyful wiggles and wags!
We get out of bed smiling and laughing – which says a lot. We DO NOT like getting out of bed in the mornings!
We don’t have grandchildren, so maybe that’s a factor in our obsession with our dogs. But, whatever the reason, we love our human/canine family. They fill our days with laughter and love. They provide entertainment and affection. They make us happy. And we can’t imagine living any other way!
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