Tonight, we had to say goodbye to a furry friend. Elvis was 17 years old when the vet came to see her one last time; 30 seconds later, she was gone.
Elvis was a tiny kitten Claire’s dad, Dave, found at a fertilizer plant. Elvis wasn’t afraid of him (or anyone else), and Dave brought the kitten home, fearing it would accidentally ingest chemicals or suffer some other cruel fate. They thought it was a boy, named “him” Elvis, and found out later that it was actually a girl. Despite the inevitable confusion from veterinarians for years to come, the name stayed.
Her life was filled with happiness. She used to dangle in a branch above the bird bath, lurking and waiting. When Dave went into the hospital, Elvis’s soft coat patiently absorbed every last one of Claire’s tears–she always knew when her mom needed comforting. For me, I’ll remember Elvis’s quiet meow and understanding eyes. I’ll remember her laying in the grass while we drank morning coffee in Lubbock, absorbing the sun and surveying the yard, waiting patiently to escape over the fence on another adventure. I’ll remember her racing around like a kitten even though she was 17 years old, batting around a ping-pong ball or chasing after the snake wand.
But for me, my favorite memory of Elvis will be her stubbornness. She laid down when she wanted to, she reminded you when it was time for canned food, and she let you know that it was her pillow, god dammit. She would glare at Claire when it was time for bed, she refused to relax on the 22-hour road trip from Ohio to Texas until she felt safe, and she swatted any cat that got in her way as she gingerly walked down the hall.
It’s my favorite memory because she used her stubbornness to get what she wanted. She laid down when she wanted to because she wanted to figure out how to be exactly between Claire and me. It was time for canned food because she liked being special, a daily reminder that no matter how many others showed up, she was still the favorite. She wanted her pillow because she could lay against Claire’s cheek. It was bedtime because she wanted to cuddle, she whined on road trips until she got to sit in her mom’s lap, and she didn’t tolerate other animals in her way because she had a path mapped out that would get her from point A to affection in the least amount of time.
She was stubborn because all she wanted was love, and her life was absolutely filled with it. From the moment she woke up to the moment she fell asleep, she was nearby, either in somebody’s thoughts or someone’s arms.
There’s a poem called the rainbow bridge that still makes me tear up every time I read it–collateral damage from my cat, Zeus:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. Her bright eyes are intent. Her eager body quivers. Suddenly she begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…
We now have one more furry friend waiting at the Rainbow Bridge, though she’s content to lounge in the sunshine instead of playing with others. But as soon as we approach, she’ll make a beeline toward us, her calculated steps uninterrupted and her glare keeping everyone out of her path. Determined, she will trot toward us, and she’ll start purring before we even pick her up, anticipating that happiness she so stubbornly desires and deserves.
Until that day in the brightly-colored sun, we can take solace knowing that a tiny kitten hiding among the chemicals ended up traveling across the United States…and she got to do it all from the safety of her mother’s arms. She saw everything while experiencing only joy–we should all be so lucky.
Only the sweetest dreams, Elvis. We miss you already.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Claire and I had to come to the rescue of a couple of animals lately. Bruce was the second, and I hate to drone on about our pets (the only things worse than pet blogs are mommy blogs), but Bruce has a unique story. When our friends and family learned we had taken in another cat, they rolled their eyes. When they heard why, everyone understood.
So this is the story of our latest addition.
A little while ago, Claire was outside when she heard a meow behind her.
And this is who she found:
We decided to call him Bruce, mostly because it was a name that we wouldn’t use for future pets.
It turns out, Bruce is a Maine coon, a breed of cat that I didn’t think existed (and, if we’re being honest, didn’t care existed). He chirps a lot (sometimes because he wants to play or wants food, sometimes just to announce he’s entering the room), he’s gigantic, and, as is described in the aforementioned site, he’s “a big loveable goof.”
He’s also incredibly good at relaxing:
We tried to find him a good home and as soon as Claire posted a description on Facebook, we were hit with electronic mail. Claire did most of the corresponding, told me about the prospects, and together we decided on a family that had a couple of young kids (who we figured to play with Bruce and utilize his friendliness and boundless energy).
Unfortunately, when the new owners came to pick up Bruce, I was judging a high school journalism competition about an hour north of Lubbock. I wished I could have said goodbye, but Claire got a good vibe from the new owners (they knew how to handle a scared cat) and ultimately I was just happy he found a new home.
Smash cut to four days later. It’s Sunday night, Claire is helping out at an event for her job, and I’m at home marveling at the fact that there’s actually an inch of snow on the ground. Check it out: I took this in the late morning, and it continued to snow like that almost the entire day.
On the rare occasions that it snows in Lubbock, the accumulation is almost never more than an inch and it’s normally melted by noon. But this snow was sticking around – so much so that I was already hoping a snow day was in order. That was when I heard a meow at the door.
At first I thought it was Stripey McPeppermint hungry for some free food. But when I opened the door, there was Bruce, standing on his back legs peering in the screen door window. He genuinely looked surprised to see me. I yelled his name in joy, and I laughed and laughed. I mean, I had seen The Incredible Journey / Homeward Bound many times, but didn’t think it would happen in real life. Brucey had found his way back!
I texted Claire to share the exciting news. She was not happy. In fact, she was absolutely furious.
As it turns out, the family lived clear on the other side of town – there was no way he could have found us. A quick trip outside (while Bruce devoured his food) revealed the ugly truth: The family, for whatever reason, had dropped him off on our street. Not at our house. On our street. Like I said, there was still snow on the ground, and you could see his paw prints where he had clearly gone from door to door, meowing desperately to be let in. I’m just glad I was there to answer.
Fortunately, Claire no longer had the contact information for the people who had temporarily taken him in, because we were absolutely livid. We told them that if it didn’t work out to bring him back to us and it wouldn’t be a problem. Clearly they remembered where we lived (who the hell would only remember that we lived somewhere adjacent to the Elgin/47th St. intersection.
After that, we tried to track down those people, but were unsuccessful (definitely best for them). Claire did put an ad up on Craigslist warning people about adopting pets, but I think it was more in the hopes that they would be pissed off enough to try and contact us (giving me a chance to deliver my well-rehearsed rant). I had to settle for reminding my students that how people treat animals is a great indicator of character (see also: How people treat wait staff, The pride people take in seemingly menial tasks).
We tried Craigslist again, but this time the only people who responded were a college student (who didn’t seem to understand that owning a cat wasn’t as much responsibility as owning a dog but it still requires a little effort) and a couple who was flakier than Tony the Tiger’s dandruff. HEY-OOOO!
Honestly, it’s definitely possible that we were being picky and that was turning off potential owners. But can you blame us? The last owners abandoned Bruce in the snow! He deserved better.
So now, we have Bruce (we made his full name a Braveheart reference to coolify “Bruce”). He loves be near us, whether it’s laying on the kitchen floor or sleeping on the couch. He loves to play with cat toys and can entertain himself pretty well. He was scared of dogs for awhile (he used to growl when he would hear a dog bark…on the TV) but feels safe now. He can flatten himself quickly and squeezes into places that are way too small for him. He’s very strong but prefers licking to biting. Really his only flaw is wanting to play with Clementine (who does not want to play with Bruce). And for awhile it was that he licked us until we woke up in the middle of the night to pet him, but it’s hard to begrudge him that.
He’s a large cat, and I hate to think of him on the streets, slowly morphing into a feral tomcat who is terrified of people and constantly hungry. Best case scenario: He lives for 6-7 years, dodging animal control, fighting hunger and heat, and protecting a dry spot he calls home during the rare rain.
But that’s not what happened. He found us, and then he found us again. Now he’s free to be a big, lovable goof.
Our big lovable goof.
Lubbock has long had problem with stray animals. It’s not an issue that’s confined to West Texas, though I would argue the cowboy mentality of refusing to spay/neuter pets certainly doesn’t help anything. Anyway, it’s a problem. A few of my students have done news stories on the city animal shelter, and found that between 3000 and 5000 animals are put down every year in Lubbock. Absolutely tragic.
As I’ve mentioned before, Claire and I are a sucker for helping animals. Well, we recently had two more opportunities. This is the first.
A while back, we were driving to pick up supper when we saw a large black lab trotting across 50th and Indiana, an extremely busy intersection here in Lubbock. He was happily oblivious, but Claire and I were concerned. After an extremely brief discussion, we opened up the back seat and Tug hopped in. Honestly, when we first saw him, we thought he had simply gotten out from a nearby neighborhood – he was very friendly and had a very nice collar.
*NOTE* Obviously we can’t keep the strays we find, but they have to be called something. So, we come up with names for animals that we would never use. Tug eventually came from the fact that we thought he would like tug-of-war (which he didn’t, but whatever). Heck, there was an orange cat with a striped tail that would have made a perfect Hobbes, but we wanted to save that name for later (if needed). Hence, we called him “Stripey McPeppermint.”
We didn’t see anyone who looked like they were searching for a dog, and so we put him in our backyard and brought home supper (and dog food). We were able to open up the door to the sunroom, so he could go in or out, and we made it a comfortable area.
In the meantime, Claire scoured Craigslist (and posted an ad of our own). However, after days of looking, nothing showed up. Finally, Claire went back through the ads and discovered a “Found” ad that matched Tug’s description from a few weeks earlier. Unfortunately, the people who wrote the ad never found the owners, and they finally just let Tug go. Nice people.
Now, I should take a minute to demonstrate just how awesome Tug was. Here are a couple pictures of him:
As you can see from the last photo, Tug loved trying to curl up on your lap. Here is video to prove it:
(apologies for the camera angle – I thought I hit pause before I flipped the phone)
I was in panic mode, as we’re not allowed to keep a dog in our rental house and, with our cats and our schedules, it wasn’t even an option if we were given permission. I called a ton of no-kill shelters, willing to drive pretty much anywhere in West Texas to make sure Tug wasn’t put down. The responses were not good:
• Midland SPCA NO ROOM (20 more dogs than they can handle)
• Amarillo Animal Rescue NO ROOM
• Amarillo SPCA NO ROOM
• LoneStar SPCA NO ROOM
• Noah’s Ark (Abilene) NO ROOM
• Haven (Lubbock) NO ROOM
• Operation Kindness NO ROOM
• Texas Tailwaggers NO ROOM
• Taylor-Jones Humane Society (Abilene) NO ROOM
• PetSmart Humane Coalition NO ROOM
• Midland Animal Services NO ROOM
As you can see, there wasn’t any room.
At this point, we were freaking out, and Claire put up a Craigslist ad stating that there was a chance we would have to give him to a shelter (though I was already crunching numbers on how to drive him north, throw him in my parents’ house, and run like crazy). Thankfully, at the last minute, someone wanted to meet Tug at the park.
Long story short cliche, we showed up, Tug behaved wonderfully, and once again, we handed over a leash to a very nice person (and his girlfriend–they already had a small dog together that Tug loved) and our puppy walked away. Definitely sad to see him go, but glad that he was off the streets in a good home. I hope he’s insanely happy, and that the only thing he has to stress about is whose lap to sit on.
It’s been a rough week for animals.
What started off as an entertaining story about escaped exotic animals in my home state quickly turned tragic as many had to be killed. Thanks to the magic of the Facebook feed, pictures I would like to have ignored (tigers, bears, and a slew of other dead animals laid out on the very farm where they had escaped) popped up. Roughly 2/3 of the animals who escaped were killed. My friend Seth posted that there are about 1500 Bengal tigers left in the world, and 18 of them were with some crazy guy in Ohio.
The whole thing reminded me of a Cracked article I read about animals trying to escape from zoos–kind of entertaining, but you had to be saddened by the fact that they just wanted out.
Shortly after that, one of my high school acquaintances posted something pretty horrible–a picture of stacked dead pets in the back of an animal shelter. The picture ambushed me, but it was my own fault that I read the description of the entire process. My wife Claire worked for animal services for awhile, so it’s not like I think they all go to a big farm or anything like that. Still, it’s depressing as hell.
It’s especially tough right now. Depending on where you look, millions of dogs and cats are euthanized each year, and it’s even worse now given the state of the economy. People give up their animals because they can’t afford to keep them, or else they move somewhere and, instead of turning their animals over to a shelter (where there’s about a 90% chance the dog or cat will be put down), they simply leave the pets behind. I can only imagine how horrifying and puzzling that must be for an animal.
Well, remember that dopey but endearing poem about the starfish that grade school teachers tend to have on posters and sweatshirts? You know, “I made a difference in that one?” Well, that’s what I cling to. We rescue more animals than we should in this house, but it’s mostly been cats. Well, this week we scored another minor victory.
For a few weeks, my wife and I have seen a red boxer-mix running around the neighborhood–a beautiful pup, but skin and bones, and skittish to boot. We put food out for him, but he disappeared for awhile and we thought he had gotten picked up. But, this week we saw him again. After we made sure he would have a home somewhere (we can’t have a dog with all of these cats, plus we rent and our wonderful landlords already made exceptions for the felines), Claire lured him into the backyard.
He was trying desperately to get out of the fence, and was very standoff-ish…for about 30 minutes. He then attempted to lick our faces off. He was so happy. The plan was to keep him in the sunroom, but it was supposed to get down to almost freezing (in Lubbock!) overnight. So we cordoned off the cats in the other room, and the dog (we named him Right Red Fred, or just Fred for short) hung out in the living room. Again, so so so so so affectionate–he curled up on the ottoman and always wanted to lay half of his body on us so he could put his head in our laps.
We only had him for a night. The next day, Claire tracked down a person who had expressed interest, and we met up with the woman at a park. It turns out the woman has rescued dogs before and she was great with Fred. He was scared at first, but warmed to her quickly. We said a goodbye that was much sadder than either of us imagined, and with that, Fred walked obediently with the woman to her car. As I type this, he’s living indoors north of Lubbock, playing with kids, with plenty of happiness, warmth, and safety.
As he was walking away with his new owner, he did stop after about a hundred yards and looked back, just for a moment. He then continued walking obediently, distracted only by the runners jogging by.
I guess we made a difference in that one.