If you’ve read my other stories and my profile you know that since childhood I’ve been involved on some level with animals. During my teen years we had a few puppies that didn’t survive due to not having vaccines and one that was hit by a car. My parents grew up in small towns and on farms, and were from a generation that didn’t commonly take pets to the vet. But this story isn’t about that. It is about my borrowed dog.
I usually have a rough idea of who the different animals are in my neighborhood whether I see them behind a fence, dogs out walking with their people, occasional loose dogs, cats on their own, and sometimes someone will tell me about an animal I haven’t yet met. When I was 15 years old I’d heard about a dog in our neighborhood named Rex, and one day as I was walking to a friend’s house I saw him sniffing at a telephone pole. He was big, had long gray wavy hair, folded ears and a curved tail. I said “Rex?” and he came right over to me. I gave him a few pats and he came with me to my friend Lorie’s house, where we gave him a bath! Apparently he didn’t hold it against us because he continued to be my friend and hang out with me.
His owners either let him out on his own or he’d break free from being chained in his yard and then he’d make his way to my house on the next block. I wasn’t driving yet so we walked a lot in those days and he’d tag along anywhere I went. I eventually got some sort of rope or a leash so he wouldn’t be in the street and boy that dog could pull! I’d either wear a glove or wrap the rope around my waist because it hurt my hand so much. I knew nothing about dog training and I don’t think he did either. He wasn’t only strong but graceful too. It was wonderful to throw a ball over a fence and see him sail over it with ease.
Rex never bothered our cats but he really was bonkers for my hamster! He’d stand over the cage and look down at the little fellow sleeping and wag and look very longingly into the nest. When he was in our house I’d make sure the door was shut to my bedroom. One day I must have forgotten. I came into the bedroom and there was a head shaped hole mashed through the top of the cage and the cage was on the ground and no hamster in sight. My heart sank. I looked under the bed and found my hamster! He was sopping wet like he’d taken a bath but he was unharmed!! Rex could have had him for a snack but he didn’t.
This next bit is tricky because I don’t want to go off on a rabbit trail about how things were growing up, but I need to add some of it for this part. My dad had anger issues and was abusive. But let me say right here that once I was an adult we were able to be friends and I believe he was sorry for his earlier behavior. So, during one of Rex’s visits by dad slapped my face and Rex immediately raised himself onto two legs and put his open mouth at the front of my dad’s neck. He didn’t bite him, just warned him not to do that to me. Wow! You should have seen the fear on my dad’s face! Thank you Rex!
That is why I called this story My Protector Pal. He was fun to go places with (except for his pulling) and he watched out for me. In a nutshell that’s what dogs do isn’t it? They’re our friends who like to spend time with us and they warn us and others with their barking or more if necessary. They don’t call them man’s best friend without a reason.
In 1974 two of my friends and I went to a cat show in Minneapolis, MN and it was nothing to get very excited about…until we went up the stairs to see two cougars! There were folding tables, signs describing a fund raiser, and a few people taking a dollar if you wanted your photo taken with a cougar. The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, MN opened in 1978 but prior to its opening they were raising money for its construction and we just happened upon one of those fund raisers.
I handed over my dollar (my friends didn’t, I wonder why?) and I went behind the tables and saw the cougars were about 20 feet apart and each on about a 6 foot long chain. I looked to the right and thought that the cougar didn’t seem very happy and looked to the left and saw a cougar with a puppy-like expression (friendly and wanting to play), so I walked over and sat on the ground with it! I sort of pet it and it started kind of lightly mouthing (chewing) my upper arm! I know it sounds crazy and maybe not so safe, but I was sure he wasn’t going to maul me – and he didn’t! The photo was taken and sadly later lost, but it was a fun experience that I’ll never forget.
At the event I was told that the cougars were used for commercials – some of you might remember “At the Sign of the Cat” commercials for Mercury Cougars. Later I learned that they were bred in captivity. You can learn more on the web about these cougars. Chauncey was the first Cougar in the ads and the successors were Chauncey Jr., Jimmy and Frisky. I was likely with Jimmy or Frisky…Frisky is my bet.
Animals do what animals do and it isn’t always what we want. They are wired for hunting and that’s just the way it is. When I was about 9-10 years old our cat killed 3 wild bunnies. I held funerals with my friend Mary Jo for any dead creature that I came across and buried them all around the house where I grew up. I used Popsicle sticks in the form of a cross to mark the burial sites. When the bunnies were killed I was going through a phase where I labeled the “coffins” (usually a shoe box) with information about the date and species, thinking archaeologists in the future would want to know. Ha! What can I say, I watched a lot of Natural Geographic growing up!
This time however, I thought a glass jar would be an even better coffin for keeping the bodies and the information more intact. I took the bunnies and wrapped them in Kleenex and put them in a jar with the label inside, and put the jar on a lower shelf between the backdoor and kitchen, then I went to get something…
About a week later I heard a scream from the kitchen and I ran downstairs and heard my Mom say, “WHAT – IS – IT!” as she closed lid on the jar. I said, “Oh, sorry Mom those are the (+/- week old) dead bunnies”. Then I sheepishly went and had the funeral in a hurry.
I guess people do what people do and it isn’t always what we want either!
P.S. This cat was not a big hunter…more of a big sleeper! He was a very gentle soul and wouldn’t even harm our hamsters. The incident with the bunnies was pretty unusual for him.
Almost 20 years ago I met a very nice lady from Costa Rica named Gemma and she is a kindred animal lover. She called to tell me she saw a feral mother cat and kittens living near the dumpster at her apartment building. She was feeding them and they would come to eat when she moved away from the dish, but she’d stay in the area and watch them and talk to them which was helpful, so that they would get used to people. She wondered if I could help find them homes because the area where they lived was near downtown, busy streets, etc.
I rented the trusty raccoon trap and set it up near the dumpster and black berry bushes where the feral family was living. What was different about this trapping is that Gemma’s roommate ran a light rope from the trap to the apartment window. When the mom cat and all the kittens were inside, he sprang the trap. That worked out great because I only had to make one trip to get the whole family.
We had the mother, a short haired tabby, fixed and sent to live on a farm (usually it is recommended that the feral cat be released where it was living but this area wasn’t going to work). My neighbor took 2 kittens to tame and I took the other 2. We found homes for both of the male kittens pretty quickly. They were stunning with smoke colored fur from their father who was a Persian owned by Gemma. He was fixed soon after. We each kept the remaining female kitten that we had. Mine lived with me for 18 years and was a princess and one of the sweetest cats I’ve had. I thought it was interesting the level of wildness in each of the kittens. They were not all equal. 2 were almost tame from the beginning and 2 were more feral.
If you know of a feral cat situation and would like to find help check out the information at http://www.humanesociety.org -for the US and Canada . There are people who will help and have information on getting the cats trapped, fixed, and released.
More feral trapping and other animal stories coming soon-ish.
I’m so glad we were allowed to have pets growing up!
Bootsy was such a sweet and tolerant cat and didn’t mind sharing her babies with us. She almost looks like a kitten herself.
Through the years we always had cats, a few special dogs, a few hamsters and fish. One summer my brother and his friend rescued an “Easter duckling” from a nearby lake. I was always bringing home baby birds that had fallen out of the nest, at least I thought that is why they were on the ground. When I got older I found out about local wildlife rehabilitation organizations and I’d bring them there. Still do!
Max, Ruby and I used to walk daily and sometimes twice a day. Max was an Australian Shepherd with a love for greeting people and other dogs and a very happy disposition. I’m so fortunate to have been the one to get Max from the Humane Society when he was 4 1/2 months old. He was my first dog as an adult; we had a shared family dog and I borrowed other people’s dogs for walks but he was my very own. Max and his sister were found when they were about 3 months old in a field in the suburbs with porcupine quills in their faces – ouch! They went to a foster home after the quills were removed and then to the shelter. When I got to the shelter Max was alone and his sister was already adopted. Max had been adopted but returned because his new owner said “he doesn’t come when I call him”. I won’t tell you what I think of that comment, but I will say that it was a great decision for me!
Ruby was a German Shepherd-mix who started life out feral, as best as we can tell. See the separate story –Trapping a Feral Puppy. In the earlier part of our life together she was super leery of people. She was most comfortable at home, in our yard, or in the company of other dogs. Eventually she became more comfortable around people and had several favorite people. When on a leash she’d often stand behind me if we stopped to talk with someone.
In the beginning when teaching her to walk on a leash I’d walk both of the dogs together on a double dog coupler so Ruby would have her trusty friend Max right beside her. It also made it easier for me having to hold only one leash. Sometimes when she was frightened she wanted to run and hide. One of those moments happened while we were walking on a nice summer day near a ferry dock. It was before the ferry was ready to load the passenger cars so there was a 4 to 5 block line of stopped cars waiting to board. We were on the opposite side of the street so they had a good view of our side of the street. Each of these cars had at least one person waiting behind the steering wheel. There wasn’t another soul in sight…yet.
While we were walking Ruby noticed a person coming in our direction about 1-1/2 blocks ahead of us. She put herself in reverse and started walking backwards along my right side. Max had no choice being hooked to the coupler with her, so he went in reverse on my left side. The dogs had me lassoed by the legs! All I could do to get untangled was go forward onto my hands and kick each foot up in the air and over the leash to free myself. I’ll always wonder what all of those people thought as they watched me do a partial handstand on the sidewalk with a few mule kicks thrown in for good measure.
In 1995 I came home from work to find a friend had left me a sort of frantic phone message about a puppy she saw loose near where she lived. She wanted help getting it to a safe place. I didn’t see what the problem was so I left a message on her machine telling her to get some good food and it’ll likely be your new best friend. We finally talked and she told me that the puppy would run into the brambles in a green space near the road whenever she tried to approach it and she had family coming from out of town and couldn’t deal with the puppy. So she asked me to get involved and I went to investigate.
Sure enough the 4 month old German shepherd mix would run for cover when I came to where she was staying. There was an area about a block long that had a uphill slope full of blackberry bushes mixed with native trees and ground cover that was a perfect hiding place and really difficult for humans to get into. There was a ditch beside the road that had water, but where was this puppy finding food and where did she come from? I brought her food and a cow hoof to chew on and left them both, then went home to start calling animal shelters to see what to do next – these were pre-internet and pre-cell phone days.
The person at the Seattle Animal Shelter told me that they’d have to get within 10 feet of her to catch her with a catch pole – one of those loop on a pole things. I didn’t think that’d work so they suggested I rent a raccoon trap. I called the local rental place and picked one up the next day. I put a dish of canned cat food in the trap, set the trap up where I’d seen her the day before and went back to my car to wait.
Within a half hour I had a big puppy in a trap! She chowed down the food and when I approached the trap she went into shock. I’m not a medical person but that is what it looked like to me. Her eyes fixed on something straight in front of her, sort of like she wasn’t there, if you know what I mean, and drool came out of her mouth (maybe from the yummy cat food). I knew I’d have trouble lifting the trap into my hatch back without it jostling her a lot so I waited for someone to come by that I could ask for help. A young woman came walking down the road and I said “excuse me but could you help me lift this trap into my car?”, she smiled and came to help without hesitation!
I got the trap home and my neighbors helped me get it and and the puppy into the house. I put my 1 ½ year old dog Max outside until I knew a bit more about what I was dealing with. My neighbors left and I put up a baby gate at the kitchen door to keep her in the kitchen if and when she came out of the trap, then I left her alone for a few minutes.
When I came back she was out of the trap and standing in the kitchen with her head hung down and an expression that I think said “now what are you going to do with me?” I needed to know if she was healthy so I grabbed my keys, acted like I knew what I was doing, picked her up, put her in the car and took her to the veterinarian. The doctor said she was healthy so I brought her back home. When she saw my dog Max I saw that she could act like a normal puppy … the end of her tailed wagged and I knew then things would be alright. I put the dogs together and they played and played. That was the beginning of our lives together. Me, Max (Aussie mostly white), Ruby (the feral German shepherd mix puppy) and 2 cats Phoebe and Sassy had many more adventures that followed.