Stormy

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I grew up in a family of cats.  Three of them entered my world a week before Christmas in 1988.  They were a colorful crowd over the years.  All but one donned a beautiful coat of stripes or splotches.  The exception was Stormy, the plain Jane of my flamboyant family.  She was dressed in solid black – so black that when she closed her eyes in the dark she disappeared.

For reasons that I still fully don’t understand, Stormy’s two tabby siblings never really liked her.  She was an outsider to their feline world, often hissed at, usually ignored.  As such, she made the conscious decision early on to cross over into the human realm.  Her sole objective on earth, as far as I could tell, was to get as physically close to humans as possible.

Stormy’s favorite activity was to sit upright on my lap, rest her paws on my shoulders and nestle her face into my ear. She would bury her wet nose into my neck with determined intensity as if searching for something. Her purr within centimeters of my eardrum could sound like a roar.

If humans were not accessible, Stormy settled for lamps.  She would climb under the shade, rest her paws on either side of the light bulb and bask in her warm little house. Three lamps met their end this way, crashing to the floor when Stormy would lean too heavily into them.

She had other qualities worth mentioning, the most important being her pliability and forgiveness. As a child I would spin her in circles, strap her around my neck and shoulders (a very chic scarf, I would remind her), and toss her into bathtubs.  She hated these things but tolerated them with grace, sometimes hissing but rarely holding grudges.

By the time I left for college, Stormy was aging and seemed to recognize, intuitively, a new kinship with my mother. Neither enjoyed the role of empty nester. My mom had quit her job to go back to school and would sit for long stretches at the computer to write papers.  Stormy joined her on these late-night missions, unfailingly.  Here the two old ladies worked tirelessly together—the first reading her sentences out loud, the second agreeing whole-heartedly and purring the words back to her. Continue reading

Zoe, Tasha & Fritz

It was coming home that felt the best.

The sound of her short and electric snorts mixed with the tap-dancing of her paws towards the door always brought me to a place of pure childhood. A place where there were no bills to pay, or jobs to hold – it was a place for a girl and her dog.

Zoe wasn’t the kind of dog I had grown up with. Before her, there was Tasha, a large and calm German Shepherd. She had loved me in the way a grandmother loved the newborn that gave her that title. I would lay with her on a fur-laden dog bed and wrap my small arms around her mane. I remember the way she smelled – like autumn and hay. It was comforting to look into her large, dark eyes, and there were many nights that I cried myself to sleep with her because she was the one who understood.

My pup before her – my very first dog – was Fritz, a German Short-Haired Pointer. I remember that he was fast. He had a sharp, whiplike tail, and his hair was short and flat against his skin. Fritz liked to escape and roam the neighborhood, searching for squirrels, I imagine. We had a large, chain-link-fenced dog yard in the back for him with a door that latched open and shut.

I remember having to lure him back into the yard with a trail of sliced bologna. He was always a sucker for deli-meat. It was like winning a gold metal in the Olympics when I had gotten him completely into the gate with me. There was a lot of jumping and shouting – if you could imagine a denim-clad seven-year-old with light-up shoes and sparkled stretch pants doing such a thing.

But Zoe was much different. She was small and not German at all. I was 15 years old when we went to some lady’s house and saw her for the first time. The tiniest Boston Terrier I had ever seen. I had sat on the foreign kitchen floor, criss-cross style, and plopped the small pup inbetween my legs. She cozied herself and looked up at me – her eyes, the biggest feature on her body. Continue reading

Bony

Growing up, our family always had black cocker spaniels, going back, at least, to my mother’s childhood. Bony (hardly… his large head, majestic like a male lion, his sturdy body larger than today’s overbred, overeager-to-please and dainty versions; his official name simply was Ebony) was our family dog from my middle single digits, right up to my seventeenth year. Thus, Bony – always offering up only empathy, never a discouraging word – saw me through the most traumatic years of change from a young boy to… to, well, a young man with a serious girlfriend.

To describe Bony as noble is to underestimate him. A loyal family dog – he devotedly loved his family and was, in turn, loved by them – he also could be a loner. Once, when the family moved to a new neighborhood, he decided he liked his old stomping grounds better and walked back, 3 miles, crossing many busy suburban roads. His noble good looks made him quite a ladies man (we knew no one in the fifties who “fixed” their dogs), and for this aspect of his loner-life, he would disappear for a few days once or twice a year. We never met his other family(ies) but have no doubt some of our more far-flung neighbors wondered why their little Fluffy Sweet had yet another litter.

Bony’s death was as noble as his life. Clueless as we were that he was even sick since he displayed no symptoms (yet, he knew…), he wandered away in the late autumn and was gone for several days. Thinking he was tending to his other family – or creating a new one – we were not overly concerned and expected his imminent return.

On a cold, rainy Saturday night my serious girlfriend and I were in our family room watching television. Knock on the door. Rarely seen across-the-street neighbor.  Dead dog hidden under piles of leaves behind my shrub border. Think he may be yours….

As the only family member home that cold, wet night, it fell to me to identify the body.  Stricken with a grief I had never known, I quickly gathered up the serious girlfriend and took her home… much to her surprise and displeasure. I knew then and there she had to be rear-view mirror material – and soon was. Until this telling episode, nothing had separated us.

Digging the grave myself the next day, face awash with salty tears mixed with fresh rain, and then burying this noble canine (perhaps gaining some of his wisdom during this grim procedure), I knew the first phase of my life had come to an end and I became a man.

– Fred (For Chloe on her birthday from her loving Pa)

Woody & Puddy

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Woody and Puddy are now together again in Heaven. Woody has been gone for two years now and I still have times when I just miss him so much that I can’t hold back the tears. Puddy, too. My love for animals has grown since I lost both of them. They just touch our lives like nothing else.

– Tom

Petro

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Petro was 3 months old when I was born into the family, so we literally grew up together. She was black as petroleum, hence her name, and she was the world’s kindest dog. She would let me, an annoying kid, pull her food right out of her mouth. She was my best friend and my protector. When I was finally old enough to walk down the path to my friend’s house, but was too scared to, she would walk with me and then return home. It was no surprise that when she passed at the age of twelve, I was devastated. I happened to be staying with friends while my parents were out of town. My response required my parents to return from five thousand miles away. My despair was more than our friends knew what to do with. I have had multiple dogs since, but still remember my first best friend with the most fondness.

– Bebeth