Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014: A Pet Odyssey

Susan Emerson is the lucky winner of a copy of C. L. Pauwels FORTY & OUT! Susan, please contact Cyndi with your maiing address. Cyndi is at cynpauw “at” gmail dot com.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm going to be perfectly upfront with you, dear readers - this post exists solely for the purpose of showing off pictures of my pets. If you don't care for dogs and cats, I suggest you head over to Wikipedia and delve into their article on Hegelian dialectics. Because honestly, if you don't like dogs and cats, what are you doing on the internet? Isn't it like 99% comprised of cute pet pics and videos?(1)

Our story starts with Marvin, our beloved Big Dog. (2) We adopted Marvin from the Kennebec Humane Society back in 2008, after a lengthy on-line search and a terrifying two-hour car ride wherein we discovered our learning-to-drive Smithie was not ready for the Maine Turnpike Experience. (3) Marvin was and is a sweet, placid beast who was probably abandoned in the early months of the Great Recession by owners who could no longer afford his Lyme Disease treatment. (4)

Marvin was our sole pet for a couple years, until our family got hit with a one-two punch in August of '10. We packed The Smithie off to college for the first time, and Ross was diagnosed with melanoma. (5) Youngest and I, feeling a bit overwhelmed, did the most cliche thing imaginable: we got a half-grown kitten. Neko was on display at our local hardware store as part of the loan-out program of the Maine Animal Refuge League. We went in to buy energy-efficient light bulbs and some potting soil and came out with an adoption application. (6)

We always intended to have a companion for Neko, but as kids came and went from college and high school, life seemed too busy to actually invest the time into finding another cat. Until this summer. With the whole family home, my two daughters, drunk with power, began  concerted lobbying campaign my 20-year-old son dubbed "Operation Get Pussy." (7)

When Youngest found out the Coastal Humane Society was having a Christmas in July event - with free cat adoptions - I weakened enough to agree we could "go take a look." (8) Those of you who are parents can see where this is going. We came home with a scraggly, forlorn looking young cat who had been found knocking about the mean streets of Brunswick, ME. The joke was on us - once out of the constraints of the shelter, Juno spent approximately two days creeping about out house before declaring herself Queen Goddess of the Home: stealing Neko and Marvin's food (9), jumping on the counter to eat half a stick of butter, demanding affection and then biting the hand that scritches her. (10)

Neko, a year older and much wider, would still be giving Juno the stink-eye, if we hadn't done something to unite them in mutual disapproval. Yes, dear readers, last Sunday we adopted a second dog. (11) Not just a second dog, but a small dog, after decades of exclusively large dogs. Not a young dog to contrast with Marvin's aged dignity, but  dog that was nine years old. Louis (12) is a pure-bred shih tzu who was obviously well-loved by his owners until some trouble - losing jobs? medical bills? - left them homeless and unable to care for the little guy. It was a pleasure to be able to pick up the responsibility, despite what will be extra food costs; Louis' mouth was in such bad shape he needed dental surgery, and he comes to us with a happy heart but only three teeth. (13)

The upshot of our animal kingdom? For now, the girls are taking equal responsibility for feeding, walking and brushing (although guess who shovels out the litter box? Go ahead, guess!) (14) Now that everyone is back at school or work, I can write at home again, and do so surrounded by up to four animals at a time. (15) We have a nice balance of personalities and roles; the calm, remote cat and the lawless, slutty cat (16), the giant economy-sized dog and the single-serving dog.

And I urge you all, dear readers, to consider adoption from a shelter or rescue organization when it's time for you to expand your family. There are so many great cats and dogs out there - many of whom will not eat your butter and who have teeth! - who need homes. If you can't adopt, consider supporting your local shelter as a donor or volunteer.  I'm sure I'll be back to one of our wonderful no-kill shelters in Maine in four years... after all, we'll need to replace Youngest when she heads off to college!

(1) The other 1% consists of pr*n, theories about chemtrails, and authors shilling their books.

(2) Marvin is part yellow lab, part Husky, and part cow.

(3) She felt uncomfortable driving faster than the posted on-ramp speed, so she merged into busy 70mph traffic going 35 mph. That was the reason my hair turned silver.

(4) He's doing fine now. Sometimes he needs aspirin for his joints, but then again, so do I.

(5) He's doing fine, now, too. Ask him to show you his "shark bite" at Bouchercon!

(6) That's some fiendishly clever marketing right there. What else beside a kitten is interesting at a hardware store?

(7) I know. You don't have to say it. I know.

(8) Let's face it, free is a good price for a cat.

(9) and then barfing it up. Which is no deterrent to Marvin, who will take another shot at it  if I don't get it cleaned up asap.

(10) The squirt bottle is getting a workout.

(11) Coastal Humane Society was still having the adoption special, so it was a steal at $50. What right-thinking penny-pincher could resist?

(12) My grandfather Greuling was also called Louis. Mom, if you're reading this, his former owners gave him the name. Sorry.

(13) All this happened after The Boy had gone back to Trinity, leading to the following telephone conversation:
The Boy: Why did you get another dog?
Me: Well, honey, we missed you. We had to fill the void somehow.
The Boy: Is it true he only has three teeth?
Me: Yes. We've replaced you with  tiny, fluffy toothless old dog. It just seemed right somehow.

(14) Me.

(15) It feels kind of like that scene in the dwarves' kitchen in SNOW WHITE,  except instead of cleaning the room, my pets demand affection and fart.

(16) I'm using that word in an ironic, third-wave feminist way, of course.


  1. I can't decide if I should be rolling on the floor laughing over your pets' antics or oohing and aahing over the adorable pictures. Either way, it's a truly worthy addition to the 99% of things on the Internet . . . .

    Somehow I seem to have missed out on that whole replacing departing children with pets thing . . . it's a novel approach, I must admit. But a butter-eating cat and a three-toothed dog? You do lead a very interesting life.

  2. An awesome household (and greatly relieved that our favorite cabin boy is fine).

    All our cats were rescues. Did you know that Neko is Japanese for "cat?" For a while our cats were named "cat" o r"kitty"in different languages: Neko-chan, Gatinha (Portuguese), Jakuma (Bambara), and so on.

  3. Wonderfully hysterical Julia--you guys are the best! so kind and brave to take in the 3-toothed oldster...I'm off to share this on Facebook of course. xox

  4. WONDERFUL! And the is noting cuter than a kitten. Nothing. (Except perhaps you, Julia.)

    My Lola (which morphed into Lolita. then-Lolita-Burrito, then The Burrito) was a shelter cat. When I got her, she was so tiny she couldn't climb stairs. And Leon (sort for Ponce DeLeon, the street where I found him as a stray) would answer to anything. Freeeeon, Neon, Zeeon, Cleeon. A cat of very little brain.) (Although it general meant food, so he won.)

    ALWAYS lovely to see pet photos! And touching, you know, how they play into our family's history.

  5. What a delightful, hysterical, warm and fuzzy way to start the day - Thank You!!! I think you have the most wonderful family and life. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Julia, one of the things I love about your books is your sense of humor. It's never forced--just genuine belly-laughs in the midst of whatever craziness is on-going in a particular book. And it's so easy to see, in a column like this, that it springs from the person you are.

    Having just taught the two youngest nephews to drive, I'm glad there's enough blonde left on my head to hide the white hairs!

    We're a one pet household because of finances, but Murphy was a stray. And our next-door neighbor seems to be the recipient for any number of stray dogs. It's still sadly true, people seem to feel that their pets have a better chance if dropped off in the middle of the country. But I'm so jealous--his last stray was a beautiful boy boxer named Buddy. He loves me and adores stealing my boots from the garage and chewing them,but I love him anyway and wish he was mine!

  7. Joan,

    My family has a penchant for adopting weird animals. My sister had a one-eyed toy poodle who peed while balancing on his front legs, and my parents rescued an abandoned kitten who grew up to be Attila the Hun. Seriously, the cat once cornered my brother Pat and his son in the kitchen and Pat had to fend off the feline with a chair, like a lion tamer.

    Edith, yes, Neko was named by The Boy, who is into Japanese pop culture. Juno got her name from the shelter, and we kept it because we liked it, but with her temperament, we should have gone with the other Japanese name we were thinking about: Kaiju!

  8. Thank you so much for this today, Julia — perfect.

    Our two cats, Xander and Lola, are rescues.

  9. I love reading about other people's pets, but so glad that's one extra chore I don't have time for. My daughter's dog Sunny comes to stay quite often and is adorable so I get my pet fix that way.
    But when the kids were growing up we various animals, Marmalade the cat being the most wonderful. Also a rescue, he would walk the kids to school and sit up and beg like a dog.

  10. You are slightly off in her percentages because at least 1% of the internet is bloggers shilling their latest reviews.

    Cute pics. I'm allergic, so I'm not a big animal person, but I still enjoyed those.

  11. What a wonderful post, Julia - in so many ways: funny and clever, but most of all, a wonderful reminder of how important pets are and how it's even more important to adopt. My nasty little beast of a Chihuahua, Birdie, was not a shelter dog, but we found him in a parking lot. Someone had literally thrown him away. We were going to take him to a rescue shelter, but by the time we got halfway there, we knew he was ours - barks, growls, bad attitude and all. We've had him for 10 years now, and I can't imagine my writing days without him basking in a sunbeam beside me.

  12. Julia, I hereby initiate you into the sucker club. As I'm sitting in my sun porch writing (trying to write) with four dogs under the age of three playing (wrestling, growling, and systematically de-stuffing toys.) Oldest dog has asked to go outside and lie on the deck where she can have a little peace. A wise move. The two cats are not in evidence.

    Two of the dogs, fortunately, are only on loan, 8:30 to 3:30 weekdays, while my daughter and son-in-law are trying to get their house renovation finished. They don't want to leave the dogs, even crated, with workmen coming in and out of the house.

    BUT we now have THREE dogs of our own, when we had always said two was the limit. Neela is nine, Dax (Dax is a she!)will be two on September 11th. And puppy Jasmine is, we think, about eight months. We don't know for certain because she's a rescue. So not just three dogs but three German shepherds! Or as they are sometimes known, "German shedders." Our floors are a sea of dog hair, but the sweeping and vacuuming keep me in shape.

    But we won't have more than two cats, really, I promise. Well, except for the one that our former neighbor moved away and left behind, Miss Kitty. (No, we did not name her.) She's a lovely white cat with big gray splotches, and she only has one eye. Rick has made her a deluxe cat house, with heating pad, and she has an outdoor ant-and-slug-free feeding system.

    There are days when I wish I were half as cossetted as our crew....

  13. You get the best new family members at the animal shelters. Boo (short for Boolie, Driving Miss Daisy's perfect son) is 11 now; we got him when he was 4. He's border terrier mixed with something with short legs. His predecessor, Scruffy, was an Iowa farm dog left behind on the farm when it was auctioned. He was 12 when we adopted him. He looked like a Welsh terrier. Only had him 14 months, bless his heart.

  14. I love everything about this blog post, from the pics to the footnotes. Thanks for sharing your menagerie with us!

  15. Why are footnotes so damn funny? Or is it just Julia's footnotes?

    I love, love, love all of this. I grew up with a dog, but my husband is allergic to everything (dogs, hamsters, fabric softener, etc.), so I have to get my animal fix elsewhere. Thank God for the Internet!

  16. I'm a sucker for animal photos and stories, and the real reason I go on Facebook is to circulate posts of pets in need (Do you all know about Dogs on Deployment, which finds people to board the pets of members of the armed services while they are deployed? That's one of the sites I follow and forward).

    ALL of my pets have been rescues: Humane Societies, Friends of Animals, strays off the street (unclaimed), Terrier Rescue, and one via my vet because his owner had to go into a nursing home. Six dogs, one cat (I turned out to be allergic, so he was the first and last cat, but he stayed for the rest of his life) and a peach-faced lovebird.

    Just one dog right now, a 5-pound Yorkie mix who keeps me in line. And the bird. Can't imagine a life without pets-- and can't imagine not rescuing.

    The dog who came via the vet was a pure-bed ShihTzu. Not the brightest dog I've ever owned, but very sweet-- and the only dog I've ever had who threw his fuzzy frisbie at me (reverse fetch?). It came sailing over the desk one day while I was working.

  17. Julia, you are so entertaining! I loved reading about the acquisition of your cats and dogs, and replacing the kids with the pets is a hoot. Even your writing style with the footnotes was fun. The pictures were, of course, wonderfully expressive, too. Your precious pets are all adorable.

    I used to think that I would someday choose a pet based on what breed I would like to have and a litter of new puppies from which to pick. At this point, I doubt that it will ever happen that way. Our dogs are shelter ones or strays. Best dogs ever! Barry, our baby before we had babies, was a sweet Cocker Spaniel found by my sister-in-law roaming the streets of Louisville, KY. Fella, the dog that looked like everyone's best friend, showed up around our former neighborhood, scared of his shadow. Both of those dear doggies are gone now, one from some cruel person's poisoning and the other hit by a car on his morning walk. Now, there is Abbie, an Australian Cattledog mix, whom my daughter got as a 15-year-old teenager from the shelter, and Abbie now keeps me company. She is now almost 15 and has slowed down considerably. I will add that we have actually had one dog picked from a litter, a bird dog that was my husband's. We had a German Short-hair, too, and that was a shelter dog.

    And, I can't leave out our one cat, Salty, who was with us for 22 years. The joke was on me, as I have never really been a cat person, but this adorable kitten showed up at our house, and I had to feed him, and, well, 22 years later he passed away.

    Debs, I always enjoy seeing pictures of your beautiful German Shepherds, and I think it's so sweet of you to have daycare for your daughter's doggies. Oh, and Julia, taking in the older three-toothed dog is a wonderful act of charity, giving that darling dog a soft place to land for his final years.

  18. Oh, my goodness. I'm definitely rolling on the floor laughing, and can relate to much of this (but it's not nearly as funny when I tell my stories). My mother took up breeding zebra finches when I went off to college. It only lasted a year or so, but it was. . .messy. We're the proud of owner of two rescue pets. Bastet the cat from Cocheco Valley Humane Society, named after the Egyptian cat princess and Meili Athena from Big Fluffy Dogs Rescue, a Great Pyrenees/GSD/Collie cross who is named after the Norse god of chaotic battle and travel (no, I did not make that up). They both have all their teeth, but are high maintenance in their own ways. (We had another pet, a purebred GSD name Kaia, who crossed the rainbow bridge a year ago.) I suspect when our non-furry child leaves the nest, more furry children will join us (although non-furry child would dearly love a kitten, right now). Loved your photos, and the laugh-out-loud funny stories that go with them!

  19. I love this post, Julia! I'm such a fan of rescue pets. I just adopted Fawn, a 7-lb Chihuahua/wire-haired terrier mix. Two months ago, and in that two months she's had giardia, colitis, and urine crystals ... sigh ... But I love the little squirt and I'm going to get her fully healthy. (Not that you'd know she wasn't--the wee beast wears me out!)

  20. You could write a blog post about toadstools, and I would love it!!