This past week my baby brother and his family adopted an eight-week-old puppy they named Rosie. She’s a Cockapoo, which is a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and a Poodle. Here’s a photo of Rosie.
Is she the most adorable thing on four legs or what? Rosie is the newest in a long line of illustrious animal personalities who have brought delight to our family over the years. On Thursday evening, a few hours after they arrived home with Rosie, I skyped them to see Rosie in action. I talked to her on the call while she ran back and forth in front of the computer screen sniffing and responding with curiosity to my voice, then she ran off to chew on her 30 or 60 doggie toys that my Jewish-mom sister-in-law purchased for her earlier in the day at Petco. (I’m buying stock in Petco ASAP.) Half the toys are twice Rosie’s size. She likes the squeaky ones the best.
My brother told me that Rosie came from a Dutch Amish breeder (he lives in Pennsylvania) and so she has never seen technology, which, he explained as scientifically as Mr. Rodgers, accounted for her confusion when she heard my voice coming from the computer. Wait, what? I didn’t think dogs understood how computers work, period. I didn’t realize it’s only Dutch Amish dogs that don’t get it. This started me wondering if Rosie might experience a cultural diversity crisis as a result of being adopted by a Jewish family. Perhaps my brother should avoid putting any doggie sweaters on Rosie that have buttons. It’s not feasible for him to transport her by horse-and-buggy. I hope she can adjust to traveling via car. Can anyone suggest a good Amish dog therapist?
Our family’s known history with pets begins with a purportedly highly intelligent Border Collie named Juno who helped raise my father and my uncle in the Bronx. I have a photo on my desk taken around 1935 of my grandfather, father, and uncle with Juno. She looks quite prepared and capable of herding my father and uncle safely through their Bronx boyhood. When I was a teenager, our family adopted a Kerry Blue Terrier named Happy. Although Happy liked to fake intelligence, he had no one fooled. In reality, he was a doofus. Here he is pretending to be a movie star.
Sometimes Happy would salvage chewing gum from the trash cans and could be seen in the back yard chomping away. His nemesis was my mother’s bread basket (the one she filled with warm rolls for the dinner table), which lived atop the refrigerator. Whenever he caught a glimpse of the bread basket, he would bark as if possessed and chase the bread basket down as my mother carried it into the dining room. He was a terrific outdoors dog, who accompanied my father on countless boy-scouting expeditions (Dad was a scout leader). And he enjoyed birthday parties immensely because when we sang Happy Birthday he thought we were singing to him and he barked and ran around in circles.
Although I grew up with a dog, I am a cat person to the core. I had been away at college a scant two years before I adopted my first two cats, both of whom I named Woossa. However, I tended to call my more favorite of the two cats Woossa-Woo. My dad went with me to pick him up at the vet when he had to get patched up after a cat fight one summer while I was at home between semesters. Dad laughed his head off when the vet referred to the cat as Woossa-Woo Wachspress (with a straight, serious face). What did I know about naming pets? I was a teenager. My other brother is more of a cat person like me and has had several cat companions over the years, the last of which, Perji, was a cat that acquired my brother when Perji decided my brother’s house would be his and moved right in. He was a gorgeous blue-gray longhair with enormous eyes.
I have had cats, always, for over 40 years. Counting a litter of kittens that my female tabby had in Berkeley (kept one and gave the others away to good homes), I have had more than a dozen cats during my life. I have stepped up my cat-naming ability from the Woossa days. I live with two ten-year-old shorthairs now. Golda is a rare female orange tabby and Ella is my impish black cat with the bright green eyes. While Golda is as dumb as grass, her sister Ella is the smartest of all the cats I have ever had. She can open doors. (Still hasn’t learned how to close them behind her.) Golda has watched Ella open the screen door to the back deck for years and still can’t figure out how to do it herself. She sits at the door, pretending to be patient, but I know she’s simply moronic, waiting for Ella to come open it for her. Golda likes to hunt mice, moles, and an occasional bird; and she eats her kill while Ella watches in horrified fascination. Ella is a pacifist. I have never seen Ella hunt anything bigger than a moth. Golda is territorial and she’ll fight off intruding cats. Ella turns her tail and runs away. She once peed in fright at the back door when she saw a large, strange cat enter our yard.
Sometimes, when I’m not paying attention, my cats work as a team to bring chaos into my ordered existence. On more than one occasion Ella has opened the screen door to let Golda bring a live mouse into my living room, where Golda then proceeded to torture it and kill it while Ella made popcorn and pulled up a chair and I jumped up on the couch and hollered “EEK.” It’s virtually impossible to chase two cats and a half-dead traumatized rodent out of your living room with a broom. Trust me on this. Especially so if you have an irrational terror of mice, which I do. If you even attempt to shoo the whole menagerie out, the mouse winds up hiding under the couch and the cats expect you to chase it back into the open where they can see it. If you don’t chase it out, the cats stare at you reproachfully (and Ella refuses to share her popcorn). Your best case scenario is to let the cat kill the mouse and eat it in the open. Otherwise you risk having a smelly dead rodent in a mysterious location in your house for several weeks. This anecdote makes it sound like having cats is all trauma and a three-ring circus, whereas in reality that’s not true. Golda sits on my lap and purrs whenever I watch football, keeping me warm on the couch in the winter. Ella entertains me chasing cat toys and laser lights and keeps me company when I’m writing by sitting behind my computer in the window or cuddling up in my lap. Cats are calming creatures. Beautiful and centered.
During our Ranch days our family had the most excellent dog, our one and only. She was an Australian Shepherd and Black Lab mix. When we rescued her she was four years old and near death with heartworm. We had her treated and coaxed her back to life with jelly sandwiches and pancakes. We named her Juno after the illustrious Border Collie of Dad’s youth. Juno’s favorite thing in the whole world was going for long walks, and when she discovered that my dad would take her into the hills for hours he became her favorite person. She lived to be about 17 years old, which was unexpected for a 60-pound dog who had suffered severe heartworm in her youth. We attributed her longevity to her mellow personality. She didn’t stress. She tolerated anything our young children did to her. Life was good no matter what came her way. She liked everyone, even the UPS driver. (So much for having her be our guard dog.) The three cats we had for a dozen years at the Ranch would sleep on Juno’s back in her doghouse during the rainy months. Once, Ron arrived home from work, pulled the car into the driveway, stepped out, and saw, when Juno got up to greet him, that Juno had been sleeping with a coiled rattlesnake under her rump. Ron ran the rattlesnake off with a spray of the garden hose while Juno looked on quizzically, as if to say, “what did my bunkmate do wrong?” Some years later, Juno startled a rattler and it bit her in the mouth. By then she was an older dog. I raced her to the vet, who administered anti-venom and kept her overnight. The next day, when I went to pick Juno up, she greeted me with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon. The vet assured me Juno would survive, adding that she was feeling great because she was on super-strong drugs. Having an older dog survive a rattlesnake bite in the mouth was a miracle. Unfortunately for me, the anti-venom was so expensive that I made monthly payments to the vet for over a year to cover the cost. But there is no price tag on the value of a good dog.
Juno lived to retire eventually to the old folks home with my parents, where Dad coddled her to the last days of her life by feeding her bread warmed slightly in the microwave and roasted chicken made especially for her daily by the kitchen staff; and of course taking her on her beloved walks, which became shorter and shorter. I learned one of my most important lessons in life from Juno. Don’t stress. Learn to lie down gently with the rattlesnake; and if it bites you then you can depend on those who love you to take care of you with strong drugs and jelly sandwiches.
Dad used to have a bumper sticker on his car that said: God help me be the man my dog thinks I am. I strive every day to be the woman my cats think I am. So, welcome to the family little Rosie – you are one lucky little puppy, and you don’t even know it yet, but you’ll figure it out soon.