I’m not talking about a newspaper, an embarrassed zebra, or an ailing balance sheet. If you’re wondering why I’ve twisted an old joke to use as a title for this month’s post about my adventures as a writer, I hope you’ll hang around to read the story and enjoy the punchline.
I’m happy for this opportunity to share with my readers a little more about myself, and here’s how it came about. A publisher contacted me recently with a request to include my book, Death of a Muse, in a multi-author boxset with a cat theme. Those of you who’ve read the book know that a lot of the mystery, plot, and pathos of the story hinges on the cat.
I’m delighted to be included in the pack, which features stories from New York Times bestselling author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, as well as Kari Kilgore, Sherry D. Ramsey, and five more excellent storytellers, appropriately equaling nine tales.
The publisher asked each of us to write something about our experiences with our cats and other pets. I was caught a little off-guard by that because I don’t actually have a cat—I’m allergic—but I remembered a time when I did and I think my pet story is worth telling.
To catch a cat
Being a military family meant we were used to picking up and moving every three years or so, often entailing a trip across the big watery pond to a foreign country. In addition, two out of our three children shared my allergy afflictions, so pets beyond goldfish had never happened in our family.
But things were about to change.
Our oldest daughter (the allergy-free one) has always been an animal fanatic, begging for every sort of pet and resorting to extraordinary measures to satisfy her desires in the face of our parental denial. From the time she could walk, she’d stalk and catch squirrels, mice, birds, even bugs. She was that desperate.
During the time we lived in southern Spain, a black and white stray cat wandered the neighborhood nightly in search of food. Many of us would throw out scraps for it, but our daughter got angry if he ate any of the neighbor’s food. She wanted him to prefer our back porch above all.
One night we were awakened by a persistent yowling from the backyard. We investigated and found our daughter had locked the cat into our storage shed with a bowl of choice leftovers, convinced she could win his loyalty that way. We opened the door, fully believing the cat would streak for the woods and never come back, but our girl won the point.
We had gained a faithful cat.
Both cat and daughter were happy. We dubbed him Oreo, and he quit eating at the neighbor’s houses. Or if he continued, he had the grace to do it on the sly. He was strictly an outdoor cat, but in sunny southern Spain and with a large covered backyard patio, it was an ideal arrangement.
He followed our girl around like a dog, and they took many happy jaunts together through the seaside forest behind out house. Our daughter put her bird traps away and stopped chasing squirrels. For a while, her pet hunger was satisfied.
Two dogs and a pizza box
I’m a piano teacher, and during the time we lived in Spain, I taught private lessons in our home. Three of my students were brothers and when they arrived for their lessons one summer day they brought two puppies with them. On the way over, they’d found these two sweet pups abandoned on the highway, eating scraps from a pizza box. The plan was to take them to the animal shelter on base after the piano lesson.
Our two daughters and our son frolicked in the yard with the puppies and whichever two of the students wasn’t actively taking a lesson. Our oldest came begging and I explained we couldn’t talk about it during the lesson, knowing she would call her father and he’d say no and that would be the end of it. Ten minutes later, she ran down the stairs screaming, “Dad says we can keep them!”
We immediately fell in love with those dogs and never has a sweeter pair existed. Curly-haired mutts, one mostly white and one mostly black—we called them Salt and Pepper. House-broken from day one, they never made a mess or chewed up the furniture (well, once) or jumped onto the table to eat the cake when you weren’t looking.
Oreo, on the other hand, objected to sharing our attention and affection with a couple of dogs. We had another one of those nights when we were kept awake by strange animal noises from the backyard. This time, when we discovered the cause, we found that our daughter had locked the three of them together in a small kennel on the back patio. She’d decided this was the best method for them to learn to get along. And again, she was right. Best of friends after that night.
We had to find a home for Oreo when we left Spain, but we think of him fondly and know he landed on his feet. The dogs took to traveling like a charm—back and forth across the Atlantic five times and coast to coast in the US more than once without a whine or complaint.
All dogs go to heaven
I knew I’d be snuffling hard by the time I reached this point. God gave us a wonderful blessing that summer day and I’ve never regretted Dad saying yes. But they’re gone now and I sorely miss them both.
We had twelve marvelous years before Pepper developed a brain tumor and had to be put to sleep. And just three months ago, we lost Salty, on the day after Thanksgiving. She was my faithful companion and took her job of keeping me safe with the utmost sincerity. She taught me a lot about mercy and charity and just being good.
I sometimes catch her tail wagging out of the corner of my eye from her place beside my writing desk. I know she’s still there, even if I can’t see her and I know someday, we’ll all run together again.
And now you know what’s black and white and shed all over. My three pet darlings—Salt, Pepper, and Oreo. God bless you all.
How about you? Have a beloved pet? Or one that you lost and still miss? Tell us about it in the comments.