The War that was Won

Over the years my family has had many pets. Most of them I lived with at some point or another. We had dogs, cats, gerbils, birds, fish, turtles, iguanas(my younger brother’s), ferrets(my sister’s), and at one time(briefly) a duck & a chick. I know the latter sounds like a Friends episode. But it’s true. And like the Friends episode, they were sent to a “farm”.

My parents were always animal lovers, in fact my mother for years wanted to be a veterinarian and went to school for it when I was 10. Sadly she wasn’t able to finish and never reached her dream. Instead she just took in dogs that needed homes and eventually became a wonderful dog mom up until this day. My dad & stepmom, like my mom really love dogs and they have for years had German shepherds. Sadly they recently lost their remaining dog Ava to a long and terrible illness, she was only 6. In fact when they brought her home I was pregnant with Esme. My son Charlie and I were the first ones to meet her. My dad lived in the same building as we did and we met her in the parking garage the day they brought her home, she was a little spitfire and the sweetest thing in the world. This past week they adopted a 2 yr old shepherd who should easily fit in to the family.

Me? I’ve always been a cat person. My first cat was named Tara, a cute little grey thing that my neighbors gave me when their cat had kittens. I was in third grade. She later ran away due to repeat terrorization by my older brother. A year later a classmate by the name of Kristin had to move to the Philippines due to a job her father had to take there. They had a year old orange and white Tabby named Marmalade. I already loved the cat and played with it every time I was at her house. Cats understood me. When it came time for them to leave they asked us to take him. My parents agreed to let me take him in. He was my best friend for many years after that. I even at one point had great admiration for him because he liked to trip my sister every time she walked up the stairs, he just never liked her. And back when we were younger her and I felt the same about way about each other that he did about her.

He was with us for about 8 years maybe when one day he disappeared. We never saw him again. To this day the feeling in my gut is that he just wasn’t well and what I know of cats, when they’re dying they often like to do it in peace without anyone around.

As a kid and to this day I still have a strange way with cats, even the most ornery ones. I don’t know if it’s because I have a tendency to pull back in situations and not insinuate myself or I just give off a vibe that I get their ways. I’ve just always preferred them.

I love dogs, don’t get me wrong. I lived with them for years whether I was with my mom or my dad. I was there helping my mom’s dog Bichon(yes my mom named her after her breed, no one could agree on a name) deliver her puppies at 11:30 one particular halloween of my late teen years. One of Bichon’s puppies and I bonded and for Christmas my mom surprised me with the announcement that we could keep the one I had at that point named Athena(I’m a fan of Greek mythology). She was a cute little thing and I loved her dearly. And one day I moved out and she stayed with my mom, and her mom.

Two years later I was back(briefly) at my mom’s when Athena’s mom passed away. I remember asking my boss at the time if I could leave work to go with my mom so she wasn’t alone the day we received the call that she had to be put down. My boss was a kind man and let me go. I’m just happy I was there to be there with my mom and  Bichon to help them both.

When I had to move home with my mom I arrived with two cats and two parakeets. The parakeets I had for about four years, the cats for about a year and a half. Two loved me, two were indifferent.

Hunter was my parakeet that my mom bought for me when I was 19. He used to sit on my head and peer down into my face and sing to me. He was honestly the coolest bird I had ever met. A year later I bought him a mate, Lily. She was kind of a bitch and really didn’t like me much. I took them both with me when I moved out two years later.

A year after that I was at a party with my then boyfriend that I lived with. Every time I went to get a drink from the cooler an orange & white tabby kitten sped up and jumped into the cooler. Behind him were usually about three or four brothers and sisters. By the end of the night the tabby and I were fast friends and my then boyfriend’s friend asked me if I would take him home, as they had to find homes for all of these kittens. I said yes on the spot. Landlord be damned. He came home with us the next day and I named him Max.

Max was my baby. That was apparent from day one, he snuggled up in my neck every night to sleep and that was a habit that he kept for the few years that I had him. About six months after we brought Max home we were at a local pet store buying food and spotted a female that could have passed for his sister. I bought her and named her Lucy. Lucy came home with a million ear mites. Lucy went back to the pet store and they treated her for said ear mites. Lucy, like Lily, was not a big fan of mine. At first. The first couple weeks I was woken up each night to the sounds of Max & Lucy trying to kill each other. Eventually they found peace. And they tried in vain to get my birds who were hanging from the ceiling. This never happened by the way, neither bird died by claw.

A year later things went bad, VERY bad. I had to move out. By that time I had already relocated the birds to my mother. Let’s just say that some of what I endured was due to the fact that I didn’t want to leave my cats behind. I loved them that much. And once we did finally find a safe haven, they repaid me(even Lucy) with a lot of love and protection from then on.

Only less than three years later I found myself having to find them new homes because I was getting married and my fiancé (Charlie’s dad) was unable to live with the cats. It was honestly one of the hardest times of my life. If I could go back to that time I would have insisted upon them staying, but at the time I had no choice. My mom and I found a woman who took in hard to place cats and she adopted Lucy, promising her a good home(she was still stubborn and didn’t like anyone but me). Max. Oh Max. I still can’t think of him without crying.

He brought home many presents for my mom when we lived with her. Frequently I would fly out of bed to my name being screamed at high volume early in the morning ” JENNIFER!!!”. Because Max had dropped a squirrel or rabbit on her back doorstep. He thought he was honoring her. And me. Eventually she came to be fond of him, he really was such a charmer.

I still think he knew I was pregnant with Charlie before I knew. He suddenly started sleeping on my stomach at night. Years later when I was pregnant with Esme, my cat Bluegrass did the same thing. Then I figured it out. Cats are awesome.

Max went to live with my brother’s girlfriend at college. I heard two years later he was at an(actual) farm chasing mice and living with many other friends. I wish I knew more of what had happened to him, but I know he must have been happy and I think of him often. Giving him up is still one of my worst experiences in life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sometimes I prefer cats to people.

Fast forward many years and I meet a charming young man post my divorce and my tumultuous dating years. We fall fast. He has a lady cat that’s about 5 yrs old named Mittens. Mittens has never liked any of his past girlfriends. Not long in, guess whose head Mittens starts wrapping her herself around at night? Yup. You’re smart if you guessed me. This wonderful man knew right there I was the right one(though he claims he figured that out sooner) if his cat loved me that much. We got engaged. We moved in. We got another cat. Bluegrass, a beautiful rescue cat from Anti Cruelty. We loved them both. We got married. A few months later Mittens became sick. Cancer. It was horrible. We tried to keep her alive. We tried everything. It didn’t work and a couple days past Valentine’s day we had to put her down. We were both with her and we held her as she closed her eyes for that final time. I had never actually experienced the death of an animal in front of me(I wasn’t in the room when Bichon passed) and I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that followed. For Josh it was even harder, he brought her with him years before from New England to Chicago.

A couple of months later we decided Blue needed a companion and we went back to Anti Cruelty. We started looking at cats and there were a couple cats I was interested in, one was a black cat, one an orange tabby(oh Max). He found this kitten about 5 months old that was grey/brown with a lot of white. He kept pawing at Josh through the cage and seemed to have one hell of a personality. The worker hesitantly brought him out to us at the “meeting” area. This kitten proceeded to crawl over us and then all over me and just nestle me. He wouldn’t leave my neck and curled up to me. She walked over to see how we were doing and said that she’d never seen this cat do that to anyone before. Josh wanted to pick him right away. We said goodbye to him and as we did he suddenly put his paw outside the cage and grabbed my finger. He meowed. That was it. I told Josh he was the one.

We adopted him. I picked him up a couple days later. We named him Wally. Blue was pissed. But later they became hetero life mates as Josh calls them. I can verify this, as at sometimes the way they curl up with each other to this day speaks volumes.

Per usual over time the cats sort of became mine. Or rather I was the one around the most and fed them, gave them treats so it was my head Wally sleeps on most nights. He also follows me most everywhere, sits in front of the computer screen if I’m writing, and creepiest of all he HAS to sit on the toilet seat and watch me shower. If he hears me turn on the water he flies into the bathroom before I have a chance to shut the door. The best part is most nights he waits nearby my side of the bed while I read. As soon as I turn off the light he’s up in bed waiting for me to stretch out  my right arm, where he then lays down facing me curled up around that arm with one paw laid out to touch my face. And this is how I fall to sleep about four nights a week. The other three he’s downstairs knocking things over or fighting with his brother. Or in winter, bringing me live mice.

The funniest thing Wally has ever done was growl at the Chinese food delivery man one night. I was a few months pregnant and apparently he was protecting me from the poor kid delivering my chicken & vegetables.

Now these cats have lived a very charmed life with us. They are like my kids

The reason I started writing this in the first place is staring out our back door. Matilda. Matilda is our 16 months old shepherd mix. Part German, part Australian, possibly part Rhodesian ridgeback. Who knows. All I know is she is 100% pain in the butt.

Josh had been needling me for a year or so to get a puppy. It never seemed like a good time and frankly, I didn’t want a dog. Slowly but surely I warmed to the idea a year ago spring. We had been perusing all of the humane society pages looking for dogs. After weeks of doing this Josh happened to find a picture of a cute (supposedly) Australian Shepherd mix puppy. She was four months old and sitting up. And winking. I’m not kidding, in the picture the puppy was winking. Me, the not too thrilled about dog person, fell in love with the dog in that picture. So we pursued her. We went and visited her at the humane society a week later. Everything went well and she was super sweet and energetic. We wanted her right away.

Now the horrible thing is that we were leaving the following week for our yearly excursion to New Hampshire to visit J’s family. But we were afraid she would be gone if we didn’t act on her fast. So we went back the next day, E’s birthday.

Unfortunately things did not go well. Our dear to be dog decided it was super to jump all over Esme pushing her to a chorus of repeated screaming” Aaaargh get it away from me!! I hate her get her away from me!!!”. Poor kid. She had the worst birthday in the world because mom was stressed and pissed by her ruining our chances of getting the dog, and she was getting terrorized by a dog.

The people at the humane society told us to come back later when things calmed down. So we did that night when J could come with us and the child was pacified by presents.

Things were a bit better by that point. The puppy had calmed down a bit. We still decided to proceed with her. So we adopted her on the spot. Which left us in a massive pickle. We could pick her up in two days, but we were leaving in six. Luckily my younger brother and his (then)girlfriend had two Australian shepherds so they volunteered to take her for that week we were gone and work on training her. Things went fairly well. We were lucky because she was crate trained and potty trained.

While we were gone things were a little too much for my brother. And it was then he figured out that she wasn’t an Australian shepherd but perhaps a Rhodesian ridgeback. If you know these dogs, well they’re tall and energetic.

The first several months with her were hard. I wasn’t prepared for all of the craziness. She ate things. Like cd’s, shoes, belts, bras, shoes, and toys. Esme lost countless toys to her chewing. We were nipped at constantly.

The kids went to school and Josh went to work so here I was with the most annoying dog known to man and I was expected to take care of her day in and day out. When Esme wasn’t in school or other activities she spent her time perched on the back of the couch in our family room. She was absolutely terrified of the animal.

I wanted to love her but I just didn’t know how. I was so frustrated on a daily basis it seemed impossible. Especially when my Wally developed another Urinary infection because she kept blocking him from coming down to go to his litter box. I was furious and told Josh we had to find someone to take her. I felt awful saying that but I was upset. I think this became so routine, my calls to  him in tears saying we have to get rid of her that he knew not to take them seriously. He built a cat door into our kitchen/utility room door and thankfully that cured Wally of his issues.

I won’t lie. It took a very long time for Mattie and I to get used to each other.

Something however happened over the last few months. She calmed down a little. And being with me day in and day out I was the one that taught her all her little tricks. Like how to high five, how to shake, and best of all “how to give ten”, which is currently her favorite thing to do when she wants a particular treat.  She just sits back and puts both front paws up saying “I’m cute please give me what I want”. And she is, she’s a gorgeous girl. She’s even gotten to the point that if you offer a particular treat and it’s not what she wants she does a little jump back dance and shakes her head no. Last week she nodded at me when I nodded to her  and said that she was a good girl. Charlie cracked up so hard I thought he’d burst.

It’s been well over a year. She adores Charlie. I mean adores. He gets the best greetings when he walks in out of all of us. She’s also extremely fond of Charlie’s dad. So whenever he comes over she goes absolutely nuts over him.

E is finally happy with her. She called her the perfect dog just yesterday which made me very happy. Now she giggles when she attacks her with kisses instead of screaming with terror.

Mattie spent a lot of time socializing with other dogs at Doggie Day Camp. Yes. Seriously. It was awesome. She’s learned to love other dogs and I swear that’s helped her disposition quite a bit in dealing with everyone else.

She’s an excellent fly catcher. But she keeps trying to take my curtains down in her determination to take down the flies.

She has a best friend. Daisy. It’s a stitch. Daisy’s “mom” and I are really good friends and the girls have playdates. It’s become really funny when I go there because Daisy sees me and goes nuts thinking Mattie’s with me. When she’s not you can sense the disappointment. When we went out of town Daisy’s family took Mattie for the week. And she’s so used to them now she doesn’t terrorize them like she does everyone else. Which I guess you could say is pretty amazing. They recently came over and she went nuts running from person to person not to jump on them but wondering where her friend was. To hear one of the girls explain to her friend who the other dog was and say “oh that’s Daisy’s best friend” made me giggle. They really do adore each other. I swear she goes through withdrawal when she doesn’t see her friend for a few days.

So my friend and I try to get them together a couple days a week. Never thought I’d be setting up playdates for a dog.

So yes, my absolute terror and annoyance with this animal has become sheer love. I absolutely adore her. The kids are back in school and it’s just the two of us(the cats come down as little as possible when she’s around) and she’s mellowed out.

We’ve seen the difference the last couple weeks. She’s changed. I can’t put my finger on it, but she’s a different girl.

I know it makes everyone in this house much happier when I’m not shrieking because of her actions.

I still wish my cats would give her a chance. The best part of their fights is the fact that they really do say “NOOO”. I have video proof of this. Somehow they learned how to say it and they say it to her when they get really mad. Imagine two cats on a stairwell in a standoff with a dog weighing 50 lbs more than them, not only smacking her down the stairs but screaming a chorus of “NOO”. Yeah, I know you can’t. We couldn’t either the first 50 times or so. Now it’s normal.

I guess sometimes you find love where you least expect it. I didn’t think I was capable of being so attached to this animal, but now I can’t imagine life without her. Especially when she’s trying to smother me.


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