Too often, we view animals through the warped lens of our own self-importance. We do not recognize their value. Animals display love, gratitude, and loyalty. To me, that seems like a good indication of a soul. They are gifted, have superior extensions of sight and hearing to that of man, and exceptional instincts that we will never attain. They often fill the space of what is missing in our lives. We are known to brutalize some from misconceptions about them, prone to consume others, but seldom fully appreciate their magic, their music, their artful and rightful place in the realm.
WAITING FOR ROSEMARY
"Rosemary, come home, sassy girl."
A patch of multi-colored leaves draws my eye, then crushed cardboard by the curb. A bird makes a cat sound A cat makes a bird sound. A bat peeps in the misty dusk and folds like sunglasses. A strapping young raccoon scuffles in the storm drain and picks through food I leave.
"Are you down there somewhere, Rosemary? In that long dank tube?"
When I first saw Rosemary, she was a wad of wire hunkered in the drain spout behind the old Cox Theater. Her mother was a gunny sack plastered with stick tights, a young cat herself, understandably poor at arithmetic. She walked down the alley with a black kitten and another calico like Rosemary. Both hollered, and were a handful. So, Rosemary was left behind in a world that acted like it didn't like her, and she grew to have more than a little attitude about it.
It wasn't an easy task to foster Rosemary. Adoption involved a little paperwork - an inverted pasteboard box and considerable high-pitched complaining (mine, mostly), a routine which needed to be repeated with certain adjustments when she was taken in for her shots and to change her view of sexuality.
Time passed, and Rosemary spent it wide-eyed, suspicious, watching me.
I continued to offer her the couch, tuna, soft chews, crunchies, fresh water and choice between privacy-assured litter boxes. I called her, patted my lap and left it open, but she didn't take it. Sometimes she jumped up on her own and jabbed her head (sweet-smelling from her nap amid my perfume bottles) against my chin. After a few moments, she hopped down, straightened her bloomers, and looked back at me as if to accuse me of some obscene offense.
Rosemary was what you might call a Liz Taylor cat. She was beautiful and unpredictable. She went wherever she wanted in this small town. Many nights were full of her strut ,and plume-tail, and fuzzy knickers. Catch her if you can! During the day, she let me feed her, plump her pillow, and share her rooms.
It enters my mind briefly that the usually-well-mannered coon may have got Rosemary. I see Rosemary fluff her brown and rust-toned coat as she enters the drain tube and demands passage. She does not drop her head and let any others in the tunnel pass. I see her glare with huge Halloween eyes, and spit and swat, and charge with her checkered bloomers ruffling, until the usually tolerant, unconcerned raccoon retaliates from fret with quick ability to kill her. (Oh, please, if that be the case-- that it was swift!)
There are cats that die in horrid ways, pain-filled and lingering. Many times, I have seen the awful pulp, and worms. Others critters are still wandering, hungry, afraid, in need of empathy and accommodation. And some lost, may yet be found.
Perhaps even a haughty cat, plumed-tailed, strutting, will return exactly when she chooses.
I do what I can while waiting. I look in all directions and wonder what each night will give me.
"Rosemary. Come home, sassy girl! It's OK to bring a friend."
Animals have saved my life, dogs, cats, raccoon, opossum, even a skunk with threat from stinky parcel-- for they have ALWAYS been there at the perimeter or deep inside my life, each teaching me something about themselves and something about myself-- most loyal, some protective, some that came to me in need of nothing more than a comfortable place to die--irrefutably all signing the greeting card of my life so that I truthfully take no meaning from the word LONELINESS.
As I tend to the needs of a senior dog today, a great companion, failing now, I think of another great dog from my childhood, one that used to bark wildly to keep me out of the river, out of discarded iceboxes, and I acknowledge how little pets take from our lives, how much they give, and I am grateful I have always been blessed by pet affection, stinky licks -- and nevermind the hair and doggie doo.
FROM THE PARADE OF PETS
TEENA: She came into our lives as a small reddish spot, mostly texture, on a blue blanket. I sensed her presence immediately by the smell of her and I breathed her deeply in. Then we gave her a bath. She was a spaniel/terrier mix, quickly learned her tricks, was easily trained away from floor mishap and in the art of home protection. A good, loving and obedient companion, but, as with all things, not without flaw. Hers was motherhood -- overprotection and need for complete control. One tiny pup got a terminal message when it tried to approach a beckoning hand against her loudly expressed reprimand. I resented her for that, and only years later came to understand the intensity that can result when mothering looses wise focus and merges into destruction.
LESSON: Only until birth are your offspring totally yours, and then they begin their own journey---an adventure into which they must be allowed, certainly not free rein, but always room to grow.
DEJA VU: (Australian Shepherd? Lived 23 years) Deja came into our lives over our backyard fence, accompanied by the sound of someone running away. This was not the first time for such an incident, hence her name. We warmly accepted her into the clan, and she proved to be a vital member. Fraught early-on with health issues, including the need for an arsenic drip and isolation for the treatment of heartworms, and later, diabetes which resulted in blindness and required two insulin shots a day, she was, nonetheless, a trooper. We went for frequent walks and she relied on me for guidance but never acted as if she could not see. Her sharply defined and smiling face turned this way and that as if taking in the scenery. Her sleek, cougar-colored body never hesitated. Not one step was tentative. More than once, I, distracted, not saying "Wait" or "Stop," inadvertantly ran her into a tree or dropped her from the curb. Through it all, she never allowed herself a moment's grief, and gave us none-- was totally devoid of self-pity or the slightest sadness.
LESSON: Never let remorse for what is lost remove or long diminish your appreciation of what remains.
CABBAGE: (A beautiful Himalayan cat, 10, maybe 12 years of life) Perhaps it was an ugly name to give a handsome cat that showed up unexpectedly and surveyed the house for several days before deciding he would stay. He was luminous and serene against the counterpoint of blue sky, a gentle silverish powder puff watching birds ride the wind. Robins were curious about him, landed nearby, hopped about, watched him closely with one eye at a time until they knew that they were safe. I, too, quickly saw him as a friend, and he lived the perfect proof of it, was always available to listen, his gauzy face alert, and quick to volunteer a mesh of small talk that always sounded like approval.
LESSON: Sometimes there is within appreciation of something beautiful, within tiny, meaningless conversation, a sufficient comfort.
Number 100+: Another cat found me in its too-late hours...no longer shiny...gray gums from blood with little oxygen, little color....punch hole eyes....little air in its lungs, so its last voice cracking. What I used to say to it ("Trust me, little one, I will not hurt you") was never what it heard, and it used its classic feral cat defense of bolt, of run.
No longer was it trapped in its suspicion. As I lowered my hand to stroke it softly, it no longer seemed to fear I was wooing it into ambush, but calmly accepted touch and brief comfort, sighed graciously, and its little light went out as it died along with the day.