Monday, July 04, 2005


Bah. After spending all morning composing the most entertaining blog entry about pets, I lost the whole damn thing when I previewed.

So here goes another try.

Sam & I almost always had dogs growing up. When we moved out together, however, our pet selection was really limited to cats (and even that was pushing it sometimes), and the occasional pet rat (that was more Sam's bag than mine). Fortunately, our two boys, Ace & Gryphon, were excellent specimens of the feline. Ace, Samantha's black American shorthair (with Siamese markings when he lay in the sun) - the crime lord. Gryphon, my 22-lb Maine Coon tabby - the muscle. The two of them were our constant companions through college, early married life, all through our exodus to Seattle and early child-rearing.

Shortly after we bought our home in West Seattle, Samantha rescued an Aussie shepherd pup from a trip to death row. She often talked of starting a wildlife or pet rescue operation on our eventual retirement property, and her passion for animals always shone through. Unfortunately, Fergus (the Aussie) was too aggressive around our son Tyler, just a toddler at the time. His herding instincts were strong - a definite plus in the breed - but he was too much for Sam to handle as a stay-at-home mom. We found him a nice family with acreage who had just lost their old Aussie. It was a good match.

We agreed that we wouldn't get another dog until Tyler was older and less vulnerable. In the following years, we had an assortment of mice, a rat and a goldfish named Scully who lived for over 6 years in a little tank on our kitchen counter. Then our daughter arrived, and we agreed that we wouldn't get a dog until Kayleigh was older and less vulnerable. Sense a pattern yet? Besides, Ace & Gryphon were getting up there in years, and probably wouldn't take well to yet another new dog in the house.

The next animal Samantha rescued was a tiny female kitten, not more than 6 weeks old, found tangled in the blackberry bushes on the corner of our street. No mama cat to be found, and this little one was distressed. Turned out she also had distemper. Cute little white shorthair with black punctuation markings on her tail, flank and head. I just rolled my eyes. It was actually funny to see Sam put on the attitude of a small child, promising to take care of the animal, clean her room, even eat her veggies. At least that's what it sounded like. So Sam nursed little Punctuation Blackberry (aka Punky) through distemper, hand feeding her and staying up all night several nights in a row. She pulled through and promptly became Queen Bitch of the Universe. She was obnoxious, skittish and aggressive toward the kids, and trimming claws was a two-person job (and usually included wrapping her in a towel to avoid getting Cuisinarted). We agreed that we would get a dog as soon as Ace & Gryphon were gone, and that Punky could just deal with it.

Then Sam got sick. Punky began to change her attitude a lot. She became extremely clingy around Sam, and even mellowed around the kids and me. In fact, she became quite the flirt. Nonetheless, we agreed that we wouldn't get a dog until this cancer thing had run its course, or stabilized, or our life was something other than the chaotic healthcare nightmare it was. It's always something.

We lost Gryphon in 2003, at age 16, to a feline sarcoma that ate away half his jaw. Ace followed in 2004, also at 16, from renal failure. They were the advance guard - they demonstrated concepts of loss and mortality to the kids, and kind of cleared the decks for the final fight. Of course Kayleigh wanted to get a guinea pig for her birthday in 2004, and of course I said, "fine, as long as I don't have to feed him or clean his cage." Ha. (In Kayleigh's defense, she has done a pretty good job monitoring James Brown the guinea pig, however cleaning the cage is a bit out of her sphere of ability - guess who does that.) Tyler got a 2.5 gallon aquarium for Christmas in 2004. 4 months later, Sam died. There we were, with fish, a hussy of a cat and a guinea pig who thought he was the godfather of soul. But there was a very powerful vacuum where Sam's vitality and energy had been. It finally occurred to me: DOG TIME. And this time, *I* would choose the animal I knew I'd be caring for ultimately.

I hit our local craigslist and found a young couple in our neighborhood with a coyote/shepherd mix, who had to get rid of him due to a move. I took the kids to meet him on Memorial Day, and the bond was instant. He was perfect. A bit larger than Sam would have wanted, but this was MY call now (she would've loved this pup anyway). He moved into the house immediately, came housebroken and with a love of people. I called my dad in the hospital to tell him about Wiley Coyote Super Genius (aka Wiley), and all he could do was weep. He knew how long we'd waited to get a dog, and knew from my description that we were protected.

My dad died that night.

Wiley gives us an immediate focus. He gives us total affection, gives us "whuffs" of warning when someone approaches the house, loves meeting people and loves riding in the car. He gives the kids a target for their affection as well - he's something that can be loved and nurtured, something they can share responsibility in. He's a member of the family.

In the weeks since my father's death, Tyler's 2.5 gal tank became a 5 gal tank, and there has been talk of converting the old 2.5 gal into a dry terrarium for a couple chameleons or something. Tyler is now campaigning for Chinese hamsters and Kayleigh has been eyeing ferrets (don't worry - we're not going there)! Then yesterday I got a call from a friend who was moving out of his house, and would I like a fully-furnished 20 gal tank??? And, go figure, I said, "Sure!"

Ah. I remembered the point to this entry. Since I was a little kid, I've always been a caretaker for others. When my little brother died, I took care of my fragile parents. When they divorced, I took care of my siblings as we were shuttled back and forth between households. My relationship with Samantha was the closest thing to equitable I think I've ever had. But then came kids, and Sam's illness... Caretaker, back into the fray. Now that Sam's gone, I think I must subconsciously look for things to take care of. Otherwise, what the hell is up with saying yes to a 20-gallon fish tank??

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