Cats and dogs
By John Gray
On a crisp fall night in 1981 I sat in my parent’s living room next to my dad watching the “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. At our feet was the family dog, pretending to sleep, but always keeping one eye open to make sure we were there. Pets are like that. You take them in and think you own them, but the truth is they own you. Sure you feed and groom them, but before long they are running the house and rewarding you with a love unmatched by anyone you’ll ever know, two-legged or four.
On this particular night, actor Jimmy Stewart came on the show and read a short poem he had written about his dog Beau. He joked about how the dog never came when called and had a habit of digging up the rose bushes just to spite him. He talked about Beau running ahead of him on their walks, but alwayslooking back to make sure his master was there. And of Beau climbing up on the bed at night just to feel a loving hand stroke his head as he fell to sleep.
As the poem continued, Mr. Stewart’s face and his tone changed when he talked about life after Beau died. He’d sit up in bed at night and still feel his dog’s stare, he’d reach out his hand and Beau wasn’t there. I remember tears welling up in my eyes and trying to look away from my dad. Neither one of us spoke, but the silence in the room said everything. We looked down at our dog and felt a pang deep inside realizing we wouldn’t have him forever. It’s a feeling every pet owner knows. It’s a pain I had to deal with unexpectedly a few weeks ago, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
In my 45 years I have had four dogs and three cats; not all at once, of course, and not one of them was the same. That’s what makes having them so much fun. And the difference between cats and dogs is, as Mark Twain might say, “The difference between lightening and a lightening bug.” Let’s start with cats.
Cats don’t think they are better than everyone, they know it. Or as someone once said, “If you call a dog they come, if you call a cat they take a message and get back to you later when it’s convenient.” Dogs feel blessed to be in your presence, cats think it’s you who should be on your knees thankful they came into your life. See if any of my pets remind you of yours.
My first cat was named Candy, which was funny because she was anything but sweet. Candy would rub up against you demanding you pet her. The problem was when she grew tired of you touching her she would bite you without warning. And I don’t mean a ‘love nibble’. She’d bite you hard and then run away as if you asked for it.
Years after she went to that big candy store in the sky, I adopted brother and sister cats named Georgie and Gracie. Georgie was as kind as the day was long, but dumber than a box of rocks. And I don’t mean regular rocks, I mean rocks that come in a box marked “extra dumb”. Georgie would walk into walls and swat at things that weren’t there. His favorite pastime was licking plastic and looking confused. Sometimes after he did his business in the litter box he’d walk away with a piece of you–know–what still stuck to his fur. He was the most unkempt cat I’ve ever seen. But he was loving and trusting to a fault. If a huge ferocious dog was growling at him, Georgie would walk right up like they were long lost friends and try to lick him. It was a miracle he survived a day in this world.
His sister Gracie was the opposite and should have been called Damien. She was sharp as a tack. In fact, if you sat on a chair and there was a tack there, chances are Gracie put it there. She felt humans served three functions in this world: get her food, clean the litter box and provide someone to torment. Gracie would deliberately walk between your legs as you were trying to go down stairs hoping to trip you. If you were holding hot coffee or soup she’d leap in your lap causing it to spill. And on cold nights in bed, she’d stand on your chest demanding you let her under the blankets. Once she heard you snoring she’d meow again demanding you let her out. She’d repeat this four times an hour all night long. The next day while you are exhausted she’d nap (of course), and if you dared make a noise, she’d lift her head and give you a disgusted look.
Cats are clever, though. I had a friend whose cats loved to watch baseball. One day when she came home from work her three cats were sitting on the couch watching the Mets game. She was quite certain when she left for work that morning the television was off. She told herself one of the cats must have accidentally stepped on the remote, turning the TV on and it just happened to be on ESPN. I wasn’t buying it. Besides, how can you explain the empty beer cans and bowls of Meow Mix all over the place?
Dogs are a different story. Dog’s brains are divided into four sections. One makes a statement and the other three ask a question. The statement: “You’re home! I love you so much!” The questions: “Can we go out?” “Can you throw the ball?” “Can you feed me, then take me out and throw the ball?”
People talk about unconditional love, but very rarely offer it. Dogs do. They look you dead in the eye and say, “I would never fire you, dump you or disappoint you. I love you.” Dogs are also psychic. Anyone who has had a dog can recall a day where something was really wrong in their life and the dog sensed it, coming up, plopping their head in your lap, sighing right along with you.
On the downside, they do tend to have selective memory about what’s right and wrong behavior. You can walk in the room and find your dog shredding your brand new sofa while eating the entire oven roaster chicken he stole off the kitchen table. All you get is a look from the dog that says, “What? You seem upset. Something wrong?” You yell at him and he goes to lay down in the corner; but notice how he never take his eyes off you. As mad as you may be, you never can stay that way long because eventually you look in those big brown eyes and realize that’s your best friend pouting over there. And that’s what leads me to Ava.
A little over a year ago I bought a six-month old German Shepard named Ava. Her name should have been “Mischief” because while she was a sweet dog who was great with my kids, she was a terror on my house. I couldn’t leave her alone or she’d destroy something—carpeting, tennis racquet, she even ate a mattress once. A brand new Sealy, no less. But, despite these moments of mayhem she was my friend and I loved her. She’d love to hop in the car and go with me to the store and could spend hours fetching a stick in the yard. And she had no idea how big she was, so when anyone would try to pet her she’d leap in their lap knocking the wind out of them. In Ava’s mind she was still a six-pound puppy just trying to give a hug.
One Saturday shortly before Christmas, Ava got off her lead and decided to dash across the road. I live on a busy street and when Ava got control of her senses and realized she was out of the yard she attempted to run back to safety. That’s when she was hit by a car. The only saving grace is that my children weren’t home to see it, and I’ll be forever thankful for that. The woman who struck her felt awful, but I forgave her in an instant; it was just one of those lousy things that happen to all of us.
So now the dog that caused me so much grief is gone and the house where I sit writing you this story is quiet as a church on Tuesday morning. I miss hearing the patter of her paws as she went from room to room and the sound of her drinking water from her bowl even though she always made a mess of my floor. Mostly, I miss my friend who, no matter how rough a day I had, met me at the door with a look and dance that said, “You’re home! I love you so much!”
So, let’s dedicate this month’s back page to Ava, and all the pets you and I have loved over the years. As much as I enjoyed Jimmy Stewart’s poem I think he may have gotten one part wrong. Perhaps at night when we can’t sleep and feel their stare, maybe they really are there. Perhaps they got to heaven’s gate and told God, “It’s great up here, but I have to go back because that’s my family you see and they need me.” And if you close your eyes and listen real hard to the darkness, perhaps you’ll hear the sound of purring or a tail wagging in the night.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org