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Life with Dogs and Cats

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Her words are measured and parsed, quietly and only at the appropriate times. If there’s too much noise in the room, you might not even hear her. Athena speaks softy. She is tidy, thoughtful and methodical. Every move is calculated, purposeful and intended. She meant to do it. Athena plans carefully.
Unless she’s chasing her sister through the house. I didn’t know that tiny cat paws can sound like a herd until Athena and her sister Dawn joined our family. They thunder, the two of them, I swear. They barely weight a dozen pounds put together; I think there must be some kind of physics anomaly relating to the ratio of cat size to noise creation. Maybe there’s a physicist out there who will make a discovery about the nature of the universe and the time space continuum by studying cats.

Athena is curious.  I know, that’s expected for cats. When Jasper and Lilah come running to the door to great us (or the UPS guy), Athena is right with them. Only she’s not wagging her tail.  She just Wants to Know.  But she wants to know about Everything. What’s in the box? Who’s at the door? What’s in the cabinet? What are the dogs barking at? What’s in the drawer? Why does the vacuum cleaner make that loud noise? What are you doing? Who are all these people? Is that food?

If there’s food involved, that's Very Important because it probably is meant as a snack for Athena. Actually, all food is really hers; you just haven’t realized that yet. And by “you,” she means anyone including 2-legged and 4-legged creatures.
Athena was named after the goddess of war and and wisdom. She has a spare, Egyptian look about her.  Her color is similar to Dawn’s, though she is all dilute tortoiseshell instead of a combination of tortoiseshell and tabby. White, gray, orange, tan, gold and other colors are scattered throughout her fur, with one lovely splotch on one half of her chin, giving her an almost harlequin look.
Our first cats, Dawn and Athena are teaching us many things about felis catus, including how different two sisters can be, in looks, attitude and action. Dawn and Athena, part of our family since August 2010, have taught Jasper and Lilah to not only tolerate them, but to actually like them. Humans, cats, dogs: they are all members of the pack.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


“Mep.”  That’s what Dawn says all the time. It’s an all-purpose word. It can mean, “Feed me.” It can mean, “I need a lap.” It can also be physical punctuation--a sound that adds emphasis as she lands on the chair, then the bench, then the bookshelf. And I’ve also heard it used as a curse word--actually, a string of them--when being sent to bed in the basement, unwillingly. With each step down the stairs, Dawn says, “Mep.” As in “Mep mep mep. MEP mep mep mep MEP!” I don’t need a cat/human dictionary to translate; I’m not even sure I’d want to.
Until Dawn came to live with us, I thought cats said, “meow.” Or maybe, “mew.” But “mep?” Now her vocabulary has expanded and there are many words, but to be honest, rarely a full fledged, field grown, 2nd-grade reader “meow.”  There is “row,” “reeow,” and often just “meh.” Once, when it looked like she was about to climb up my left leg to get to the kitchen counter, I informed her that she would be a very sorry kitty indeed if she actually attempted the feat, as I had a water squirter in my hand and she would surely feel my wrath, she answered, with a tone of awe, “Wow!”
Imagine a dawn or a dusk with dark grey clouds as well as white puffy ones, and yellow and orange sun streaks through them. That’s the inspiration for Dawn’s name. When we first brought Dawn and Athena home, I went online to learn the correct words to describe their colors. Dawn is a combination tortoiseshell and tabby. However, she’s very light, which I’ve seen referred to as grey or blue. This makes her a dilute tortoiseshell tabby.  Or for short, a dilute torby.  
Dawn is a funny cat. Quirky. She “begs” for her dinner, standing up on her hind legs, with her front paws hanging down; she looks like a meerkat.  I will admit when she started doing it, I encouraged it, so now it’s part of the feeding routine. But the two-circle spin that must accompany “kitteh nom” time routine was not my idea. Two spins, clockwise before every meal. 
Like many cats Dawn likes to hide, and has the most satisfied look on her face when she thinks she’s hidden so well you can’t see her. Of course, most times she’s quite visible.  She’s a great hunter too, as many a stink bug can attest. Well, at least those that survived the pouncing and batting and general kitten hunt activities. And she’s good at hunting her own tail; it always seems to sneak up on her.
Dawn and Athena, whom we adopted through Lifeline Animal Rescue, are our family’s first experience with cats, so we’ve had a crash course in all things feline. Sisters, they joined our menagerie in August 2010, and are now fully integrated into the group, nuzzling the dogs, trying to eat their food, and chasing dog balls. All four animals love to watch the birdies from our family room; often you'll see cats and dogs hanging out together on the bench by the window, tails and noses twitching, and each one of them sure that he or she will get one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Wherever we go, the response is nearly the same. What kind of dog is he? Jasper draws stares, comments and tons of compliments at the dog park, pet store and vet's office. A very leggy dog, Jasper brings to mind the AT-AT battle walkers featured in The Empire Strikes Back.  (My inner geek is showing,  I know.)  Guesses as to what his background is include lab (based on his webbed paws and body shape), German Shepherd (there's a hint of a black saddle on his back, but his fur is softer and shorter than a shepherd's), and catahoula cur (he has some kind of hound markings and a baying voice when he's on the trail of something.) Jasper is all the colors of the desert; or perhaps the bright warm tones of an exotic spice market: cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, sesame, salt and pepper.  Imagine a slightly stocky foxhound with some of the colors of a German shepherd and a speckled black and silver face.
His color inspired his name: if you're familiar with the stone jasper, specifically a type called picture jasper, then you can visualize our friend. His name had a dual meaning; one of our family's favorite authors is Jasper Fforde. As for Mr. Jasper, he truly is a handsome, striking dog.  Luckily he can't understand what people say about him or he'd become quite vain.
Just like Lilah, Jasper came to us from a kill shelter in Louisiana, through Husky House, and a local foster parent. Jasper and Lilah view themselves as brother and sister, though they obviously came from different litters. (Lilah is about a month and a half older than Jasper; our best guess at Jasper's birthday is late May of 2009.)
In our home, Jasper is referred to as the Dude or simply Himself. Sometimes he's just a Moose or a Pony; he's a very tall dog. He is the most laid-back dog I've ever known.  Nothing bothers him. Nothing. You can use him as a pillow. You can play drums on him (as my 16-year-old son does).  You can pat him on the head, sniff his paws (they smell like popcorn, I swear) or muss with his ears.  He just moans or sighs (that's the shepherd coming out I think) and continues to relax. Maybe he stretches his long, lanky body so that he seems to extend 10 feet. He embodies the character in The Big Lebowski: Jasper, the Dude, abides.
Jasper is smart, and is incredibly food motivated.  He'll learn any trick in minutes once he realizes there's a Snack involved. And he'll go through his trick repertoire one after the other trying to figure out just what I want him to do because there's a Treat at the end. Like Lilah, he took agility classes, and he loved it; with a grace we wouldn't have guessed he had, Jasper figured out how to make his long, leggy self jump through hoops, run through tunnels, and turn around on the doggy equivalent of a balance beam.
Everybody is Jasper's Best Friend.  Everybody. Whenever he sees a human of any shape, size or age, he turns into a mushy puppy, his entire body wagging as he bows an invitation to play. It's the same enthusiasm whether he sees the UPS man, the jogger that runs by in the park, everybody in PetSmart, and that person getting into the car across the parking lot. For some reason, not everyone takes him up on his offer to play and be Best Friends. When this happens, Jasper stops wagging, looks heartbroken for about 3 seconds as he ponders why oh why this person didn't play with him, and then he sees someone else or finds a good smell or looks for a treat and all is forgiven. When we go to the dog park, Jasper spends most of his time running from person to person, snuggling up to them as if he belongs to them, and of course they ooh and ahh and give plenty of pets. Everyone at the dog park is Jasper's Best Friend.
As mentioned in the overview of Lilah, Jasper and his sister love each other very much, and it is a blast to watch them together. They share everything: toys, beds and bones. Jasper plays the part of the goofy younger brother; he loves to jump at Lilah to get her to play, and then watch her zip circles around the yard.  He'll pounce at her with each circuit, but surely you don't expect him to run All Around the Yard with her?! Jasper will, on occasion, chase a ball or a Frisbee, but really, he'd rather just stand there and have me throw it to him; he will catch it with a laconic air and then trot it back to me.  More often he looks at the ball when it's thrown, and then looks back at me, asking, "Um, if you WANTED the ball, why the heck did you throw it over THERE?"


Imagine a small border collie, with glossy, obsidian black fur. Then, shrink her down a bit, so she weighs about 34 pounds. Watch her walk by on soundless paws that make you think she's part cat.  Give her eyes the color of caramels. That's my Lilah, whose name means "night" in Hebrew.
A smart dog, Lilah notices everything, much like Rosie. Once we removed a huge entertainment center from our family room, and when Lilah walked in, she instantly realized Something was Different and it needed to be investigated.  Over the next half hour she walked over to where the unit had stood and stretched her thin frame out to sniff where it was, several times. It took her about an hour or so of inspection and Deep Thought before it met with her approval. Nothing gets by Lilah.
Lilah is playful, and loves new toys, once they've been thoroughly reviewed, of course.  Outside, she'll chase a ball, a frisbee, and nearly any other tossable dog toy, including sticks. She's even brings them back so I can throw them again. Inside, Lilah will pick up a rubber ball or a Kong and throw it, just to watch it bounce. Stuffed toys are no match for her as she excels in shredding though it's more like disemboweling because if there's a squeaker, it Must Be Removed. She also loves a good game of Tug with any of her family members, including Jasper.
With a sweet and gentle personality, Lilah is quite friendly when she meets new dogs or people.  Unless they're too tall or look different than she expects.  Like if you're wearing a hat, or are carrying Something Suspicious.  Then she'll discuss the situation briefly, and with a treat for encouragement, she'll offer sniffs, wags and kisses.
Lilah came to us, along with Jasper, from a kill shelter in Louisiana, through Husky House, and a local foster parent. As best we figure, Lilah was born in April of 2009. When she first joined our family, Lilah was a bit skittish and easily startled. I work with her nearly every day, to help her become more confident; she's done agility training as well, which helped her tremendously. Now we play "Touch it with Your Nose" any time there's something new and possibly Scary, and she's become very very Brave and much more sure of herself. She's a happy, friendly curious pup now, and very little bothers her--not even the vacuum cleaner!
Jasper and Lilah love each other very much, and it is a pleasure to watch them together. Their favorite toy is each other, and someone always seems to be reaching out to grab a foot or gently nip an ear or mouth each other's muzzle. There is often much discussion over toys and bones, as the other dog always has The Best One. Sometimes they'll both chew on the same bone simultaneously, even if there is another bone that is exactly the same only inches away. She's the older sister to Jasper, and sometimes plays the mom as well, washing his face in the morning and bringing him toys or bones when he's bored. She's the thinker and the planner of the two of them, with beauty and brains.