Our cool companion, Kitty

Our cool companion was literally cool when we first met him camping out on our front porch on a freezing evening in February 2010. We were worried he was lost and unable to find his way back to his owner’s house on the next block, so we called at about 9 p.m. to let her know that Kitty was sitting on our porch. She said he usually finds his way home when he gets hungry. However, he was still on the porch at 2 in the morning. My wife took pity on him and put out a box lined with towels to make him more comfortable. Maybe this was part of Kitty’s test to see how we treated him.

We didn’t see Kitty much until the next summer when my wife and I were taking one of our usual evening walks around the church about a half-mile from our house. There was Kitty in the middle of the field. Surprisingly, he was quite happy to follow us back to his owner’s house. When he got close to his house he ran out ahead of us, realizing he was back home.

Kitty must have figured that we were “good people,” because in January he started using the kitty door installed by our home’s previous owners to sleep in our garage. He started spending most of his time around our house, and we got to know Kitty much better. We found that he loves to be around us. While doing yard work, we can count on Kitty supervising. He is quite content to sit next to us and gaze into our eyes, listening to whatever we have to say.

Kitty also loves to walk with us. He figured out that we often go walking after dinner. We might see him in the garage when we get our shoes, but by the time we are on the front porch, he has gone out the back door of the garage and is waiting in the drive. We would open the garage door with the remote and give him some food in an attempt to keep him busy in the garage, but that would not hold his attention. Once the garage door started down he would do his Indiana Jones impersonation and dive under the closing door to make sure he didn’t miss walking with us. He follows us for blocks.

For a while his owner still took him to the vet, but each time after they returned Kitty would rush back to our house. Kitty made it clear he wanted to stay with us. So this February we talked with his owner and agreed to adopt him. We are very thankful to our neighbor for bringing Kitty into our lives.

My wife and I often find ourselves checking our porch and garage before we go to bed to make sure that Kitty is OK, and to spend some time with our cool companion.

William Cohen, Cary


Boogie on!

Boogie was the son of a sweet pit bull/ rottweiler/ bull mastiff who got noticed by a happy Labrador. He was named Rodman, due to the bright orange hair on his head, like Dennis Rodman. I brought him home for my girlfriend, who kindly let me know that despite my wonderful Valentine’s Day gift, Rodman had chosen menot her.

It took only a few minutes to rename my new boy. His Labrador tail had grown so out of proportion to his small frame that he bent his body 90 degrees to the left and right due to the weight of his tail. He danced with pure happiness and abandon … Boogie!

We grew together and learned from the best. He was taught dog manners by a half-wolf/ half-Lab and by many other dogs and friends. There was nowhere we couldn’t travel, and we befriended many.

Boogie had both the Labrador tennis ball and swimming genesthank god for that to wear out a most energetic young pup. He also understood English. It only took two tries to convince him to jump off the dock to fetch his ball; he leapt off at a full run and cleared 10 feet! Then his head and tail poked out, steering right to the ball.

Another favorite treat was playing Frisbee golf. It took one short lesson to let him know that the Frisbee was mine and the ball was his. Boogie would woof and run the course three or four times over. He always ran to my Frisbee and gave it a small U-shaped lick mark. One day I lost my disk and asked him, “Where’s my Frisbee?” Sure enough, he wagged his Boogie tail and led me to my disk hidden under some leaves in the woods. We looked at each other with delight and amazement. I got a big bag to hold disks and many tennis balls.

On such good days, I would play music and dance and make up new song lyrics while we boogied. On sad days, he would greet me with his waggly tail and brighten my day.

We were a team. We shared many years of play and exercise together, and as we both grew older we both slowed down. Boogie’s favorite place was looking out in the front yard by the garden, and that’s become my favorite place as well. In his memory I still woof at the deer.

A number of our friends passed away recently, and Boogie’s time just came too. I had to make the difficult choice, but I wanted him to go out if not on top, not on the bottom either. Boogie taught me to dance, live life and be thankful for those we love. Rest in peace, our friends, and rest in peace, Boogie. I’ll continue to learn from you as I watch the land.

Kirk Schmidt, White Cross


The meows (& trills & yowls) of Mitsi

The volunteer at Second Chance Pet Adoptions looked at us oddly when we said we wanted to meet Mitsi, the female tuxedo cat we had seen on the group’s website. “Well, she ran and hid when she saw the carrier and I just couldn’t catch her, but if you are interested I will go get her,” the volunteer stated and walked away.

Thirty minutes later we met Mitsi in one of the visitation rooms. She stared at us with large, round, yellow-green eyes in a black and white face that my husband has compared to the front of a VW bus. She had four white paws (hence the name) and a white chest, but the rest of her was jet black. Her foster mom explained to us that she was returned by her last owner, a single woman who had never had a cat and who complained that Mitsi was having seizures. Mitsi was taken to N.C. State veterinary school for a full battery of neurological tests, but they found nothing. That should have been our first clue. Nevertheless, we adopted her.

This is the most interactive, energetic feline I have ever owned. Her short attention span and constant need to move and talk does lead one to believe there may be neurological issues. She has her face into everything we are doing, whether it’s fixing the plumbing, folding laundry, having a conversation or eating dinner. She has a full range of meows, trills and yowls that she utilizes in any and all conversations, regardless of whether or not the conversation is directed at her. From the trill she uses when we pet her to the two-toned, two-syllable mew she questions us with, we swear she was a human in a former life. She gets extremely excited when we put on shoes and socks; she runs into the room from wherever she was in the house in order to rub our feet and shoes while we try to maneuver the shoes around her head and onto our feet. She also insists on being seated at the dinner table, where she politely and quietly observes our meal until one of us puts a small tidbit of food on the table in front of her. The she delicately moves the food with her paw to the edge of the table and primly gobbles it up.

Mitsi will take off at a full run for no apparent reason and dash headfirst into cabinets, appliances and furniture, knocking some of it to the floor. My husband wanted to give her a fullback position on our son’s football team. She likes to wrestle with my son and be handled rather roughly, but she does not like to be picked up or sit in your lap. She will lie next to you and occasionally meow in her sleep if you speak to her or anyone nearby.

We enjoy her antics immensely. We have met other tuxedo cat owners with similar storiesmust be something in their DNA!

Stacey, Matt & Bobby Armistead, Raleigh


Ava’s continuing education

I tried going to bed early one night. Ava, my 13-year-old dog of indeterminate breed, was very restless, thoughpacing back and forth between the kitchen, bedroom and living room. She finally came in and lay down, and after a while I heard lick … lick … tear.

Now Ava has been known to raid a trash basket or two in her day. Eat the odd paper towel, chew on a cardboard food box to get all the tasty bits. I got up, assuming she’d gotten ahold of one of those cardboard boxes or something, but I was stunned to see I was wrong.

Ava was lying happily on her bed, eating my Greek flashcards. The verbs, in fact. They are cardstock pieces held together by a metal ringshe had brought the whole ring in and was tearing off cards one by one. After I confiscated the cards, she resumed her restless pacingprobably searching for the stack of adverbs, or maybe the expletives.

I went out to the living room to open up the computer, and she lay down in front of her food dish and forced herself to eat the pricey, nutritionally balanced dog food I cruelly serve up for her. Which clearly does not ease her hunger for knowledge.

Marybeth Lavrakas, Durham


Casper and Domino’s coup de chance

I hate mowing grass. It’s hot and itchy, and lawn mowers are temperamental. I thought that adopting a goat was a brilliant solution to this problem and, sure enough, a friend of a friend was starting up a small hobby herd of goats for show and milk at Lunaflora Farm (thanks, Shosha and Matt!). One of their goats had given birth to twin boys of Nigerian Dwarf and Swiss Alpine descent. One was white with black and brown spots, and the other was all black with the exception of one white spot on the top of his head. On our first introduction, the two kidssoon to be named Casper and Dominobattled it out to see who could climb on me first and taste my shorts, shirt and hair, a sure sign that they liked me.

As I would later come to find out, goats will eat almost anything, but they certainly won’t eat everything, including the ever-growing grass in my yard, which seems to be unaware of any drought that has ever descended upon North Carolina. I’d also hoped to rent them out to a neighborhood friend to take care of his wisteria problem, until I learned that wisteria is one of several plants poisonous to goats. But I had already set eyes on these adorable little creatures and was sure they’d find a loving home in Hillsborough.

So, eight weeks after the meeting them, I asked my friend Arthur to help me pick up the little guys in his 1980s Mercedes station wagon, which he was selling a week later when he returned home to Ireland. Like any good Irishman, he was up for an adventure (with reassurances that I had enough blankets to cover the interior of his car). And though neither of us mentioned it, we collectively had some goat-related karma that needed balancing: One fateful day back in March 2009, we hit a goat while driving to Mvuu Camp in Liwonde National Park, Malawi, never knowing if the goat had died but expecting the worst.

Determined to right this wrong in some small way, I provided Casper and Domino with the best of amenities, including their own deluxe goat shed sporting a tin roof that matches my house and equipped with the fanciest hay and mineral feeder on the market. And they loved their new setup … until they discovered the holy grail of the backyard: the chicken coop. They lounge in the coop whenever I’m not looking and when I am lookingtheir tails wiggle and their lips smack, bleating in anticipation of some food and love. Most recently, Casper has been learning to walk on a leash (with limited success), and Domino is trying hard (or hardly trying) to wean from a bottle. And the chickens, well, they’re trying to reclaim their reign of the coop.

Leela Aertker, Hillsborough


Cubbie’s feats inscrutable

Cubbie was a Persian cat who accumulated his 20-pound girth with a temperament so phlegmatic that we wondered if he experienced normal brain impulses. His abundant orange fur-ball moved from one lounging spot to another throughout each day at a pace that would have left a tortoise itching for activity. Cubbie ate, napped and relieved himself with regularity. He rarely sought our attention and only indulged our desire to pet his lush fur with an air of supreme disinterest.

Cubbie’s interaction with my father was even more limited. Each morning, my father was the first to go downstairs. He would discover Cubbie’s nightly contribution to the litter box with an audible declaration of disgust that somehow never failed to convey surprise.

My father left the cleaning of the box and the replenishment of Cubbie’s food dish to me or my mother, but he hastened to open the kitchen door and shoo Cubbie out to the stoop. It was as though he felt the odor would follow the cat.

Mice had nothing to fear from Cubbie. He sat outside with obvious discomfort. If a leaf blew by or a bird chirped, he would raise himself laboriously to paw at the screen door. My father never relented; only my mother or I would allow Cubbie in.

As Cubbie matured, his movement slowed. When he was about 8, the vet told us that he had arthritis. We noticed that Cubbie rarely climbed to the second floor of the house and, by his 10th year, he no longer climbed or jumped onto furniture. If we wanted Cubbie to be able to look out the window, we would gather him from underneath with two hands and lift his jelly-like body to the sill. We made sure to lower him just as carefully if we left the room.

Despite his infirmity, Cubbie’s conservation of energy resulted in longevity, as he lived year after year on the first floor. When Cubbie was approaching 20, my father was rushed to the hospital for what turned out to be his final days. When we returned that night from an exhausting and upsetting day of keeping vigil, Cubbie was not present.

My mother and I were frantic and each assumed that the other, preoccupied with my father’s condition, had locked Cubbie out on the stoop. We searched outside with a flashlight and finally gave up, hoping that if he was OK, Cubbie would return in the morning.

We went upstairs and were shocked to find Cubbie’s massive orange body comfortably astride my father’s pillow. Whether it was a sense of foreboding or loyalty that drove him, Cubbie was offering a tribute to the man who had banished him to the stoop each morning. He had dragged his body up the stairs for the first time in a decade and somehow leapt onto the bed.

We thought little activity took place within Cubbie’s mind, but we were wrong. More inscrutable than a poem by Emily Dickinson, something profound had taken place.

Stuart Sanders, Chapel Hill


Irie the superhero

Our dog Irie saved another dog’s life one day.

While at the dog beach in San Diego, we came across an old man calling for his golden retriever, who was swimming in the water. The man seemed really worried, so we asked if he needed any help. He said his dog was 10 years old with neurological problems and narcolepsy, and had been swimming in the same spot for too long.

I called for Irie, pointed at the dog in the water and told her “Fetch!” Irie immediately jumped in, swam straight to the dog, did three circles around him and then slowly started swimming back to shore. The golden retriever followed her, and she checked back the whole way to make sure he was coming.

Once arriving on the beach, the golden retriever collapsed in exhaustion, and the owner needed to take him to the vet right away. We helped carry him to the car and watched them safely drive away.

Irie’s such a good dog.

Adam & Lacie Lindstaedt, Raleigh


Baxter’s interview

Thinking back on the incident, I should have known that if a pet resort required an “interview,” it was not the place for Baxter. He can be charming. But if you only spend an hour with him, his neurotic quirks will probably overshadow his charm.

My wife and I were heading out of town, and we decided to splurge on luxury accommodations for our German shorthaired pointer. The pet resort we chose had a good reputation (despite the mandatory interview and distance from Raleigh), so I scheduled Baxter’s four-hour trial evaluation.I dropped him off at the front desk and filled out the paperwork. The place was top-notch, and I left with the satisfied feeling that Baxter would have his own vacation while we were gone. I was back at home for half an hour when the phone rang. It was the pet resort lady.

Her: “Mr. Jones, I’m afraid Baxter isn’t going to fit in here.”

Me: “Really? What happened?”

Her: “Well, he had a behavioral problem.”

Me: “Oh no. Did he harm another dog?”

Her: “Well, kind of. He peed on another dog.”

Me: “You’re joking.”

Her: “No, I’m not. He intentionally peed on another dog, and you need to pick him up now.”

Me: “Is that all it takes to fail an interview? Wow … OK, I’m leaving now.”

Completely miffed, I grabbed my keys and jumped in the car. At first, I was furious that this dog-industry employee (if not an actual dog lover) was pretending to know Baxter’s urinary motives. Was she trained in canine psychoanalysis and criminal intent?

It was so unfair. Even if he had peed on the dog intentionally, should that be grounds for dismissal? Did they think that dog-peeing-on-dog was an act of degradation, like it is for humans?

As I drove, I imagined Baxter waiting in some kind of holding cell, isolated so that he couldn’t debase any more card-carrying members of this exclusive doggie club. I also had sympathetic thoughts for parents; it must be torture when their child doesn’t make varsity, doesn’t get the part in the play or walks back from the mailbox with a thin envelope from the first-choice college.

When I arrived back at the scene of the crime, I stormed up to the desk and addressed her with all the saltiness I could muster: “So Baxter intentionally peed on another dog? I’d like to know how you can be so sure.”

Then she gave me a look … probably the same look a principal gives a distraught father after expelling a kid for a silly indiscretion. The look meant: I know it hurts when your loved one gets rejected, but I don’t have to tolerate misbehavior of any kind.

With one of those disposable kennel leashes around his neck, Baxter did his perp walk through the pet resort lobby as other employees and patrons watched us. I scratched his ears, gave the lady one last stink eye and walked my buddy back to the car.

Andrew Jones, Raleigh