Sitting on the front stoop of our house in the dusk of late August, my son and I watched a white cat saunter up the driveway toward us. And then we realized, as the little creature got closer, that the cat was a dog.
The dog parked itself silently on my foot and gazed up at me with enormous, dark eyes. He was skinny, ribs showing, and his body was sizzling with fleas. He had a wound on his hip and the submissive demeanor of a creature that has seen one too many days of deprivation. He was
truly pitiful, and I was near tears as I stroked his bony head.
But here’s the thing (and I disclose this knowing that it will alienate at least half of you). The thing is, I am a cat person.
And I am a cat person who has had really bad luck with dogs. As a child, I was jumped and mauled by my neighbor’s chow, a ragged creature named Bo. About six years ago, my mom and my son were chased, and she was repeatedly bitten, by a dog who came at them out of nowhere during a walk on Forest Avenue. And my family was driven nearly insane two years ago by a kennel full of barking dogs our neighbors kept in storage behind our bedroom.
So my cat-person leanings have been pretty thoroughly reinforced by my encounters with dogs.
And, honestly, I have always been a little leery of the unbridled
devotion dogs show their owners. It has seemed to me a kind of too-simple trick, earning the affection of a dog. I mean, Hitler’s dogs loved him. Leona Helmsley had a devoted dog. Where is the value in earning the affection of a creature that undiscerning? My cats might appear all but indifferent to my existence, but something about that appeals to me. I respect it.
Which brings me back to the stoop, in the dusk of late August, with a small, sad dog on my foot. “What should we do?” my son asked, looking apprehensively at the dog. (He’s a cat person, too. He remembers the dog that chased him when he was 2 years old, how his grandmother held him up in the air as that dog bit her legs.)
I shrugged. “He’s hungry. Let’s get him some cat food.”
We fed him, gave him some water and tucked him into a bed made from a box of towels in the garage. My son named him Gary, after a cartoon snail, and my husband (also a cat person) and I agreed to talk in the morning about how to deal with this dog. I mean, we didn’t want to keep him. Not really.
The next day, as we played with him in the front yard, Gary started to wander down the street. And my son, the cat person, began to cry and wail frantically, “Gary’s leaving, Mommy, Gary’s leaving!”
So I called Gary, and he turned promptly and came to me. And that was it. We asked around the neighborhood, but no one knew anything about the ragged little dog — except that he had been seen wandering around for few days, looking increasingly desperate.
“People dump them in here,” a neighbor told me. “They know there’s lots of families, and they figure someone might take care of them.”
Nearly three months, and several hundred dollars in vet bills, later, Gary the dog, has worked himself happily into the fabric of our family. Our 12-year-old cat is not thrilled, but Gary is willing to let her play the role of alpha creature, so she mostly tolerates him. My husband has assumed a similarly tolerant, if vaguely annoyed, attitude. Our sons, though, love Gary, and my oldest has gone from nervous about the dog to devoted to the dog.
The boys and the dog play on the floor or in the yard every day, and we walk Gary together every night. And I won’t even go into the details of the goofy, happy reunions Gary and I have every evening when I get home from work. Honestly, no self-respecting cat person would ever engage in this kind of behavior.
Our friends are astounded. They think I’m joking when I tell them we have a dog. I am famous among our dog-loving friends for telling my children that if they ever want a dog, all they have to do is grow up, get a job and buy their very own house.
“You mean you have a REAL dog?” our friends ask. “A LIVE dog?”
Granted, he’s the size of cat. It’s not like we went out and got a big, slobbering hulk of a dog. And he found us. Sometimes decisions just get made for you.
“Gary is just the right dog for us,” my son declared one evening as we walked him along the suburban sidewalks of our neighborhood. “I wonder how he knew.”
I don’t know how he knew. But I’m glad he did.