It’s heady stuff to contemplate introducing a new animal into the household system. Nigel and I have been recently contemplating adopting a dog or two, and it’s a careful and reflective process for us both.
I come from a long line of pet owners, with documented photos of cats-in-arms going back to my great-grandfather on my father’s side. Looking through his daughter’s journals (my grandmother), I discovered that my father’s first word was “kitty.” My father’s admiration and deep affection for cats lasted a life time, and he was especially fond of Siamese cats.
The first cat I remember was my father’s seal-point Siamese, Simba. After an initial worry expressed by my grandmother on my mother’s side (due the old adage that cats could “steal a baby’s breath away”- a folk belief explanation for crib death), Simba was gradually permitted to nap with me in my crib. She did tend to like to sleep by my face and on my head, but she never seemed intent on smothering me, just on keeping warm. She was also quite fixated on keeping my ears clean, an experience which always ended the nap abruptly with squeals of ticklish laughter from my little self.
For some reason which I have never explored, a social hierarchy of pets existed in my childhood household. Only the adults, my parents, were permitted to have cats. My two brothers and I were permitted to raise any number of hamsters, gerbils and mice. However, cats were clearly named and owned and raised by mother and father. I believe that this is what contributed to my earliest relationship with cats as siblings, rather than as pets. Cats were emotional and spiritual equals, deserving respect and understanding of their language, needs and culture. In retrospect, I now realize that my mother very much expected me to care for animals (cats especially) with the sense of responsibility an older sibling should have for younger siblings.
There was only a single adventure into having a dog by my parents, when my mother briefly kept a Pomeranian. The subsequent story of “Fang” (as he was called by my father) ended quite badly, as that particular Pomeranian had a penchant for howling while my father played his alto recorder, for running out of the house unbidden in the worst sort of weather, for peeing wherever it liked and for biting small children’s toes and noses. Animated like a possessed fluffy bedroom slipper, this dog also tended to greet visitors to our home by firmly locking his forelegs around a person’s calf in order to zestfully “make love” to their ankle.
Fang was soon given a new home with a gay couple who adored him. However, I’m quite sure my mother never forgave my father for having to give up the Pom, since later in life she often fanaticized of getting a miniature apricot poodle, “After your father dies, so that it can accompany me whenever I visit your father’s grave.”
There were many cat siblings in my parent’s home throughout my growing up years. After Simba came Bazarras (father’s Siamese) and Mindy (mother’s tortoiseshell Persian), who had a lovely litter that all found homes among my parent’s friends. Then there was Baba (father’s Siamese) and Tarus (mother’s chinchilla Persian). Later there was Miss Kitty (father’s Siamese) who continued to companion my father after my mother’s death.
I didn’t adopt cats myself until after I was married and setting up my own household. Willow and Sylva came into our lives after in the second year of our marriage when the kittens were discovered at four days old in someone’s open garage and brought to my vets. Asked if I would be willing to foster them until they were of an adoptable age, I readily agreed to take the two gray tabby babies home. Needing to be fed a special formula at least 4 times a day, Nigel began getting up with me to nurse them with syringe barrels at first and later with small bottles as they grew. Even after the first week, we knew we could not give them to anyone else. They were ours for life.
When the cats were 4 years old, a friend who raised collies asked me if I would be willing to adopt the only surviving puppy of a litter exposed to bacterial mastitis. The puppy had been resuscitated 3 times, and my friend did not feel she should sell the puppy but rather adopt it out. That’s how I came home with Bonnie, the blue merle collie. A year later, the same friend approached me with another collie puppy that had stopped breathing and had been resuscitated after its mother mistakenly rolled over on him. And that’s how we got Bonnie’s half-brother, Dougal.
We enjoyed all our furry children very much and have been deeply saddened over the 4 year period when one-after-the-other, they each came to the end of their lives with us. Sylva died first in 2006 at 11 years old. Bonnie died in February of 2009, nearing the age of 10. She was followed by Willow at the age of 15 in October of 2010, and Dougal who was nearly 11 years old died in February 2011.
Broken hearted after Willow’s death, I determined that there were more kitties in need of a home, and that I needed them. Searching the adoption data bases, I discovered that an adoption center in Maine, near where I was living at the time, was having difficulty finding a home for two snowshoe Siamese kittens (a brother and sister) that were highly bonded and that the center did not want to split up. This was the perfect situation in my mind, and I gratefully welcomed Samantha and Devon into my life. They moved with me back to Washington, and have recognized Nigel as another kindred nurturer.
Several months have passed since Dougal’s death, and Nigel is ready to consider another collie, one that he would like to train as a visitation dog, which is what I had trained Bonnie to be (she accompanied me on visits to hospice patients when we lived in Indiana). Nigel would like another blue merle collie, and I am torn between adopting a second collie for myself or going toward a working companion that is a little smaller, lighter and easier to manually maneuver for bathing, grooming and travel.
As Nigel researches reputable collie breeders, I have been trying on the idea of adopting a miniature long-haired dachshund. They may be small, but they have big dog likeability and a good temperament. All dogs, big or small, require healthy social training from their earliest days in order to be good service partners. I have been in serious reflection about what dogs to bring into the family. Willow and Sylva as cats were very tolerant of Bonnie and Dougal as dogs, while the latter were very respectful of the former.
So, with optimism and caution, we are preparing to soon welcome two dogs whom we do not yet know into our midst. We know that our lives will be both richer and more complex. I hope that we will be good for them as they for us, and that we will be a family of partners enjoying life together and bringing one another much love, genuine companionship and many new happy memories of life with those who are beloved.