From Five to Four

From Five to Four

“Grief does not change you…It reveals you.”

― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

If you’ve followed my adventures since I began blogging seven years ago, you know that many of them after fall 2013 involved Dino the Wondercat. I met him through an old friend when the kitty was 12 years old, and adopted him at 14 after the same friend moved to the Philippines. Throughout the course of our relationship, the tiny gray and white ball of fur with the light pink nose never topped six pounds. His smallness in no way prevented Dino from being one of the most handsomely demanding animals the world has bequeathed. Head scratches, love and constant warmth were high on the list of orders. He had his own heating pad. About food, Dino could be prickly and high maintenance. We had numerous conversations about it. I would alternately plead and threaten. He would listlessly yawn by way of answer.

It was love at first sight and for eternity. I adored my beautiful, little old man. We were a contented duo until a year ago when Bob, Meko and Jude entered our lives. Neither Dino nor I were entirely sure how we’d take to dogs and a strong, silent marathon man. Very quickly we wondered how we ever lived without them. And we became the five fingers of a hand – capable of moving individually, but better and more flexible as a unit.

At the start of the New Year, Dino was 16 and a half years old. Slower certainly but no less cute and plucky. After we moved in with Bob and the pups last June, Dino enjoyed a consistent second wind at his back – exploring the hallways and recesses of his new home, teasing the dogs and forming a particularly charming bond with Bob. Dino would often “help” my partner with the laundry, climbing hills of clean, warm clothes and stepping on Bob’s feet as he tried to sort piles. The two boys developed a call and response routine. The sometimes skittish Dino grew quite verbal, engaging with the human love of my life in soft-spoken dialogue.

The comedian Louis C.K. once labeled the adoption of a pet “a countdown to sorrow.” His painful humor hits at an essential truth of animal love. They return it so unconditionally and so well, yet they remain with us a relatively short time. In Dino’s case, I knew the era we’d enjoy together would be particularly brief. Always so kitten like, due to his tiny stature and sweet visage, but already 14 when he came to dominate my studio apartment.

We had two and a half wonderful years. But Dino could not live forever and with much anguish, Bob and I laid him to rest nearly two weeks ago. In the end, he was very ill, suffering a stroke and kidney failure. However in a cat’s dodgy way, compounded by Dino’s own perversity, he seemed just fine. Until he wasn’t. One Monday morning moment he was walking toward his Daddy for a perfunctory cuddle. The next second he’d fallen off the bed and was paralyzed. I did not witness this instantaneous end of our baby as we knew him. That cross is Bob’s horrendous one to bear alone, and there’s tremendous regret on that point. I want to share everything with him – including the terrible stuff.

I suppose if there’s a bright side to Dino’s loss from our family, it’s realizing that. I learned so much about the strength of mine and Bob’s relationship and our commitment to supporting each other in the hours and days following Dino’s collapse. In our shock and grief, we were nonetheless a well-oiled machine of solid decision making, emotional sharing and affirmation of our love for one another. My partner and I have been together almost exactly a year and we’ve encountered some tough spots, rather gracefully, but this was our first devastating blow. I’m twice divorced and walk in front of a trail littered with broken, dysfunctional bonds. I have failed, and been failed, in crisis.

This time when I went slack, and my significant other joined me, the experience was awful but strangely healthy. I’ve never felt so understood. In hindsight the observation seems relatively naïve but the certainty of a partnership can go a long way in soothing a broken heart. We turned toward each rather than away or against.

Dino is gone from our daily lives, but neither absent nor forgotten. After we returned from the vet’s office and cleaned out “Dino’s room,” once again known as the laundry and guest space, Bob embarked on a photo project. The result is what you see above – a collage of our favorite digital snapshots featuring the departed bambino. My partner printed, mounted and hung them on the section of the laundry room where his litterbox once stood. Dino remains king of the throne. We would have liked the doggies included but in eight months of trying, we could never get two energetic pups and an itty bitty kitty to sit still together for a frame. Go figure.

When Bob and I find ourselves in Dino’s room at the same time, we gravitate toward the family photos and without words, sink into a long embrace. We know what we’re feeling without speech. We miss him. We’re sad. But we have one another. Always. We suspected it I’m sure, but losing Dino made our essential togetherness as clear as his constant demands for attention.

Dogs & Cats, Living Together! Mass Hysteria!

Meko and Jude

This evening, during our regular constitutional with the dogs, Bob told me that Jude ate some random, discarded alley bread in the morning. Worse, it was the bleached white variety devoid of any nutrition or flavor. When they returned home, Jude made a beeline for the toilet in order to rinse his verboten snack down with some refreshing tank juice. An eight year-old, 65-pound Australian Shepherd/Rottweiler swarmed with affection, high quality food, medical care and fabulous designer dishes has the culinary inclinations of a starved Depression-era chain ganger. Bob and I imagined him a prisoner/bootlegger, using his white bread and john water to ferment jailhouse gin.

This is Jude.

In June, shortly after Bob and I began co-habitating, I came home to a household of three pets for one of the first times. Dino, my fluffy, four-pound, 16 year-old ball of kitty might, is renowned throughout the blogosphere. I’ve written about our relationship for some years. But life progresses unpredictably, and a woman never considered a dog person suddenly found herself eagerly learning the quirks and schedules of two new, very large babies. I met Bob one cold February night and that was it. My heart stretched to fit the exact dimensions of this motley crew.

I returned home that rainy June evening to Dino, Jude and our 10.5 year-old German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix, Meko. When Bob rescued her at age six, she had the longer name Kameko. Bob, ever the enemy of needless syllables, shortened the moniker. It fits. She’s a no-frills gal. I swear she even looks like a Meko.

Anyway Meko has been, as they say in the adoption world, “re-homed” twice. Bob is at least her third daddy. We’ll never know her complete history. But we’re certain that she’s very much afraid of storms. Not when she has the chance to run around in one in the yard, mind you. Fear of proximity would make entirely too much sense and dogs don’t operate on logic. Instead Meko cowers from tempests – but only when indoors. Actually no, cowers is absolutely the wrong word. More like she goes WWE on our garbage cans and rugs, tearing up the recyclable shopping bags with her considerable 70-pound fangs.

This is Meko.

So that June evening. It was raining rather intensely in the Chicago way, with lots of spring lightening and gusty wind. I walked home from the train after work as fast as I could, expecting to encounter one of two typical scenarios – a peed upon bath mat or golden showered doggie bed. Thankfully we have access to a large washing machine. But this was no rehearsed production. My adopted darling canines had much more in store for the new mom.

By workday because he is a grazer, tiny and both rescue dogs were ill-fed in their past lives (Bob adopted Jude at one, but the poor fella still has a strong aversion to old men bearing canes or umbrellas – sad and enduring), Dino is sequestered with his food, litter box, heating pad, kitty condo and water in our second bedroom. There’s a window facing East and the little bambino likes watching the sun rise.

One may access this room in two ways: a conventional door off a long hallway, or from a bathroom closet that hangs a sharp left into the back of the bedroom’s laundry space. No human being over the age of six can fit through the latter entrance, owing to the built-in (backless) shelves that straddle the width. But if one were to say, leave the bathroom closet door unlatched, there’s room enough for a burrowing duo of determined, troublemaking doggies.

On this stormy eve, as if ripped from an Edgar Allen Poe scene, I returned home to gruesome carnage. I entered through the kitchen and saw the red metal garbage can, slammed several feet distant into the front hall entrance – broken and twisted. Coffee grounds and stale beet juice remnants were smeared across three different rooms looking eerily like human waste and blood. Already horrified (by sight, smell and the knowledge that I’d be cleaning this mess) and unable to locate Jude and Meko, I ran toward the bathroom.

Sure enough, the closet door was open. I could see through it to the dramatically overturned laundry baskets that had been stacked against the french doors. Clean and dirty linens flung about the room in a tornado of chaos. Meko, the massacre’s ringleader, had burst through the blockade in a mad fit of rain distress, the sartorial fortress intended to add another layer between dog and cat food. Jude crept behind in her wake – the shameless scavenger. I’m not svelte enough to scrape through the passage, so I headed to the hallway to enter the second bedroom.

What greets me? The sight of two calm, satiated dogs leisurely relaxing on the floor, adjacent to a non-plussed feline covered in socks. Dino’s food (and water) of course long gone. I was furious. Dino looked at me with betrayed, accusing, hungry eyes (without the joy of the classic Eric Carmen tune).

But here’s where unmitigated gall surpassed credulity. Both pups had the nerve to look at me with innocent joy, I dare say relief, that someone they love came to the rescue. For as doggedly determined (pun intended) as they are to reach a goal, they’ve never figured out they need to retreat the way they invaded. Obedience school should teach the domestic harmony of covering crimes more intelligently.

Jude was so eager to run from a self-inflicted prison that he took off from his resting place like a shot, stepping on my bare right foot with untrimmed claws, cutting the big toe at the nailbed. Tons of delicate blood.

When Bob came home, I was in a fully outraged stir. Bandaged and 30 minutes into cleaning, straightening, and refreshing Dino’s food, I couldn’t wait to tell him what “his dogs” had done.

But as I started spinning my yarn (and you know? I do that), the body and spirit rejected righteous indignation. I reached the part of the story where Jude sliced my toe in haste to leave the scene, complete lack of guilt about his mien. I started laughing so hard I had no option but to let go. In anarchy, there is often delicious, humorous harmony. Bob labeled Meko’s destructive, trash and laundry-scattering fit, not an emulation of the Incredible Hulk, but rather a special Meko-brand Smash.

We giggled. Bob devised fake apologies and voices for the dogs, issuing long-winded regrets about our cheap, parental taste in cat food. He also created a bit involving an affronted Dino, shaking an elderly paw at the damned kids (middle-aged dogs) on his lawn. Then we laughed some more, toasted the silliness and wondered how we entertained ourselves before we became a family of five. A happy, messy menagerie.