Tanked (#368)

We spent several months depressed and dog-less before I spotted a video of a gray bully mix named Tank on Petfinder. The video showed Tank playing fetch with a young boy. Tank even sat nicely with a cat.

I showed the video to Andy. “Look! He’s great with kids and cats! He’s trained. And he’s under eighty pounds!”

Andy agreed. I called the rescue and arranged a time to meet Tank. We showed our son the video. Dalton promptly dubbed the dog “Tankie De Jong” after watching Tank chase a ball into a pool, a couch, and the bushes.  Dalton, who was all about soccer, told us that Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong always had to have the ball.

It turned out to be an accurate comparison. Tankie was friendly when we met him, accepting pets and giving sniffs, but the second a ball appeared? Nothing else existed. He barreled through any obstacle to get a thrown ball, then raced back to the closest human, dropped the ball, and waited for it to be thrown again. (This was novel. Getting the ball back from some dogs could be…difficult.) Tankie would sit and stay on command, lie down, high-five, and go to his crate. He even had perfect recall off leash.

There are, at any given time, between 26,000 and 44,000 stray dogs in Los Angeles. The majority are chihuahuas, followed by American pit bull mixes and American Staffordshire Terrier mixes. Tankie looked like thousands of other stray, gray bully mixes. He was found on the streets of Moreno Valley, unaltered, at age 2-4.  Months later, he was pulled from the shelter by a rescue.

A picture Tank’s foster mom took soon after she got him.

Tank spent at least a year in foster care, overlooked in favor of younger dogs.

His foster mom had been working with him for months, hoping that a someone would value training enough to opt for an older dog instead of a cute puppy.

And here we were, smitten, taking Tankie home for a two-week trial period. We just needed to make sure he was a good fit and that the boss was okay with our choice.

 And no, Dalton was not the boss.

This was the boss.

The Boss

Boss Cat was her full name, and she ran the household. She loved dogs—especially hitting them in the face—but she had refused to be in the same room as the last dog we’d brought home for a few days.

I warned Tankie’s foster mom that if Boss Cat didn’t like Tankie, we couldn’t keep him. She gave me a can of compressed air and said, “Use this if he acts up. He really, really hates it.”

Once he arrived, Tankie immediately made himself at home. He played with Dalton and a dog-proof soccer ball. He crashed on his outdoor bed on our sunny patio. He was a dream on our walk up to the park. Since no one was around, I let Tankie off leash.

Tank and his newfound football

He promptly found a discarded football and brought it to me for the inevitable game of fetch.

When we got home, I put him in his crate. Boss Cat walked by, stopped, and glared at Tankie. I grabbed the can of compressed air.

Tankie sat up on his haunches, ears perking into an alert. And barked a single, angry bark.

“NO!” I shouted, shooting compressed air into his face. Tank dropped immediately into a submissive pose. “Absolutely NOT!”

Boss Cat stalked away.

Tankie never barked at her again. He did his best not to even look at her. Boss would come sit within a foot of Tankie and glare, her tail lashing back and forth. Tankie would stare resolutely at the wall, or put his back to her.

Then she’d move until she was right up in his face, as if to say, “Come at me, bro. I got five daggers on each paw and I will CUT YOU.”  And still Tankie would look away. Sometimes he would look at me, checking to see if I noticed what a Very Good Boy he was being in the face of such outrageous feline provocation.

Tankie’s last test was three small children. My Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister came to visit with her kids—none of whom were known for having impulse control. I gave them all a very firm lecture on how to behave with Tankie.

“We’ll be very good with your dog,” they promised.

“Well, he’s actually not our dog yet,” I explained. “We’re still seeing if we’re a good fit.”

I introduced them to Tankie and showed them how much he loved to fetch. Then I watched them like hawks. I needn’t have bothered. Tankie was thrilled to share his yard with them. If they weren’t playing ball, he followed those kiddos around as they picked lemons, shot Nerf guns, and wrestled.

Such a good boy

When the youngest patted him on the head, he licked her face.

Tankie had been trained not to go on the furniture. But at one point, he came over to my chair and tried to climb into my lap.

“Tankie!” I said, laughing. “Down!”

My sister snapped a picture and said, “I don’t care what you say, he’s definitely your dog.”

And so he was.

 

Cat on the Run (#343)

Some cats see an open back door, yawn, and go back to sleep.

Some cats bolt at the speed of light.

Our Boss Cat would bolt—and then stop in the center of the patio. She’d look back at the human in the doorway, tail twitching. If no chicken bribe appeared within 30 seconds, Boss Cat would climb a tree and disappear over the fence.

Her hapless humans would then circle the block with chicken, calling, “Here, kitty-kitty! C’mon, Boss!”

The speed with which we found Boss Cat was inversely proportional to the time since her last meal. If she’d just eaten or already gorged on a chicken bribe, she couldn’t be lured home. Instead, I’d walk around, checking in with dog walkers.

Boss Cat liked dogs. She liked to play with them. She especially liked to hit them in the face. While out hunting for Boss with our dogs, I once ran into one outraged neighbor and his prized Basset hound show dogs.

The Champion Basset Hounds

 “Look out,” he warned me. “There’s a cat back there that’s followed us half a block and keeps trying to attack my dogs! I think it might be rabid!”

I sighed. “She’s not rabid. She’s mine. She likes to beat up dogs.”

The neighbor stared at ninety-pound Woofie and seventy-pound Fey. “Even those big dogs?”

“These dogs are her personal punching bags. She’s clearly bored and hoping for new targets.”

A neighbor across the street, one who didn’t have a fence but who trained her Labrador retrievers to stay on her property (mostly), flagged me down during another hunt for Boss.

“Your cat was sitting in your front yard a little while ago. My six-month-old puppy saw her and went on alert. I told puppy to leave it, but she charged across the street and straight up to your cat.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Your cat didn’t even MOVE until puppy got close. Then she smacked puppy right across the muzzle. It was so hard I heard it, clear across the street. Puppy ran back to me as fast as she could. I don’t think she’ll be leaving the yard to chase cats again,” the neighbor laughed.

Boss could clearly take care of herself, but I still worried. All it would take was a car or a coyote, and we’d have no more Boss Cat. Baby D would be devastated. I would be devastated. Even Andy would be devastated (maybe).

One evening, when my ExStepmother was visiting, I circled the block repeatedly, unable to find the cat—until a neighbor over the back fence finally pointed up.

Boss Cat was lying across the telephone wire above our backyard, a foot or two from the telephone pole. Maybe she got there while in hot pursuit of a squirrel (telephone wires are the squirrel highways of the neighborhood). Her perch was precarious, at best, with her belly straddling the wire and one front claw snagged on the wire.

I could see the problem. If Boss yanked hard enough to pull her claw out, she’d lose her balance and fall. She might even wind up hanging by that one claw.

Baby D turned to me, face full of alarm. “Mommy! You have to save her!”

“That’s twenty feet up!” exclaimed my ExStepmother. “Mommy needs to call the fire department!”

I shook my head and went to get the ladder, telling her, “I read recently that fire departments don’t do that anymore. At least not in big cities.” (ExStepmother is from a small town in New Hampshire.)

Now, no one knows better than I do that even if Boss Cat fell, she would probably be fine. Cats are built to land from great heights. Humans…not so much.

I climbed the ladder anyway.  I couldn’t stand to see Boss Cat stuck like that, especially not as nightfall approached. And I couldn’t let my cat or my kid down.

At the top of the ladder, I was still about 10 feet shy of the cat. I moved to the telephone pole, continuing upwards using the metal rods driven into the pole that utility workers use to access electrical and phone lines.

Which was when I discovered why utility workers always wear heavy clothing and gloves, even in summer. Those telephone poles are not smooth. They are splinter fucking central.

Close up of a never-been-sanded telephone pole.

It was like climbing a porcupine–and I was wearing light cotton clothing. I collected slinters on my stomach, chest, and hands. I gritted my teeth, continuing until I was high enough to reach the cat.

This was the part that worried me. Cats are not the most rational or trusting creatures. Boss might fight me, or try and flee. And how was I going to carry her back down? I had not thought this rescue through.

I was an idiot.

Luckily, my cat was not an idiot. Boss Cat didn’t fight as I unhooked her claw. She immediately crept across the wire and my arm, settling herself smoothly across my shoulders. Like she’d totally thought this through while I was climbing. Or like she rode human elevators daily. The cat stayed put until we were about 8 feet off the ground. Then Boss Cat jumped down and went straight to Baby D, who carried her inside and fed her chicken.

I put away the ladder and spent the following week removing splinters.

The next time Baby D’s Cub Scout troop visited the local fire department, I did ask one of the firemen, “You guys don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do you?”

The nice young fireman said, “Actually, we will if we aren’t too busy.”

SONUVABITCH.

Author’s Note: If your cat ever does get stuck in a tree, who you gonna call? An arborist. 

The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Both our dogs were rescues. Our second dog, Fey, was rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles and never forgot it. She was loyal, well-behaved, and obedient.

And then there was Woofie. Our first dog ran away repeatedly. He went to science class at the local school. He created bizarre insurance claims. He dug up the yard. He snuck up on the furniture, curling up in Andy’s preferred recliner.

But worst of all? He was an unrepentant thief. Continue reading The Ultimate Thief (#298)

New Cat (#278)

When my husband mellowed on the subject of a new cat, I contacted the group that had rescued our dog Fey from the streets of Los Angeles.

“We have a big dog who tries to play with everyone and everything,” I explained. “We mostly trained him out of chasing our old cats, but Woofie’s not totally reliable. Do you have a cat that’s okay with dogs?”

The volunteer said, “Oh, do we have a cat for you!” Continue reading New Cat (#278)