Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Our Non-Human Friends

(Source)
It was with some sadness that I read of the passing of one of Juvat's canines. Especially after a Sunday morning emergency trip to the veterinarian for one of the feline staff. Afterwards, The Missus Herself mentioned that the emotions over the loss of our non-human friends may be more than she will be able to bear in the future. I know what she means, but it's something I've thought about over the years, as I try to measure the pain of their loss against the joy of having shared life with them.

Doing a bit of research, it seems that our species began to interact with certain canine species a very long time ago, perhaps as long as 400,000 years ago. We were still hunter/gatherers at the time, we roamed the landscape and were more a part of nature than we are now. Some studies suggest that dogs became our companions through hunting.

Cats came along much later, perhaps as early as 15,000 years ago. It wasn't necessarily the Egyptians who first domesticated the cat, but they certainly seemed to be the first humans to actually revere the cat as a semi-divine being. Which has led to the cat's modern attitude towards humans. As has been said before, "Dogs have owners, cats have staff."

Cats were domesticated when we first started to settle in one place and learned to grow grain (I won't try to figure that out, it amazes me what early humans came up with, "Hey, let's see what this tastes like!") stored grain attracted rodents, which attracted cats.

While modern humans and modern canines aren't perhaps the hunters they once were, all cats are hunters. They retain that instinct and practice it from the time they are old enough to walk. If you look closely, you can see the wolf in the dog, you don't have to look that hard to see the tiger in the cat.


I grew up with a cat and have been a "cat person" my whole life. I think perhaps because my father was deathly afraid of dogs, he'd had a narrow escape as a kid from a very vicious dog. But I was also familiar with dogs from a very early age. My maternal grandparents lived on a farm, they had two dogs, both mixed breed, though one was mostly collie and the other mostly beagle.

When we would go to visit the farm, those dogs would go nuts, they were so happy to see us. I'm sure you know what I mean, wagging their tails so hard that their whole body was involved. Small yips and a happy look on their faces and a frantic need for physical contact. God, I loved those dogs. They were also fiercely protective of us.

My grandfather once demonstrated this to Ye Olde Vermonter and I. Those dogs adored my grandfather but one day he told us that he was going to come after us, he would act mad and make like he was going to hit us (which he never, ever did) and told us to watch the dogs.

At first they thought he was playing, then they sensed that he was demonstrating a lot of aggression towards my brother and I. They took it seriously and in an instant they were between my grandfather and us, snarling fiercely at him, fangs bared and ready to kill. Gramp defused the situation by laughing and backing off, but my brother and I had to convince the dogs that Gramp was just playing. I do think those dogs would've torn someone limb from limb if they had meant us harm.


Now cats are, on average, smaller than dogs and certainly far less emotional. I doubt that any of the cats I've known would have attacked someone for threatening me. Well, except maybe for Tommy, my first cat and the one I grew up with, from the age of five to the age of seventeen.

Tommy was unusual for a cat. He'd follow me to school and would follow my friends and I up into the woods when we were out for an afternoon. Nothing scared Tommy except for one animal, one of my friend's dogs, a big Golden Retriever named Sam. Oddly enough, Sam was one of the friendliest dogs I've ever known. But he was huge, so Tommy wanted nothing to do with him. If Sam was around, Tommy made himself scarce.

There was a family who lived briefly in our neighborhood who had a German Shepherd. Not a small dog but not one of the bigger of that breed. He probably weighed forty pounds, and he was terrified of Tommy. I don't know what happened to cause that but I did see the dog coming down the sidewalk one day. Tommy was sitting in the middle of that sidewalk.

That dog crossed the street with his head down and his tail tucked away. He kept an eye on Tommy but avoided direct eye contact. Tommy stared at that poor dog until he was a good hundred feet down the street.

That dog was in Tommy's territory and he let that poor dog know it.


For too long a stretch I had no pets in my life. Being single, then being in the Air Force didn't really present the opportunity. But on my last assignment in Germany, which turned into two three year tours, back to back, with a few months added on to take me to retirement, I insisted to The Missus Herself that if we were going to stay that long, we should get a cat.

She was hesitant at first, then I casually mentioned to the kids that we were "thinking of getting a cat." They got pretty excited and Mom realized that she was cornered. Yes, I was told, "don't ever do that again," but hey, it worked.

A friend of ours in the neighborhood had a landlord with a farm, and a pregnant cat. We determined that one of her litter would be ours, everyone agreed and one day when the kittens were about six months old, we went to pick one from the two who were left.

If you guessed that we left with both, you guessed right. I'm a big believer in not breaking up a set, so to speak. Those cats were a joy. I had been worried that The Missus Herself might be a bit stand-offish as she had not been thrilled with the idea of having "animals in the house," she turned out to be the biggest softy, spoiling those two cats like you wouldn't believe.

The Nuke once remarked that we treated the cats better than the kids. "If reincarnation is a real thing, I want to come back as a cat in this family." I pointed out that we were raising her and her siblings to be good, productive citizens. The cats, not so much, so they could pretty much do whatever they wanted, within reason of course. (Staying off the kitchen counters was the one hard and fast rule The Missus Herself enforced. Often by using a spray bottle of water. The cats persisted, she eventually gave up.)


All good things must end and we bid farewell to the sole survivor of our to German cats back in 2003. (Pat's brother Tiger had died very young, passing in 1998 at the age of five. He never saw the States.) I was devastated, as was The Missus Herself, it's amazing how attached one gets to those furry members of the tribe.

We lasted one weekend with no cats in the house. Pat had passed on a Friday, when I was at work Monday, I checked the internet to see if our local shelter had any cats. The house was just too empty, The Missus Herself being all alone at home with The Naviguesser being away in the Navy and the two daughters away at college. She and Pat had kept each other company for a few years.

When I called home to mention the availability of cats at the shelter, The Missus Herself asked, "Can we go over there when you get home?"

Why yes, yes we could.

Fifteen years on we still have those two (yes, we went to get one, but there were two sisters, damned near identical, how could I break up the set?) we picked up that chilly night in October. Sunday morning last, it seemed that we were about to lose one of them. Tore us both up, a lot. While at the veterinarian emergency clinic, there was another family there, about ten of them, with a very sick dog. Poor pooch didn't make it, that family was very torn up, I felt their loss having been in that situation.

Fortunately Anya just needed some antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, she seems to be doing fine. Though Sasha is pissed at her for getting "special" treatment. She's the jealous sort.

But it was harrowing all the same. Still and all, much as I hate to say it, it's something I need to prepare myself for emotionally. They are fifteen, which is old for a cat, about 78 in human years. But they're both pretty healthy, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Those who don't understand the attachment many of us have with our non-human family members are missing something very special. Something we humans have been experiencing for over ten thousand years.

It's a special relationship, one that can only be understood by experiencing it. They truly are family.



62 comments:

  1. Philly seems to be having a rather high pollen count this morning.

    When we went to my sister's for Thanksgiving she remarked about the two dogs, "Just get out of the way, they only care about Uncle John."
    I've not been much of a cat person, but that is changing the more I see of my niece's cat.

    Very good post, and they truly are family as you said.

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  2. I felt for Juvat, and for you. I just don't have fuzzy feelings for animals like I used to.

    Growing up on a small farm, things were a bit different. My favorite dog in the whole world, Bo, got nailed by a high speed farmer on our little dirt road. Dad was a man, and had him in the ground before I got home from school. Just a lump of dirt to mark his passing. Dad said it wasn't pretty. I was thankful I didn't have to deal with that after I got older.

    After that, most of the animals in my life were FFA projects. Gertrude was a the most spoiled piglet, ever. Then, she started beating up the boars, and wouldn't breed. I needed pigs for FFA, finally found a huge Duroc boar that chewed her up, but she was bred. Then, when she dropped her litter, she killed and ate every one of the 18 she had. Disappointing, but she tasted great!

    When the kids were small, we got a great, fuzzy, friendly dog, named Bear. He disappeared one day and we thought he was long gone. He showed up a couple months later, broken bones, cut up, and almost dead. I'm guessing someone took him, and he escaped and didn't make it across a road. We were almost penniless, and he was suffering. I loaded him up in the car, and came back alone. That was the hardest one I've ever had to put down. Didn't tell the kids until they were in their 20's, and only when the subject came up, that we didn't have vet money back then. I didn't want to remember that morning any more than they did. Old Yeller moments are tough when you love what has to go.

    I've had dogs and a few cats (thanks for the rash, Diego) since then, but none like Bo or Bear. I agree on the dogs, they seem designed to interfere with out lives in a most excellent manner. I'm not much of a cat guy, tho.

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    1. Dogs or cats, you've had the relationship with another species. So you get where I'm coming from.

      Pigs can be nasty.

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    2. Which is why "Don't be a pig!" gets yelled at me regularly.

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    3. I learned to squeal like a pig when I was young. The sound of a pig scream is something that gets most people's attention and can pretty much stop all conversation. So, well, like when getting the stuffing kicked out of one, hollering for help doesn't work, squeal like a pig. Sometimes the attention garnered would be the "it's making noise, make it stop" variety, but it did get attention...

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    4. I can see how that would work.

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    5. I worked for Butch Obenhaus when I was 14. He raised hogs. I've seen them drop a load of poop, then turn around and munch on it. I figure that's why ham is so sweet.
      I used to clean the High Plains Hog Sale barn. I smelled so bad, mom made me strip off before coming in the house. Thankfully, we lived out in the county.
      Pigs is pigs. Don't know no better than to be nasty. It's their nature. Boy do they taste good! Made outta meat, dontcha know.

      As far as connecting with another species... Horses have a special spot in my heart. We "talk" on the same level, usually. Dogs, too. If I don't get along with a dog or a horse, there is something wrong with them. If they are well adjusted, we usually get along like old friends. If they are mental, we don't click. Might be the other way 'round as well. :p

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    6. Horses are special. Though it's been years since I rode one, there's nothing like sitting in the saddle under a clear Colorado sky.

      Man and horse, a good combination.

      As to pigs, there's a pig farm not too far off the road on the way to my Mom's house. One always hopes that the wind is NOT blowing from the farm to the road.

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    7. my horses are like ornery friends. They will play along...when it suits them. But....alfalfa in the barn, they play along every time. They're good company.

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    8. Heh, they sound like master sergeants.

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  3. When I met my current husband, I had my kitty...he asked how old was the cat (9 at the time). My kitty does tend to be "talkative", and Hubbie is of the "better to be seen then heard" genetic bent. He was told the cat had seniority as I had had the cat way longer than I had had Hubbie. He has used a water spray bottle with some effect to tone down some of the talking, but, as The Missus Herself discovered, cats do have their own minds. And wills.

    Anyhoo, he was sure the cat wouldn't last too much longer...my kitty is now 17.

    Hubbie is a dog guy. Has had several down through the years, as have I, but when the last one got cancer and had to be put down, it just devastated him, and he said no more as it hurts too much as they don't live long enough.

    It does hurt way too much, I was a wreck when I had to put down my last kitty, and I only lasted 2 weeks before the current one came home. I have resolved to wait for another dog until I retire, as the last 2 dogs I had wound up being put down within 3 months of each other, the last one just before Christmas. That was a very hard Christmas.

    Although it hurts like crazy to lose them, the love I get while they are here helps me deal with the pain of loss. So, yes, in time, I will get another critter. But for now, I spoil my kitty.

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    1. I need them like I need air. I spent time without a cat or dog around and don't want to do it again, ever. The Missus Herself has her doubts about getting any more. Before my Dad died, he and my Mom had two cats, Maine coons, a brother and sister. The female had an interesting attitude, the male was a goofball and a bundle of fun. When they passed in old age, my Dad said "No more." He couldn't take losing another. After he passed my Mom got two cats. Which is good, they keep her company and she dotes on them.

      It's hard when they go, harder still to live without one. For me anyway.

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    2. We've had two grey Maine coons, both as affectionate as all get out. Both named Sasha, one named by us, the other came with that name from the shelter from the people who had to give her up (going overseas with likelihood of 2-3 different countries in as many years -- far too much time in quarantine). Spitting images of one another except for patterns on their spine. #2 very skittery because she apparently lost her first home, spent some time on the street, and was taken in as a half-grown, half-starved kitten. When we lost our first Sasha, an 18-yr old rescue cat, we found 2nd Sasha at the shelter in the very last kennel at the shelter. Our hearts skipped a beat because she looked like our first Sasha come back to life after literally 3 days, and when my wife saw her name tag, the waterworks started. She'd been there well over a month and was so scared of everyone no one had adopted her though many had tried to interact with her in the meet-and-greet room. We were warned not to expect much, but after about 1 second of looking for the exit, she heard our voices, did a double-take, and was suddenly all over us. The staff obviously thought we were nuts after my wife told our tale, but since she was a long-term shelter resident, we got her for $10. I don't know if it's a Maine coon thing or not, but so very many mannerisms are the same, it's spooky. The funny thing is that one of our black cat brothers (the runt of the litter who runs 14.5 very muscular pounds now, compared to his 19+ lb brother) was and is enraptured with grey Maine coons.

      I don't know if we will ever get kittens again, like our black cat brothers. By the time one of our current one passes, we'll be in our 60's, and with health problems we both have, doubt we'll live past our mid-70's. Kittens are such joyful little furballs, at least until they reach the age they can jump on counters but haven't learned das ist verboten.

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    3. Great story Larry, thanks for sharing that.

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  4. Yes, what everyone wrote.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  5. Cats indeed. From over at Tam's place--

    https://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2018/12/overheard-in-hallway.html

    When I was a young lad growing up on our ranch, our resident cat herd topped out at 26. Yeah, I'm a cat guy. And a dog guy. And a horse guy (see my earlier post) and a...

    I wonder if part of the reason dogs and kids get on so well is that neither passes judgement on the other. Perhaps there is a lesson there. I cannot imagine being one of those poor souls arriving at the rainbow bridge with no one to greet them.

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    1. Yeah, saw that at Tam's earlier.

      My first cat was very dog-like in his affections for my brothers and I. Very non-judgmental.

      Ah, the rainbow bridge, I have many friends waiting there for me. I pity those who don't.

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  6. I understand where you and Juvat are coming from. My wife and I both grew up with dogs and cats. Once we had a place of our own as a young married couple, one of our first trips was to the local shelter to adopt a pair of kittens.

    Those two had pretty good lives, but they never quite got along with the kids once those started entering our home. After one of the cats died at 10, the other one wasn’t right at all. Sad to admit, but it was a bit of relief when he escaped the house and went MIA. The poor guy wouldn’t have done well when we ended up having to move cross-country either.

    The kids all missed having cats in the house though, so this spring they got to pick out kittens when one of the local farm-adjacent folks had a pregnant cat. My wife took three kids, who were supposed to come home with two cats. They came home with three, one for each child. I suppose I’m fortunate that all five kids didn’t go, because it was a litter of five kittens in total.

    These little goofballs seem to have adjusted well to life with children. It probably helps that they’ve been raised in this big, noisy, crazy house, rather than growing up in a quiet condo and then having to adjust to screaming infants.

    Plus, the new cats have done an excellent job in solving our house’s occasional mouse problem. That definitely earns them their keep in my book.

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    1. Our first cats in Germany were raised around kids, they were used to being handled, chased, picked up, and played with, they really enjoyed the interaction. The two cats we have now had no kids around, they tend to make themselves scarce when the rest of the tribe comes to visit. My daughter calls these two, "old people cats." Which, honestly, they are. Rather attuned to our quiet lifestyle.

      Cats will solve a mouse problem.

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    2. All three of our current cats are very friendly to the residents of the house. When company arrives, however, one of the three will make a dash downstairs to seek a bed to hide under until company leaves. Sometimes I wish I could join him.

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    3. Ours take turns greeting visitors, one watches the newcomers, the other hides. Not always the same one!

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  7. Grew up with pets and made sure my kids had the same experience. Last week while doing a property appraisal, a small child was pushing a skateboard down the sidewalk. Too small to actually stand on it, he never the less was doing a good job on one knee. Suddenly a grey Maine Coon Cat appeared and placed itself between me and the child. The cat wasn't aggressive but it was clear that I would need to get past the cat if I were to approach the child. I've never seen a cat do something like that.

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    1. Maine coons are very intelligent cats. But that's the first I've heard of a cat doing that.

      Mine will let me know when something is amiss, but it's my job to deal with it.

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    2. "Mine will let me know when something is amiss, but it's my job to deal with it."

      In my opinion, cats are far superior watch critters than dogs. Most dogs, when they think something isn't right, go all barky. Cats, at least the ones with whom I have lived, focus on the strange and/or unusual event. It was up to me to be aware of what the cat was doing, but if I were paying attention, I would know that there was something amiss. Thus, potential evil doers were not tipped off that we were on to them and could be dealt with appropriately. It seems that your cat is much like that.

      Paul

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    3. Cats really do pay attention. Our two know the difference in sounds between our cars and other cars. Their ears perk up and they listen. When it's The Missus Herself or Your Humble Scribe, they head to the door. Well, they used to. Now, like me, they prefer to sit until it's absolutely necessary to get up.

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    4. You would be surprised how many of my patients who have cats where the cat is very protective when we Home care nurse types show up on the first day after Mom/Dad comes home from being gone a long time, and are not feeling quite right yet. The cat will sit right in their lap, and glare at me, occasionally I get swatted at, but today, it was a 6 month old kitten who was just excited to attack my shoe. I figured I must have walked through some kitty nip on my way out the door at my house, and his Dad was my first patient of the day. Dogs are not the only protective pets out there for sure!!

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    5. I believe you!

      (And am glad you survived the kitten attack, they are strong beasties even at a young age.)

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    6. We had an extremely territorial brown tabby who was very twitchy. Growled and hissed and attacked me when I was first dating SWMBO. I could tell it was only fear and some protectiveness and eventually won her over. She fearlessly attacked any stranger in the house, including leaping off the stairs at the plumber's throat. And what an air-raid siren she had for a voice. But when my wife accidently stepped on Sasha I's tail downstairs, she came FLYING down the stairs, tail puffed, hackles raised, and screaming her war cry, ready to do battle with whoever had hurt her otherwise disliked housemate. She settled right down when she saw my wife comforting Sasha. Better than most guard dogs, she was. And loathed my mother-in-law.

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  8. So.....It's Oh Dark Thirty this morning. I hear a quiet little "Meep" from the doorway to the bedroom followed by a rustling, shaking, rattling, fluttering kinda sound.

    Well....THAT got my attention. Since we live in the country, none of those sounds connote a good thing. So the light's come on and I quickly don some leather shoes. (Not about to start walking around with bare feet.) One of the grays is sitting at the foot of the bed and there's a fan pattern of feathers close by. Heart rate drops a little bit as it is apparent the intruder isn't long and thin with diamonds on its back. Mrs J is out of bed by now and the lights are on throughout. I see a bit of motion in the breezeway between bedroom and closet and hear some fluttering. Stand up on the bed and get buzzed by a bird. Who is followed very closely by the other gray. Bird flies, cat jumps, bird jinks, cat sinks. Bird is now over by the window, behind the phone stand. I'm working my way around to try and rescue the bird when gray #1 reenters the fight. I grab him and hand him to Mrs J. Bird flies across the room to the other window with me in hot pursuit, smacks into the glass stunning it. Gray #2 has recovered from his leap and is in hot pursuit. I get there first and scoop the bird up in both hands. Gray #2 looks up at me with pleading in his eyes and lets out another "meep". Pretty sure, "Meep" means "Dad, can I have my precious back, I just want to play with him."

    Mrs J took possession of the bird and took him outside where he flew away. Meanwhile, I congratulated the Cats on a well executed 2 v 1 Offensive Counter Air mission.

    Having had my morning workout, I had breakfast and went to work. Traffic was surprisingly light at that time of the morning.

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    1. Now that is a great story.

      Heh, 2 v 1 Offensive Counter Air mission, love it.

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    2. In my teen years, the Beans Family Homestead had two cats that would double-team mockingbirds. The grey would lay out in the sun and get the birds' attentions, which would result in the birds attacking the grey, and the orange tabby would hide in the bushes and pull a Red Baron maneuver on the targets. They racked up a rather impressive body count.

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    3. The old decoy and ambush trick. Cats are smart.

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    4. I didn't know you had any Toms! I prefer Toms, they just seem friendlier.

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    5. I don't have any Toms this go round. Anya and Sasha are sisters. Males do tend to be more easy going, but I wouldn't trade my ladies for any other cats.

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  9. They will bring you gifts as well. As in greasy, grimy gopher guts. Literally.

    Our Emily did this more than once. She would bring a dead gopher to the sliding glass door, surgically remove the tastiest part, and drop that by the door as a gift. She would then meow loudly once or twice as if to call "Dinner!". The first time, my wife went to see what the noise was all about, and being a cat person, realized what was happening. She slid open the door and was cooing to Emily what a sweet kitty she was. Whereupon, Emily gave her a look of "Well, dig in!", turned about face, and chowed down on the remains of her prize, complete with sounds of crunching bones. My wife turned absolutely green.

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    1. My diminutive wife was straightening out the pantry a day or so ago. She is much more strong stomached than I am. She's on a step stool to reach the top shelves when I see her jump a bit. (I'm outside the pantry door shuttling hand me downs to the counter for rearranging). She climbs down off the stool and says "You're going to have to get that one." I asked what "that one" is. She says "You'll see, oh, and you'll want some paper towels." I grab a few and climb up on the ladder. A large and very deceased, but not completely decomposed mouse corpse is looking down at me.

      Ahhhh.....The pleasures of country living!

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    2. RHT447 - Oh yes, I'm very familiar with feline gifts!

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    3. Juvat - Yes, I've done the Graves Registration thing for dead mice.

      I'm also expected to participate as I have related in these spaces before. Back when we had mice, when the cats were still very young and not so good at "finishing," the cats would chase them from the basement into the TV room, where I was expected to join in the fun. Sasha was upset with me because I didn't torment the mice, I just killed them outright. Sasha thought that was not very sporting, I guess.

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  10. My own tribute to a fallen canine companion.
    http://proof-proofpositive.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-dogs-life-revisited.html

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    1. Dang allergies kicking in, maybe it's the dust.

      Beautiful Mike, just beautiful.

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    2. Yeah. My "allergies" flared up a little today when I reread that!

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  11. Boy, did you hit the nail on the head. They're not "pets", they're family members. Or they will be if you let them.

    I've never been a cat person, although I've had the pleasure of knowing a few that I truly enjoyed the company of.

    Always been a dog person, but never really spent enough time with them to *really* be a dog person until I met my wife-to-be. It was also the first time I've ever lived in a two-dog house, which opened up a whole new experience to me, especially when The Kids brought home a new puppy to fill the loss of Domino. Watching our other dog interact with the pup was a treat. We missed those two when The Kids moved here to Colorado, but they went nuts when they saw us a couple of years later.

    And it's very sad when one passes away. They're truly family members, and it hurts.

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    1. And we remember them and the joy they brought into our lives...

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  12. Often, those who don't speak our language understand us best.

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    1. Which is why I just about went ballistic when I saw lefty media attacking President GHW Bush's service dog for mourning and being at his casket. Jerks.

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    2. One has to remember, hate is the base state of the Left.

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    3. Suldog -cats and dogs read our body language way better than a human can, so yes, they do understand us better.

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    4. Nothing says more about the lack of empathy in a person than an unkind comment about another person's friend in mourning.

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    5. Shows a lack of humanity as well.

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  13. Twenty six would be a most proper number of cats, as long as you had a barn for them to explore and hunt in!

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    1. Indeed. We had a barn, a back porch, an old two story house built on pier and beam for them to live under, and 250 acres for them to roam. We had a vegetable garden as well, which was a gopher magnet. Had one fat little bastid that took down two okra and one tomato plant. I finally managed to get him with one of those prong traps you slide into the burrow, and even then only by the hide. I had the trap staked, and pulled it and the cussing gopher out of his burrow. I walked quietly into the back yard and called "Here, kitty, kitty!". The ground trembled, and I was surround by a mass of swirling, meowing fur. I released the trap. The gophers fate resembled that of William Wallace.

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    2. Scott - there really is no such thing as too many cats, as long as you've got the space for them.

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    3. RHT447 - One almost feels sorry for the gopher.

      Almost.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)