A dog of a cat

I played fetch with a cat.

Yes, you read that right.

A black and white cat enamored with a tiny stuffed toy that resembles a Christmas stocking, only it’s hot pink with a silver cross-stitch, not red.

The entire experience was striking. First, I had no idea that cats fetched. Fetching, so far as I knew, is something dogs do—even if, like Galen, they don’t necessarily do it well. Second, I’m not a cat person (sorry, cat people). I was scratched by a cat when I was four or five, and I’ve never quite gotten over my ensuing fear. I’m also allergic, so I do my best to avoid cats completely.

But now I’ve met Tuxedo, and I’m rethinking my antipathy.

Tuxedo and a  favorite toy

Tuxedo and a
favorite toy

Tuxedo—he’s aptly named—lives with a fabulous seamstress who rescued me when I was in desperate need of someone to quickly and expertly tailor several dance costumes to fit my twelve-year-old’s slender frame.

When I picked up the costumes, I brought still one more, and the seamstress offered to sew it on the spot. So while she stitched, I sunk into the black leather couch in her living room. I was about to reach into my purse, which I’d set on the coffee table, when Tuxedo jumped up and began rubbing the right side of his head and his long white whiskers back and forth across the top of the purse. Wonderful, I thought. Cat hair. I glared at him.

Perhaps sensing my displeasure, Tuxedo stepped away from the bag—and me. But only temporarily. In the time it took me to pull my phone from my purse, he returned. But not to the table—to the couch. And he brought his tiny pink toy, which he dropped in my lap. Instinctively I threw it, and he retrieved it. I looked at him quizzically. Cats don’t fetch, I thought. I do, he seemed to respond, batting the toy against my leg. I threw it again and again.

The seamstress told me Tuxedo hides toys throughout the house, so no matter where he is, he has a toy at the ready. She added that he’s been fetching since she brought him home several years ago from a New Jersey shelter.

While researching my book, Dogland, my focus was on the plight of shelter dogs, but in my travels, I learned that the situation for homeless cats in this country is even more tenuous. According to the American Humane Association, an estimated 71 percent of cats that enter U.S. animal shelters are euthanized. This is largely due to a burgeoning population of feral cats and the fact that fewer cats than dogs—only 2 percent of cats—are reunited with their owners.

My younger daughter would love us to adopt a cat. In her stuffed animal days she collected an assortment of cats in various sizes and colors—one even meowed and moved its limbs. She holds my cat allergy against me and says that when she lives on her own, she will adopt both a dog and a cat. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope she does.

And I hope, like Tuxedo, the cat will play fetch. I’m game!

Advertisements

The many faces of fetch

“Dog, you get dumber by the day.”

I lift my head from my book. Kevin is standing in the middle of our backyard talking to Galen. She is several yards away on a small island of black mulch that circles a tree near where our yard ends and our neighbor’s begins. Galen’s purple ball – it looks like an oversized kettle bell – rests on the ground in front of her. She picks it up by its handle, shakes it furiously, and then returns it to the earth.

“Bring the ball,” Kevin says for the third, maybe fourth, time. I watch the scene unfold from our deck – my husband and my dog are infinitely more interesting than the story I am reading.

Galen stands her ground. At this, Kevin turns and walks toward the back of our property, which stretches for two acres. Galen darts after him.

Kevin and Galen are engaged in a tug-of-war of sorts over the rules by which the game of fetch should be played. Kevin would prefer the traditional rules: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves. Dog returns ball to human. Galen prefers a more complex version of the game: Human throws ball. Dog retrieves ball and runs to the mulch (or to a mound of wood chips, remnants of a tree that once shaded the deck). Human approaches dog and repeatedly tries to kick ball out of dog’s mouth as dog raises her hips in the iconic downward-facing dog posture, all the while refusing to release the ball until the human says, “Drop it.”

Interestingly, Galen isn’t our first dog to refuse to play fetch the way the game was intended. Gryffin, too, established his own rules, which called for a stick in addition to a ball. In Gryffin’s version: Human throws stick. Dog retrieves it and waits for human to throw ball. Then, with stick in mouth, dog chases and then pounces on ball. Human walks to dog, grabs stick, then ball. In neither Galen’s nor Gryffin’s fetch does the dog return the ball to the human.

I often wonder how it is that Kevin and I raised two dogs who can’t play a traditional game of fetch. Sometimes I like to think it’s that we raised our dogs much like we are bringing up our daughters – to be creative, independent thinkers for whom we provide the parameters within which they are permitted a large percentage of freedom.

Other times, I concede that our dogs trained us better than we trained them.

Back from their walk, Galen grabs her purple ball by the handle and runs to Kevin. He pets her, heaps praise upon her. This is how the game is played, he tells her. Then he hurls the ball across the yard. Galen retrieves it and runs… back to the mulch. She shakes the ball and looks at Kevin expectantly. This time it is Kevin who stands his ground.

I smile inwardly. It will only be a few seconds before Kevin walks toward Galen. You see, she is the more stubborn of the two. And she’s no dummy. She knows she’s trained him well.

Galen

Galen and her favorite fetch-worthy ball.