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Just this past winter our buddy Norm asked if we could feed his three cats while he and his daughter went away for 12 days. Sure, no problem, have a great time. Then the day before they left, Norm called to ask if we could also feed his ex-wife’s dog. Otherwise, as Norm put it, “I’ll have to leave him in the garage all day with the cats.” Animal abuse was the first thing that came to my mind. Cats are one thing, they’re kind of naturally independent, whereas dogs are more like people; they can’t be fed and then left alone all day, they need human companionship too much. “Oh yeah,” Norm continued, “We also have a parrot and two fish tanks.” “Oh, okay,” was my husband’s kind reply. “The more the merrier!” I’m afraid my response to the situation was less gracious.

You see, I would be doing the feeding and the watering and the walking and the visiting, not my sweetie. He has a job, while I have become a homemaker by proxy. This makes me available for all sorts of odd tasks. It’s all good, the dog’s name is PT, he’s an ancient Chihuahua with a 2.54 centimeter black tumor in-between his eyes and foul breath. When we arrived the first morning and opened the kitchen door that led to the garage, PT sprang out rather stiffly with his feline brothers and sisters thinking we were his family. After realizing we were strangers, he showed us his yellow fangs and stood his ground near the front door. I tried talking to him sweetly but he snapped at me, twice. When he did this my husband picked him up, held him close and tugged his neck skin while saying, “Hey, PT, it’s okay,” in a kind, but very alpha-male tone of voice. Just like that, PT was fine. While he was doing his “business” out back, Tony and I straightened up the garage (I forgot how rank cat boxes are!), fed the cats, the parrot and the fishes, then we let PT back in, fed him and left. Later that afternoon I was to come by to take PT for a walk, but to be honest, my first impression of him was not great.

When I opened the front door at around noon everyone greeted me: The parrot screeched like crazy, the cats meowed and swirled around my feet, even the fish splashed about at the tops of their tanks. PT, however, was sitting in the middle of the living room looking away nervously. “Hi PT!” I chirped. He didn’t move. As I approached him I heard a guttural growl, much stronger than I ever imagined could come from such a little dog. I tried my husband’s trick – using an alpha-male tone of voice, but it came out too deep and he lunged towards me with all his might. Shocked by his response, I fell over one of the cats and landed on my butt. “PT!” I protested, but instead of keeping his distance, he came in for the kill. As I sat there holding myself up with my hands, watching to see what he’d do, I started laughing. Then he bit my finger. It wasn’t a very hard bite, but it surprised me. That’s when I pulled the bacon out of my pocket.

For lunch I’d made a BLTA sandwich and saved the bacon crumbs in a paper towel, specifically for PT. I had a feeling the lack of Tony’s presence was going to give him airs, and it did. The power of bacon never ceases to amaze me. It can awaken a snoring household from the deepest slumber, bring a smile to a hungry man’s face, and appease the most disgruntled animal. Within minutes PT was my best friend, and we were to have the greatest 12 days together.

On our first walk PT showed me all his haunts, which were many, but the best was an abandoned field about three blocks from his domicile. This field had fewer trees than the rest of the neighborhood, which gave one a birds-eye view of the Pacific Ocean and the tiny houses below. After a long pause at this spot I tried to continue our walk, but PT’s little skeletal frame fought my tug relentlessly. He must have liked the sunshine, or perhaps the view, so I sat down on the grass and put PT in my lap. Together we watched the fishing boats float past and various wild animals do their routine. All the while, the sun’s rays beat down on us and we soaked it in graciously. We were to perform this little ritual every day, unless it was raining. On those days PT didn’t really want to walk, so he’d do his “biz” out back, then we’d sit together in a heavily padded swivel chair. I would either read my book or write in my laptop and he would curl up next to my hip and groom himself. That’s when I noticed how stinky he was.

Unfortunately PT’s missing several teeth, and the ones he has are on their way out, so his breath is pretty foul. Grooming himself merely spreads the funk all over this coat like butter. When Tony came home from work, I asked him to assist me in giving PT a bath. After all, I wasn’t sure how the old dude would react, but I was pretty sure soap and water were a foreign concept to him. I needed Tony to hold while I lathered. Surprisingly, PT took it well. It probably felt good! After we blow-dried him completely (Didn’t want him to catch cold), we set him down on the floor and to our surprise he danced around as if to Haircut 100’s Boy Meets Girl! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2cat4kykzI It was awesome.

Since Norm doesn’t live too far from us, I stopped by to visit PT and his siblings quite a bit – three, sometimes four times a day. It was kind of fun over there with all those creatures. I didn’t know the names of the cats, so I gave them my own: There was Cry Baby, a corpulent, light orange tabby with a tear duct issue. Fats, a podgy black cat with tiny eyes and a skittish nature, and Tiger, a silver tabby who ran from Tony as if from the Plague, but loved me. Every night Tiger cleverly eluded us by hiding behind one of the gigantic fish tanks, which meant he never had to sleep in the garage with the others. PT and Cry Baby were very simpatico. They rolled around together a lot, and PT would let the cat bite him rather hard on his neck. Fats didn’t like anyone, and she was always hungry (of course); she’d even eat PT’s food if I didn’t watch her. The fishes were…fishy, not a lot of personality there, and their tanks made the whole house swampy, which I think pleased the parrot.

The parrot was the only creature that drove me nuts. He was loud, he bit, and he repetitively “dominated” his wooden ladder while I was there. It was disturbing. Plus, he liked the door to his iron cage open, so he could jump down amongst the cats. That was a bit nerve-wracking, watching three felines circle him like prey, but Norm said not to worry about it, so I didn’t. Actually, I was secretly hoping they’d eat him while I was gone, but each morning he screeched at me at the top of his lungs until I fed him or sprayed him with water. He liked that.

Through it all, PT remained his same congenial self, and I honestly began looking forward to our time together each day. It was like hanging out with a seasoned, elderly man – they always make you feel welcome and the conversation is great. When the day came for me to relinquish my duties it was with a sad heart. What started out as a burden had become a complete joy. It’s funny how attached we become to these furry little creatures, and I don’t even like Chihuahuas.

About three weeks after Norm returned from his trip, Tony stopped by his house to fix something on his motorcycle. I thought I’d tag along. Of course Tony knew that I wanted to see PT. As we walked into the open garage, and before Norm could say a word, I asked, “Where’s PT?”

“Who? Oh, Petey? Uh, he’s outside in his house I guess.” Norm said. Petey! Oops. I gave Tony a reproachful glance and he shrugged innocently – PT/Peetie, same thing. After saying hello to Norm’s daughter, I opened the back door to see the little dude. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but the moment we clamped eyes on each other he did his little Boy Meets Girl dance and ran towards me. It goes to show, you can’t always trust first impressions.