Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the category “Pets”

Breakfast Bowls and Poultry Dazes

DocImage000000009August 12, 2013 will be the 17th anniversary of the day I adopted my cat Ozzy. He died on April 20, 2013. This essay is part of a long narrative I am writing about our 16+ years together. And don’t forget that August 17 is Black Cat Appreciation Day.

            I finished eating the breakfast bowl and stared at the container. Ozzy loved Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls. After eating, I used to leave a morsel of sausage in the bottom of the plastic bowl and give it to him. He would eat the sausage and then lick up all of the gravy and sausage, moving the bowl around with his nose. Sometimes when he was done, a spot of gravy remained on the tip of his nose. It always made me laugh. He would look at me with a quizzical gaze – what was so funny? In his last days, he could no longer groom himself, so I would have to wipe his nose and mouth. I think I will have to give up breakfast bowls. I don’t enjoy eating them by myself.

When I first got Ozzy, I didn’t know that he would become a human food connoisseur. My only house cat experience was with Smokey, who only ate cat food, unless it was in the hands of his lord and master, my ex-boyfriend. He would eat shredded wheat and milk from his bowl, but was not interested in my breakfast dishes. In fact, Smokey was not interested in me at all. I was the person who interfered with his time with his Person. But other than the occasional cereal and the mesmerizing CHICKEN (more about that later), Smokey wasn’t interested in food that wasn’t in his bowl. But Ozzy was, I was proud to learn, a fiercely loyal cat, and wasn’t interested in the eating habits of this other feline.

On one of our first mornings together, I was sitting on the sofa in my office (how I miss having that office), eating my breakfast. The smell of eggs and sausage caused Ozzy to follow me into the room. He sat and watched intently as I ate, moving his eyes from the plate to my mouth. He waited patiently for a morsel to fall on the floor, but it wasn’t happening. But when I speared the last link on my fork, he decided to take action. He jumped on my lap, hitting the fork and the plate, causing both to flip backwards from my hands onto the floor. He grabbed the link, breaking it in half and eating the pieces. After my initial shock, I started laughing. Then he turned his attention to the eggs, scooping them up until nothing was left but a few orts of yellow. The commotion caused Smokey to come into the room. He looked at Ozzy, sniffed at the egg crumbs and walked away. Ozzy licked his lips in satisfaction. From that point on, breakfast was a meal that was shared.

Now, all bets were off when chicken was concerned. Whether I bought it at a restaurant or baked it in the oven, chicken was the one human food that both Ozzy and Smokey loved. I don’t know if love is the appropriate word for their reaction to poultry. When I sat down in my lounger with a plate of chicken in my hand, I was immediately surrounded. Ozzy jumped on the left arm of the chair. I guess he figured that since I was left-handed, access to my fork or fingers was more readily accomplished from that side. Smokey got on the right arm and leaned toward my face, hoping that his stance would give him an advantage. Both of them got glazed looks in their eyes, as if the aroma of chicken had altered their consciousness. Neither of my cats ever responded to catnip, but chicken seemed to turn them into drooling furry addicts.

Once they were in their respective positions, I knew that I would not be consuming much chicken. But I tried to make things fair. I would put the plate in my lap, hoping that Ozzy didn’t make a dive onto it; tear a long strip of white meat from their favorite part, the breast; divide the strip in half; and dangle one piece in front of Ozzy. As he snatched the strip, Smokey would lunge forward, sometimes falling on the floor. I would take the other piece and hold it in front of Smokey’s face, careful that my fingers were far enough from the end to not be included when he bit into the morsel. While they were hurriedly eating their pieces, I tried to get at least one piece into my own mouth. But before I finished chewing, each cat would be back on the chair, waiting for his next bite.

Even though what should have been a quick meal took hours with my two chicken fiends, I wouldn’t have dreamed of having chicken without them. They had the same reaction to turkey. For Thanksgiving, I would pick up a meal at Boston Market, with extra turkey, of course. If I went to a friend’s home for dinner on Turkey Day, I would always return home with a “Kitty Bag.” Thanksgiving was definitely their favorite holiday.

After Smokey died in 2010, Ozzy and I still shared chicken and turkey dinners. Since he no longer had competition, he would sit on the floor and wait for his portion. It was always a bonding experience, the one food that we both enjoyed.

The day before I took Ozzy to his last vet visit, I went to Boston Market and got extra turkey with gravy. That night and the next morning, he savored his favorite meal. It makes me happy that he went to the Great Kitty Beyond with a stomach full of turkey.

Poultry will never be as much fun again.


Love, Loss & Renewal: Reading Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Ozzy & BookThis isn’t just a book review. It is more of an essay on the theme of loss, using elements of the book and my own experiences to address these issues.

A few years ago, Cooper gained worldwide renown for her book, Homer’s Odyssey, the story of her blind cat Homer and what she learned from him. Now Cooper is back with another feline, Prudence, in this Bantam Books novel about love, loss, and renewal. But when Cooper does a book tour, Kleenex should sponsor it, as I cried through most of the book. But that may say more about me than the plot of the book.

The story is mainly told from the point of view of Prudence, a brown tabby who lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with her Very Important Person, Sarah. Cooper makes sure to include details that would only be noticed by a cat – such as smells, sounds, and subtle changes that would not be picked up by humans.

When the story begins, Prudence is waiting for Sarah to come home. But Sarah hasn’t been home in five days. Instead, Sarah’s daughter Laura arrives with her husband Josh. Prudence is perplexed when they start to pack up Sarah’s belongings. Where has Sarah gone? “I’m still angry with Sarah for leaving me without saying goodbye. Mostly, though, I just hope I get to see her again someday. She’s the only human I’ve ever loved.”

Prudence is taken from her home in the Lower East Side to Sarah and Josh’s apartment on the Upper West Side. It takes her a while to get used to her new surroundings and she mostly stays in the spare room with the belongings that Laura has decided to keep, mostly Sarah’s “black disks.” Through conversations, we learn that Sarah used to be a DJ and a record owner in the seventies, but she gave it all up when Laura was fourteen. Chapters written from Laura’s point of view and flashbacks from Sarah fill in the details about their lives, but not the reason for their estrangement.

Time passes and Prudence discovers that the “Sarah-and-me-together smell” is fading from the boxes in the room. Other things are also changing. Josh loses his job and Laura’s workload is reduced. Laura is afraid that they will lose their apartment. Josh visits the neighborhood where Laura grew up and gets involved with helping tenants fight the sale of their apartment building, which has a famous studio on its bottom floor. Laura isn’t happy with his new passion, as it reminds her of the worse day of her life.

But Laura and Josh’s first anniversary becomes the worse day of Prudence’s life and the day when everything changes. During an argument that morning in front of Prudence, Josh mentions the fact that Laura didn’t take off work when her mother died. Prudence finally discovers the fate of her Very Important Person. She is devastated. “The ache in my chest from Sarah’s being gone rips back open so suddenly that I can’t breathe.” In her distress, Prudence eats some toxic flowers – and she feels the presence of Sarah.

But “love saves the day.” Not only is that the name of the store where the teenage Sarah met her best friend Anise, it is what brings Prudence back to life. Finding the kitten helped Sarah find music in her life again and Laura uses music to reach the unconscious feline who is the only link left to her mother. She realizes that her job is not as important as her family.

The mystery of what happened to Laura and Sarah is revealed. The miracle of Sarah finding Prudence at the spot where another beloved tabby perished brings the story full circle. And finally Laura is able to grieve for her mother and realize the depth of her mother’s love – though a long lost song. Prudence says, “I know now what Sarah meant when she said that if you remember someone, they’ll always be with you. Sarah is here with us now. As I listen to her sing, I know that she never left.”

The day that I finished the book was the seventeenth anniversary of the day I adopted my first cat, a Himalayan named Smokey. After I put the book down, I pulled out my photo album of Smokey, who died in March 2010. As I looked as the photos, I realized that not only did I no longer have Smokey, I no longer had most of the belongings shown in the photos with him. In December 2011, after three years of looking in vain for work, I was evicted from my apartment, along with my black cat Ozzy. Sarah’s story of watching her home being destroyed reminded me of throwing out the rugs, comforters and other belongings that I didn’t have room for in my storage unit. Like Prudence, everything smells strange to me now. I no longer have a home, a place with a “me smell.”

For seven months, I was separated from Ozzy, as I was homeless on the streets of Berkeley and Los Angeles for three months and then spent four months staying with friends while Ozzy stayed with a foster family. In July 2012, the foster family went on vacation and Ozzy had nowhere to go. I called the local no-kill shelter, where I had received volunteer training a month earlier. When the director stated the shelter couldn’t take Ozzy, I became hysterical, like Sarah became hysterical when she thought she would lose Laura. Previously, the director had offered to get Ozzy a free veterinary checkup, but when I tried to contact her after I had calmed down, she never returned my calls or e-mails. Like Laura, Ozzy was all I had left of my old life. But maybe if Ozzy had gone to the place that Prudence called “the Bad Place,” he wouldn’t still be with me. I know that he has health problems, but I am glad that my friends allowed him to stay with me. Once I get back on my feet, I will have to take him for a checkup, which may signal the end of our almost seventeen year relationship – the longest time I have lived with anyone other than my father. I find my eyes “filling up with water,” as Prudence would say.

But I will let those words about remembering be my guide. In Love Saves the Day, Cooper included some real life events from the Lower East Side and immortalized a long lost cat named Honey. The story of Prudence will remain with me for a long time as I face my own losses, memories, and renewal.

Adventures in House Sitting

Patch & Echo

Last month, I spent a week house sitting for a friend of a friend. My duties included feeding two dogs, one cat, and thirteen tortoises. Besides animals, there were a yard full of plants, trees, and flowers. I discovered some important “don’ts” during that week. I don’t want to be a professional house sitter, unless it involves nothing more complicated than literally sitting in a house. I don’t want to grow anything more challenging than a tomato plant. And even though tortoises do have personalities, I don’t want one.

It was an interesting week. I spent my days and nights in the company of two dogs, Patch and Echo, a strange situation for someone who has only lived with cats. But besides barking at the mail carrier, other dogs going on their walks, and whatever made a noise in the middle of the night, they were on their best behavior. I bonded with Patch, who joined me when I sat on the sofa reading or watching television. The cat, Ditto, only stopped by in the morning and evening for a bit of food and a quick cuddle. It was a joy to be able to see some of my favorite music programs and watch some of my favorite movies. Maybe one day, I would have a house of my own again – a small, funky abode where I could recharge, renew and refresh my soul.

But there are several things that will not be a part of my home of the future – tortoises, bonsai trees, and flowering plants. Each morning, I opened the garage door so Thor and Henry, the two largest tortoises, could begin their day. Every day, I shredded and cut vegetables for their meal, spending more time preparing their food than I did my own. By mid-morning, the eleven guys and gals in the tortoise compound would be milling about, waiting for the diner to open. They especially loved the bright colored food, squashing cherry tomatoes and chopping on carrot pieces.

Lots of plants

In spite of my four typed pages of notes, I got the plant schedule mixed up. Not knowing anything about plant life, I could only identify them by their location. There were plants by the utility room door that got watered only twice during the week, but the plants by the family room door were watered more often. The plant next to the hot tub was not watered at all, but the tree next to that plant was watered for thirty minutes daily. I knew to take good care of the bonsai and small cedar trees, but with the flowering plants, I was afraid of watering them too much. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother’s green thumb – my digit was more likely to be the Thumb of Doom. During the week, there were several hot days as well as several windy days. Many of the flowering plants lost their blooms – was that human error or Mother Nature? But no trees died on my watch. The abundance of green in the yard was soothing, though, and several evenings I sat on the patio, relishing my leafy surroundings.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. One day, I locked myself out of the house. The family room door was kept ajar so the dogs could go outside at their leisure. On the next to the last morning, I got up, took a shower, put on sweatpants and a tee shirt, and went out the family room door to open the garage door for the tortoises. As I walked out with Patch trailing behind me, I heard a soft click. I knew before I walked back on the porch that the door was locked. By then, Echo was in the family room looking out. Did he have to obey nature’s call? Patch was looking in at him, and looking back at me, wondering why he couldn’t go inside of the house. I felt like I had wondered onto the set of a classic situation comedy. What would Lucy do?

I had to think this through. One of the neighbors had called to see how I was doing – maybe she had the cell phone number of the owner. I couldn’t let Patch out of the yard, but if I went for help, he would follow. I locked the dog in the garage with the tortoises and walked over to the neighbor’s house, as I did have the back gate key. She didn’t have a number for the owner, but she had a number for the owner’s son, who I had met earlier in the week. I took the number and walked up to my friend’s house to use her phone. But right before I got there, I remembered that there was a phone in the garage. Apparently, my powers of reasoning hadn’t kicked in yet that morning. I went back to the house, let the now-howling dog out of the garage, and called the owner. When she stopped laughing, she told me where to find a spare key. As soon as I opened the door, one dog ran in and one ran out. I was thankful that I didn’t have to call a locksmith.

The week passed quickly. The owner came home and did not seem upset that some blooms were missing. She was mainly concerned about the bonsai and cedar trees, which were fine. As soon as she opened the front door, the dogs forgot all about our week of bonding and rushed to greet their favorite person. She seemed happy with my service and even gave me a tip. I gathered my things for the walk back to my friend’s house. I would miss the dogs, the flat screen television with unlimited channels, and even the tortoises – but I would not miss those plants and trees. I hooked my Thumbs of Doom onto my jean pockets and walked away without looking back.

Two of thirteen tortoises

Fake Fur?

(Thinking about my late cat, Smokey, who died in March 2010. Years ago, I wrote this about him.)

When I am in my bedroom trying on clothes, my cat Smokey lies on the bed and watches. Like a feline fashion editor, he observes each outfit as I saunter from the closet to the bedroom mirror. But when I try on one of my fake fur items, everything changes. His head jerks upward as if yanked by an invisible puppeteer. His eyes get as wide as blue marbles. He jumps off the bed as if his tail is on fire. The last thing that I see is the tip of his long tail as he dives under the bed. The show is over. I won’t see Smokey again for several hours, not until he is sure that the fluffy garment has been stowed away.

For years, I was puzzled by his strange reaction. Then I noticed that my seal point Himalayan and my fake fur animal print jacket were a similar color. Did Smokey think that eventually he would become part of my wardrobe? Was he afraid that my next off-white and brown coat would be made of real Himalayan cat fur?

Smokey doesn’t hate all fake fur. He sleeps on the furry leopard print throw I keep on my bed. He doesn’t mind fake fur as long as it is sedentary and non-threatening. But when I put on a fur garment, it appears to come to life. My big fur hat—scary. The leather jacket with the fur trim—frightening. The denim coat that reverses to fur—terrifying. Smokey doesn’t know the fur is fake, all he knows is that it looks too familiar.

No wonder Smokey watches me so closely when I dispose of his fur after a good brushing. He checks to make sure I throw it in the trash can. He is afraid I will hoard it and sell it to clandestine feline fur buyers. Maybe Smokey imagines there is a giant shearing machine somewhere, where Himalayans and Persians and other longhaired cats are lined up like sheep. Years ago, when my other cat come home from the vet after a hip operation, his left side was shorn of fur. So Smokey knows cats can be shaved. In his mind, he hears the buzzing of the razor and watches the bales of plush fur pile up to the sky. Sometimes Smokey’s feet twitch when he is asleep. In his dreams, maybe he is running from a furless fate, hiding from those who want to harvest his coat to make coats for nearly hairless humans.

I read a story once about a woman who knitted sweaters from the fur of her beloved Himalayan. But Smokey has nothing to worry about, as I don’t own any knitting needles or electric shears. His fur will remain where it belongs, on his body, my furniture, and my rug. Of course, he doesn’t know that. In the future, I’ll try on my fake furs in front of the bathroom mirror, away from the sight of my skittish kitty. My bedroom fashion shows will be fur-free from now on.

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