A lesson learned

Sir Gilbert Goodfellow

I’m pretty sure God has a sense of humor. I’m talking along the lines of Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, maybe Mark Twain.

Because I have often been punk’d by the Big Guy, most recently a couple Saturdays ago.

I’ve been waiting to share my humiliation because it didn’t just affect me – it involved our whole family and its newest member, a black-and-white cocker-basset mix named Gilbert.

See, our beloved 12-year-old Lab mix, Sally, died in February of malignant melanoma. Our remaining dog, Lucy, was a little lonely and exhibiting species confusion, imagining herself a cat.

So one crazy Friday night, after a glass of wine or two, Matt and I filled out the adoption application on a local animal rescue group’s web site, bent on welcoming Gilbert into this circus troupe we call a family. By the next evening, he was visiting for a two-week trial.

The first week went well. He assimilated quickly, and it took all of about two minutes for everyone – even the cats – to fall in love with the guy. What’s not to love? He’s the happiest, least Alpha dog I’ve ever seen. 

At the end of that week, I received a new/old CASA case. My Friday was rough as I watched some kids go into foster care, despite their mom’s insistence that her transgression was a one-time occurrence.

That Saturday, after a busy morning, I headed to visit one of the kiddos. I ran an errand on the way back. Matt was in charge at home, where all three kids were hanging out.

I returned around 1:30 p.m., only to find some heartworm medication on the counter and a terse message on the answering machine from the rescue group, asking me to call. I did.

Well, it turns out, while I was gone, the rescue folks had stopped by to drop off some heartworm medication and flea preventative for Gilbert. And boy, were they ever surprised to find the little guy in our front yard, alone, scratching at the door to come in. Inside the house, looking out the door, was Lucy, the hound dog.

When they rang the doorbell, our oldest teen came to the door, removed his ear buds and asked what he could do for them. He didn’t seem surprised in the least, they said, to see the dog outside by himself. They said he half-heartedly tried to get the dog in, then accused them of having an attitude. They chased Gilbert into our open garage and brought him into the house, where the youngest kid and a friend were playing FIFA soccer on the xBox. Neither paid much attention.

Using my powers of deduction and razor-sharp mind, honed by years as a reporter, I realized the rescue lady was miffed. And I didn’t know what to say. I’d left home a few hours earlier, the house and its inhabitants running smoothly. I’d returned to find a complete CF.

The lady on the other end of the phone call paused, I guessed for me to respond.

“Well,” I said, “I know what this sounds like when I say it, but this is the first time Gilbert has been outside without a leash. I swear it. You can ask the neighbors.”

And I did know what I sounded like. I sounded like so many of the parents I work with, who claim they’d never left their 6-year-olds alone until the day the Children’s Division worker showed up for a random visit. There was no way to prove that what I said was true, either.

Later, I found out, Matt was not around because he’d taken his car to the car wash. He’d left the 15-year-old in charge. Our 14-year-old teen-age daughter never knew the uproar occurred because she was in her room, giving herself a manicure and listening to her iPod.

I asked the rescue lady to return as soon as possible so we could sort this out. Then I sent our youngest kid’s friend home and yelled for my kids to meet in the kitchen. They I proceeded to deliver a heartfelt, very loud, Come-to-Jesus, guilt-ridden speech. Did they know we could lose the puppy? How could they not know how he got out of the house? At less than 2 feet tall, there was no way he could open the door himself. And no, I did not buy the suggestion that the hound dog opened it for him because she’s jealous.

I particularly laid into the oldest. How could he be so rude to the rescue ladies? They were only doing their jobs.
“Mom,” he said, “you know how when I get scared, I can act like a jerk? They intimidated me.”

“Well, for crying out loud, what are you going to do when you get your license and someday get pulled over by a police officer?” I said, riffing into a rant about when he’d ever be able to get his driver’s license.

Matt, meanwhile, returned from the car wash and walked into the kitchen in the middle of my tirade, backing out pretty quickly. Then the doorbell rang, and the rescue group was back.

The two ladies entered the house, and the oldest apologized for his sassy mouth. The women accepted the apology but were a tad cold to me. They warned me that dogs can get hit by cars and that Gilbert is just a puppy.

I stood there and took it like a drug-court client. The one time the dog got out – one time! – had to be the time the rescue folks dropped by.

But rest assured, I told my family later, it wouldn’t be the last. They’d be all over us like flies on stink – drive bys, drop-in visits, reference checks.

I knew the drill. Oh, boy, did I know the drill.

Once I calmed down, I decided to find the positive in the humiliation. While the experience of adopting a dog in no way compares to having your children taken away, I think now I have a better sense of what parents feel.

And I realize that sometimes, things really aren’t as black-and-white as they appear.

I love cats, but am I a cat lady?

OK, many of you know I’ve always been a cat person.

I could give you a detailed description of the many, many cats I’ve shared my life with (and I could include photos and birth dates, too.)

But the mere fact that I think it would be weird if I did that makes me wonder if I’m indeed a real cat person after all.

I mean, sure. I have about 100 cat figurines that once decorated my childhood bedroom, some bought by me and others given to me by friends and relatives who knew of my feline obsession.

And in the past I have called relatives asking them to make sure my cats were OK while I was enjoying a night out at the theater (before we had kids, of course.)

And I scaled down all the nice throw rugs in our house to accommodate our incontinent diabetic cat, replacing the rugs with cheap rugs that could be thrown in the washer.

True, I still share my life with several cats with human names and distinct personalities, whom I talk to as if they’re humans.

Yet we also have dogs, too, and maybe this has tempered my weird cat lady tendencies.

I’ve always lived with dogs, too, but I never was as close to them as a breed. Yeah, I loved my own dogs but not necessarily anyone else’s.  

Marrying a definite dog lover, though, has changed me, made me more balanced. And probably cemented the reaction I had today.

Matt and I were driving in Columbia, having just dropped off one of our dogs for a month of radiation therapy to treat her cancer. Matt was driving the speed limit of 30 mph in a residential neighborhood when we heard a loud, long horn honk. I looked in my side mirror and saw a silver Ford Escape tailing us.

“They must think I’m driving too slowly,” Matt said. “Or it’s the cat on the dashboard.”

I thought he was joking. Then I turned around to look through the back window, and sure enough. There was an orange tabby on the dashboard.

Matt pulled over a little bit, and the Escape zipped past.

And I immediately judged that person as a weirdo cat lover, which made me question whether I really am one.

Especially after an incident a few years back. We ended up with a stray kitten a family member came upon. As the family cat weirdo, I was the natural destination of this kitty. Except we already had three cats and two dogs, not to mention three kids, one still in diapers.

Then it turned out the kitten had feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV. That’s like kitty HIV. There’s no vaccine against it, and it’s pretty contagious. The vet said if we kept the cat, we’d have to keep it isolated away from the others. The kitten was pretty sickly, too.

I started calling cat rescue groups, trying to find an FIV-positive home for this kitten. No luck. Then I remembered a former co-worker’s wife was a cat person. So I called her, asking if she knew anyone who could take an FIV-positive kitty or whether there were any such rescue groups.

Well, that was a mistake. She was absolutely no help, unless you count the major guilt trip she unloaded on me to keep the kitten. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t dedicate a room in our house to this cat. Why not? Truly, she was incredulous.

Feeling like a pile of crap, I hung up the phone and kept up with my search. Then a couple days later, our vet called. The kitten, who’d been in isolation at the vet clinic, had died, presumably from the disease.

So anyway, I’m questioning my rep as the cat lady, despite my many cat books and my vast experience giving cats shots and subcutaneous fluids and enemas.

I still love ‘em, though.