Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Pup Who Came in From the Cold

We arrived home at the Monterey airport to a fine, soaking drizzle.  Jan had told me that moisture would bead up on Cleo’s hair, not penetrating to the skin, and I got a lovely first hand and up close confirmation of that as we meandered through the parking lot from the terminal to our car, Cleo stopping to sniff every bush within five feet of her and every painted line we walked across.  By the time we got to the car, she looked sodden, but with a vigorous shake, she downgraded to damp.  I, on the other hand, bore a remarkable resemblance to a drowned rat.  It was 11 PM as we pulled away from the terminal, exactly twelve hours since I had left school to begin the puppy procurement mission.

I wanted Cleo to be able to recognize the outside of her new home, so we spent several minutes exploring the driveway, front yard and deck before heading inside.  As we stepped through the front door, two very excited cats came skittering and scampering into the living room to greet me.  They got about halfway into the room, one balanced on the back of the chaise longue, the other tiptoeing across the coffee table, when they realized that something was not as they expected.  They froze, wide-eyed, in slack-jawed disbelief.  What the hell was that thing?  Cleo, too, had frozen, gazing from one to the other.  It was she who recovered first, resolving her confusion in characteristic fashion by falling back on her standard definition of anything new: Playmates!!  The cats also stayed true to form.  Rufus fled in terror while Marvin adopted an expression of haughty disdain.

Rufus came to us about three years ago and Marvin followed a year later.  I have the suspicion that cats tip each other off to good living situations.  I also suspect that it’s very important to them to make sure that their human companions are looked after when they are gone.  Every time a cat of mine has died, another has come along within a very short time to take his place. 

Only a couple weeks after the death of our beloved boy Nikos, my husband’s singing partner, Jennifer, asked if we knew of anyone who might be willing to adopt an adult cat.  Jen and her husband Anthony were about to embark on an extended trip to Alaska, and from there, on to New Orleans to see if they would like to move there.  They were taking with them their two Labrador Retrievers—just the four of them in a converted van, obviously no place for a cat, especially not one like theirs.  They had found Rufus, half feral, three-quarters starved, in their yard one day.  He was alone and only a few weeks old.  It’s likely that his mother had been killed by a coyote.  They rescued him, but when he was still fairly young, he was attacked by some wild animal and in defending himself, badly injured all four feet.  These experiences left him extremely shy and permanently on guard (read, neurotic).  Jen and Anthony needed a quiet, patient home, so we gained both a kitty and two very good human friends.

About a year after Rufus came to us, we arrived home from an outing to find a scroungy, scabby grey cat in our yard.  As we pulled in, he came running to us, flinging himself onto the sidewalk and rolling around in ecstasy as if to say, “You’re home!  I’ve missed you so much!”  We suggested to him that he might want to move along, return from whence he came and all that.  We continued to make the same suggestion for three days during which he never left the front yard, then we broke down and named him.  We brought him in, fed him, rid him of his flea infestation, and in fairly short order, he shaped up to be a fine portly gentleman.
For weeks after coming home to discover she had two cats, Cleo followed Marvin everywhere he went, staring at him in fascination.  Rufus would creep out of whatever hiding place he had sequestered himself in, take one look at Cleo and bolt.   I knew the acclimation process would take a while, and it has, but as of this writing the relationships have resolved pretty sweetly.  Cleo remains fascinated by Marvin, but after being on the receiving end of multiple smacks across the nose, she now gives him a wide berth.  Rufus, on the other hand, has never realized that the claws at the end of his toes could be a handy deterrent.  Instead, he bonded with Cleo through a game of hide and seek played through the cat door into the garage.  When he finally realized she wasn’t going to hurt him, they touched noses and he rubbed the top of his head against her cheek.  These days she’s tall enough that after rubbing his head against her chin, he follows it with the rest of his body, stopping only when his upright tail collides with her face.

the mountain man
Cesar Millan recommends limiting puppies’ territory inside the house until they are fully potty trained, so after meeting the cats, Cleo and I went straight for the kitchen where we were greeted by Jackson, my eighteen-year-old stepson who had been waiting up for our return.  It was love at first sight as the 8 inch tall puppy caught her first glimpse of the 6’2” mountain man.  As he folded himself towards the floor, she toddled up to him, put her feet on his knees and made her first attempt to chew on his beard. 

It really is impressive how confident Cleo was.  At eight weeks old, a time when puppies are supposed to be going through the first of two cautious stages, this dog was unfailingly brave.  From a noisy ride in a prop plane to the constant surprises of new territory, she was encountering everything as if it were a delightful adventure.  Was this nature or nurture?  Terrific genes or a terrific beginning with Jan and Ron?  Or maybe both?

My husband John was playing a gig (I’ve mentioned before that he is an outstanding rock guitarist) and wouldn’t be home until about 1:30 AM, so I introduced Cleo to the crate that had been set up in our bedroom for over a week.  I expected her to be somewhat averse to it, but she climbed right in, curled up and was sound asleep in a matter of seconds.  She’d woken up that morning in Texarkana and after two plane rides, a brief hotel stay, multiple car rides and uncountable new experiences, here she was in Monterey, California.  She was simply exhausted.  I’ll admit I lay down on the floor just outside her crate so I could watch her sleep.

Napping with her favorite toys
I couldn’t wait for John to get a chance to see her, and when he got home we opened the crate quietly.  “She’s so small,” he whispered, “even smaller than I thought she’d be.”  Her little head came up and she looked at him.  You could see in her eyes that she instantly recognized the alpha, even though all I saw as I looked at him was tenderness and a quiet pleasure in her absolute perfection.  Out of the crate she came, ready to be scooped up and cuddled, ready to hug. 

The rain had stopped by this time, so the three of us took a stroll-and-sniff down to the end of the block and back.  It was long past puppy bedtime, so back into the crate she went.  Most puppy books warn that the first night away from their litter mates will be a tough one for puppies and humans alike, but not for Cleo and us.  She slept right through that night.  She was safe, she was loved, she was warm. 

She was home.

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