Thursday, May 19, 2011

Animal Stories

I've been led to understand that there are a few of you out there who figure I'm absolutely pining away in coastal Carolina, separated, as I am, from the affections of my semi-wild stripy cat Max, who is, with the help of his personal trainer/cat wrangler, Shannon, keeping an eye on things back in Galva. It's true, there are mornings when I desperately miss the scent of Little Friskies Dead Carp Souffle and the nips, scratches and small puncture wounds inflicted on my ankles and calves as I struggle to open the can fast enough for the impatient little prince.
But fear not. I am not without animal companionship.
Starting with Nashville.
Now, I'm betting you'd figure this out on your own quick enough, but let me cut to the chase and explain that this Nashville is a dog, not the capital of Tennessee. He belongs to our son Patrick and his wife, Susan, who have discovered that he can be quite a handful. Not that he's not a good dog. But he's big. And strong. And lively.
Oh, yeah. And he's misunderstood, too.
You see, Nashville is a Pit Bull.
American Pit Bull Terriers, who officially go by the name American Staffordshire Terrier, are one of those unfortunate breeds who have been misused and abused by some, and maligned by others. Brought to the U.S. from England in the early 20th century, American Staffordshire Terriers gained in popularity in the 1920s with “Pete the Pup's” appearances in the Our Gang (The Little Rascals) comedies, contributing to the spread of the breed. Buster Brown's dog, "Tige" was an AmStaff, and Images of the breed were also used to represent the U.S. during the 1900s as a symbol of strength and dignity. Paddy chose Nashville as a family pet because of his experience with Roscoe, our own family dog for many years, who was also a pit bull. Roscoe was the best dog incredibly loving, gentle and loyal friend and family member. His only real troubling quirk had to do with a desperate desire to jump through windows, both open and closed, during onsets of high winds. Even this was understandable, as he developed the phobia after being home alone during the 1996 Galva tornado.
Nashville is a younger, more energetic version of his uncle Roscoe, who had already passed through puppyhood and adolescence when my sons insisted we rescue him from the pound. We have a little more time for the long walks Nashville needs, plus good dog-friendly space--including three outdoor porches--where he can doze and watch the world go by. As a result, he's been spending more and more time with us, kinda like a four-legged grandchild.
But he can be a bit of a free spirit, with a constant, fervent desire to meet and greet every person, dog, cat and ghost crab he sees.
While he didn't have any wings to clip, we decided another sort of surgery might help to slow him down just a touch. I, like any male animal, sort of resent the use of the word "fixed" as a term for castration. But I also feel that all pets should be neutered and spayed until we've found homes for all the puppies and kittens who currently languish in shelters. So I was assigned to get the deed done. When Nashville and I trotted into the vet's office on the morning of the procedure, I felt a little guilty at first, as I think he thought we were just dropping by for a cup of coffee and a biscuit. But any feelings of guilt soon slipped away as man (that's me) met dog (that's him) in a cage match worthy of the WWE. Nashville was delighted to greet the staff and the other dogs and cats he ran into. The one thing he DIDN'T want to do was go into one of those cages they use to hold the animals waiting for treatment. The vet tech didn't seem to want to get up close and personal with an unfamiliar dog, though I'd swear that was what they were supposed to do. Instead, he turned to me, "Do you mind putting him in the cage?"
I grabbed Nashville by the collar and pulled and shoved at the same time, finally getting his well-muscled, 65-pound body into the cage. I was just about to snap the door shut when the tech added, "Can you take off his collar, too?"
Take. Off. His. Collar.
I opened the door again and met his surging body with my shoulder.
He shoved, desperately wanting to get out. I shoved back, knowing that once out, he'd be even tougher to get back in. I quickly discovered that the only effective way of keeping him confined while pursuing the two-hands-needed job of taking off his collar was to climb in myself and block the opening with my body. Just as I did, one of the ladies from the front desk came back to see what was taking me so long, as she had paperwork for me to sign.
Her rich, lovely Carolina accent filled the room as she surveyed the tableau in front of her.
"Whay-uh is thay-at may-un who went back heah?" she asked.
Then she spotted me, locked in mortal combat with a struggling pit bull.
"Mah goodness," she said. "Why is tha-yut ma-yun in tha-yut cage wid tha-yut dawg?"
"Why, indeed?" I wondered.
I finally got Nashville locked down and staggered out to the front desk. I was breathing hard, my shirt was torn and I smelled exactly like someone who had been wresting with an anxious bulldog.
"Ah yew goin' to work now, sugah?" she said.
I explained that I wasn't.
"Tha-yut's good," she said. "You maht wanna rist up. He'll be riddy for y'all at three."
Alligators all around.
My spouse, who has often expressed her disinclination to share water with things that might slither, bump or bite, got some news the other day that gave her pause. She had already been a bit unnerved by the fact that a nearby wide spot in the intercoastal waterway that borders our backyard bears the picturesque name of "Alligator Bay."
She: Do you think there are really alligators in there?
Me: (hopefully) It's probably just something a realtor made up trying to add a little local color.
Or not.
A nearby neighbor reported seeing a couple of the stone age reptiles the other day, and quickly warned Patrick and Susan about letting the grandkids and grand-dog get too close to the water's edge without supervision. Scarier still was the fact that we had just enjoyed a visit from a traveling Galva friend who brought along her two small dogs, who we walked along the waterline on several occasions.
"Maybe they heard about those tiny little puppies," said Susan, who accurately figured that gators probably view Shih Tzus as tasty bite-size snacks.
"Maybe it was the Cheez-its," said my wife, who has been feeding the nesting momma-birds the remains of the bright-orange crackers our grandsons love.
Whatever it was, Patches and Quincy have made it home safe to their own back yard and their beloved Galva Library, where they are recognized and rewarded as dog heroes for having chased out a bird one day.
And the gators have, apparently, moved on.
I think.
I hope.

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