FORUM: Dogs and Cats

My parent’s family, and my family, supported numerous types of domestic and working animals over the course of our lives. Some creatures were hardly memorable because they had limited personality or intelligence, lacked affinity for family members, or lived a short time. However, some of our animal companions were unforgettable because of their uniqueness.

Useless the Yorkshire Terrier

After losing Dad, we moved from California into a poor neighborhood in Chicago. We wanted a sociable pet that would bark and deter criminals from breaking and entering our apartment when we were gone. Our abode was small, and we had to be financially frugal, so we couldn’t afford a large animal. My sister Suzy thus obtained a petite female Yorkshire Terrier.

Useless, as I called her, loved Mom—rarely leaving her side, and was the quietest, most easily frightened animal that I ever got to know.

I returned home from work at night, everyone was asleep, and the apartment was dark. Mom’s bedroom was small and had no door, and I could see Useless’ eyes glowing. I used a disposable instamatic camera to snap a photo of her “protecting” Mom.

It took me five seconds to wind the film to take a second photo. The cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is apropos in this case.

  • “What do dogs do on their day off? Can’t lie around—that’s their job.” (George Carlin)

CG the Chow-Chow

Several years later Mom moved to an ostensibly better neighborhood—three blocks northeast of Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team), and only one block west of Lake Shore Drive. However, Mom’s condo was also only one block east of Broadway Avenue, a popular pathway for down-and-out criminal entities.

Useless had passed away, so Suzy selected a chow-chow as Mom’s next guardian. Talk about extreme opposites! The Chow’s bite, measured in pounds of pressure per square inch, is second to a pit bull. Suzy named her CG: I don’t know what it means—I never asked. When full grown, CG weighed 60 pounds, and she was completely black, including her tongue. One could only see the white of her eyes when she was looking sideways, but not when she was looking forward. When her mouth was open, her long, sharp, bright white fangs commanded fervent respect.

In the condo, CG sat at Mom’s feet—by the couch, or at the dining table. If anyone raised their voice, CG would raise her head, look into the offender’s eyes, and emit a deep, rumbling, low volume growl. When Mom went to sleep CG slept on the floor between the bed and bedroom door. I present three anecdotes regarding this spectacular canine.

One dark, moonless night Mom was smoking a cigarette while walking CG. No leash was needed in night walks, CG stayed beside Mom. Unlike every other dog I knew, CG didn’t stop to smell where other dogs had been—she kept her senses focused, ready to defend Mom. A tall man approached Mom and pulled a knife. He didn’t see CG, who instantly jumped against his chest knocking him onto his back. Before the man could react, CG had her teeth upon his carotid arteries. Mom sat on the man’s chest as she smoked her cigarette. A psychologist and crisis worker, she advised the criminal to stop his evil ways. Finishing her smoke, she stood up and told the assailant that she was going to go inside her condo and call the police to come and get him. In the meantime, she said, if he moved then CG would bite his neck. CG kept him on his back until Mom told her to release him when the police arrived to take him away.

When I was home—I had a condo in the same building as Mom, I’d walk CG to the park by Lake Michigan for an afternoon tinkle. She wore a leash because that was the law in the daytime. CG trotted beside me at precisely the cadence I selected.

On one walk a prissy, big, proud Doberman was walking on the sidewalk approaching us. CG ignored all dogs, but this Dobie was high strung. The closer the Dobie approached, the more agitated it became—snarling, head bobbing, leaking saliva—it wanted a fight. CG and I ignored the malcontent, and when the two canines crossed paths, without losing a step, in a fraction of a second CG rotated her head ninety degrees, opened, and snapped closed her jaws an inch from the Dobie’s throat, then turned her head forwards and kept on trucking. The Dobie jumped up and down running like a rabbit, crying, whining, and pulling its master away from CG.

On another walk CG saw and chased a racoon up a staircase to the second floor of a condo. It was the only time CG ran away from me while on a walk. A woman my age whom I knew from graduate school lived there. Her pets were snakes. She saw CG and came running and screaming toward her, flailing a broom. CG tucked her tail and sprinted past me down the sidewalk. The woman reached me and began hitting my head with the broom, madly screaming and cursing. I sprinted to catch up with CG who’d stopped to watch this. I grabbed her leash, and we ran to the park. My first thought was that CG was a coward! I soon understood that CG was a genius—she realized the woman was not physically dangerous, but rather was insane and would get us both in trouble.

When CG died, Mom and I were devastated—Mom never got another dog. Every year, on the anniversary of CG’s death, Mom and I would speak in person, or on the phone when that was not possible, remembering our beloved genius protector.

  • “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.” (Charles De Gaulle)

Killer the Japanese Fighting Cat

At the same time Mom had CG, she also had two cats. One, which to my knowledge was never named, was a large, fat, beautiful, slow, stupid, white Persian cat. I don’t know it’s gender. The Persian sat beneath a corner table, in the hopes that it would be left alone. The other was a small, thin, muscular, homicidal female Japanese Fighting Cat. My other sister, Bobbie, found the cat, which I named Killer, freezing outside Mom’s condo building on a blustery snowy day. Part of Killer’s frostbitten ear was snipped off by the vet. Killer loved Bobbie, and Mom, for saving her life and giving her a home. Killer and CG got along fine by ignoring each other and mutually respecting each other’s space. I never took a photo of Killer, but the first (top) photo shown in this link is a nearly perfect likeness of her, and she constantly practiced all of the martial art moves illustrated in this link: http://vuing.com/ninja-cats-photography/

Three anecdotes provide an idea of how this imperial breed behaves.

Every day, multiple times a day, Killer would emerge from Mom’s bedroom—where she slept on the bed, into the living room. She would sit in front of a 5-foot-high display cabinet with glass sides and front, and a mirrored back. She would stand up and begin to box her own image seen in the mirror—fast strikes, like a boxer hitting a speed bag. She would then jump into the air and box her image on the way up, and on the way down. This would be repeated over ever higher jumps, up to the top shelf of the cabinet.

In the summer, when Mom cranked open the condo windows to let in the Lake breeze, Killer would sit on the windowsill near the opening. She would watch the birds fly closer and closer to her, mocking her with a squawk as they flew by. Two times which I witnessed, and more times that Mom reported, a bird flew too close: Killer jumped into the air, rotating in a circular head-over-heels summersault outside the window ledge (the same maneuver she practiced daily with the mirrored display cabinet), snagged the bird mid-flight with one paw, and caught the window ledge with the other paw. Missing the ledge would result in a 70-foot fall onto concrete.

One time Killer and I went into Mom’s bedroom, looking for the Persian cat. Sleeping on Mom’s bed, it awoke when we entered. I stood at the side of the door, intrigued to see what was going to happen. Looking into the Persian’s eyes, Killer began a slow swagger to the bed, spreading and extending her claws and licking them clean in-between steps—to ensure having maximum fire-power available. The Persian became catatonic. Killer jumped onto the bed, and slowly walked next to the Persian. Unable to weather the terror, the Persian bounded into the air trying to make its escape. With perfect timing, and full power, Killer side-swiped the Persian’s hind with all claws extended, causing the fat cat to rotate circularly out of control and crash head-first into the door jamb. As if in a cartoon, the Persian ran under its corner table. Killer licked clean the paw which smacked the Persian’s butt. The Persian rarely left its safe spot again.

  • “If you provide dogs with food, water, shelter, and affection, they think you are a god. If you provide cats with food, water, shelter, and affection, they think they are a god.” (Christopher Hitchens)

Sandy the Long-Haired Chihuahua

My wife acquired a female long-haired chihuahua puppy which she named Sandy. It was my first experience with this species. As a puppy Sandy was a canine tornado. She’d hold her behind up high in the air, lower her chest and front legs to the floor, and look us in the eye. The moment anyone initiated a move towards her she’d start running circles around us so quickly that it was impossible to follow her without straining one’s neck and/or back. An honest-to-goodness whirling dervish, in the flesh. Three anecdotes are particularly salient.

Soon after we brought Sandy home, we took her to Mom’s condo to meet CG and Killer. CG was laying on one side of the living room carpet, Killer was on the other side practicing paw strikes against her image in the display cabinet mirror. After introducing Sandy to Mom and Bobbie, Sandy was placed on the carpet midway between CG and Killer. Sandy approached CG, who didn’t know what to make of the tiny creature. When CG failed to react to Sandy’s tornado invitation, Sandy bit CG’s tail with her needle-sharp puppy teeth. CG jumped in the air and tried to bite Sandy. Too late, Sandy was behind her. CG began spinning but Sandy easily kept ahead of her. After a dozen or so rotations CG became dizzy and collapsed onto the carpet. Sandy stopped twirling and returned to the center of the carpet. Observing this, Killer had been licking her claws in anticipation of a rumble. Sandy assumed her tornado invitation, Killer lunged. Sandy began her whirlwind maneuver. After a dozen or so rotations, Killer was dizzy and collapsed onto the carpet. Sandy returned to the middle of the carpet and encouraged CG to try again. CG looked at Sandy but didn’t move. Sandy turned toward Killer, who looked at Sandy but didn’t move. Sandy then began chasing her own tail. Humans observing this circus laughed until we nearly collapsed. Neither CG nor Killer ever messed with Sandy after this introduction.

For a few years, my wife and I lived in two different states because we couldn’t find academic positions in the same state. We’d live together in Atlanta between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, and in Chicago during summer months. In Atlanta we lived in a two-story apartment with a long open “runway” extending from the kitchen at one end to the living room at the other end. When we awoke, Sandy would treat us to her impression of the Indy 500 race, by running with speed requiring slow motion video to truly grasp, from one end of the apartment to the other for four or five laps. After a few weeks, the man living in the apartment beneath us, husband of a couple recently emigrating from the Middle East, saw me outside and said his wife told him to tell me that my wife must stop tap dancing in the morning while wearing high-heeled shoes. I replied that it was our dog running laps, but he thought my “excuse” was preposterous.

When we both found jobs in Chicago, Sandy became my faithful companion. She would sit in my lap when I was relaxing,

lay on my shoulder when I was standing,

or stand on my shoulder when we were getting ready to go outside.

She would sleep on my heart when I watched a movie,

and by my side when I was ill.

  • “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than himself.” (Josh Billings)

Sandy would travel with me to Taco Bell together once a week. I had a Nissan Pathfinder with a covered storage compartment between the front seats. When I entered the drive-through lane she would sit on the covered compartment, and stare at the take-out window exhibiting an “emotional cocktail” consisting of one-part lip-licking eager-anticipation, and one-part rocking-back-and-forth time-urgency. Taco Bell employees looked forward to our arrival. Two years later Taco Bell debuted the “Yo quiero Taco Bell” commercial. Coincidence?

  • “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” (Anatole France)

Dogs and Cats

Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.

June 9, 2021

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