The closest college with a veterinary technician program was in Toronto. I sent in my application and hoped for the best. I received a letter in the mail inviting me to an interview for the program. Gosh, I didn’t know I’d have to be interviewed. Okay, that was fine. I would do whatever needed to be done.
So, another big day arrived. I went to the college on the day of my interview. I was nervous. This was my first interview for anything. Please keep in mind, I was young, naive, and as a result, idealistic. That’s just a part of late adolescence and early adulthood.
When it was my turn, I went into the room for my interview. I was surprised that the room was so large, and there were four people to conduct the interview, three men and a woman. They introduced themselves and asked me to take a seat in the chair placed in front of the long table where they sat. I was still nervous, and a little intimidated, but I calmed as the interview proceeded.
They asked a lot of questions, which I answered. All in all, it went well, until the last question they asked me. “What would you do if someone brought in a healthy puppy to be euthanized?” My mind went blank. It didn’t sound right to use the words ‘healthy’, ‘puppy’, and ‘euthanize’ in the same sentence. Why would anyone euthanize a healthy puppy?
I sat there trying to regroup my thoughts. I was trying to discern what they wanted to hear. What would be the right answer for them? And then I decided to let go of that train of thought and say what I honestly thought. I said, “I wouldn’t do it.” Their response was, “You have to. It’s a part of your job.”
I racked my brain, trying to find viable solutions to the problem they had set before me. I had to save the life of this hypothetical puppy. I would find the puppy a new home. No. I would take it home with me. No. I would try to convince the owner to keep the puppy. No.
They shot down every suggestion I made. The exchange became very heated, with raised voices and red faces. I was taught to respect my elders, so this was a difficult and awkward situation for me.
I couldn’t back down and tell them what they wanted to hear. I couldn’t agree with what I disagreed with. This felt too important to me. We were at a standstill. I had to find a way to bring this interview to a close. I looked down and thought for a second. Then I raised my head, looked at one of them, and said, “I guess there are times in your life when you have to do things you don’t want to do.”
And that released the pressure from the room. Everyone appeared to relax. The red faces drained to a normal color. The tense bodies relaxed. As I watched that happen, I knew that I had made another decision.
The interview ended. They thanked me for coming, and I thanked them for their time. Weeks later, a letter came in the mail from the college. I was sure that it was a rejection letter. To my surprise, it was a letter of acceptance into the program. I thought about it long and hard, for days. My decision remained the same. I sent a letter in reply, declining admission to the program.
Decades later, I do not regret making that decision. Fortunately, the way animals are viewed and treated has changed over time. There are more options for unwanted pets that didn’t exist before: no-kill shelters, rescues, re-homing, and fostering. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was. Perhaps now, my hypothetical, healthy puppy would go on to live a rich and full life.
I had only applied to one school. After I declined my admission, it was too late to apply elsewhere for the fall semester. I got a job and worked through the summer, fall, and winter.
During that time, I did some soul searching. All along, I'd known what I truly wanted to do. It was stuck in the back of my mind. Finally, I found the courage to admit it to myself and others. It caused an uproar in my family. They considered it unattainable and beyond my reach. Who did I think I was? That question was meant to dissuade me. It had the opposite effect. I didn't know who I was or what I was capable of, and I needed to find out.
The application process allowed for three locations. The hope was that you would be accepted into at least one of the three. Again, I only applied to one. I waited and checked the mail every day. Then, the letter arrived. I took it into my room, closed the door, and read it. My application had been accepted by the University of Guelph. I would start in January.
The next leg of my life journey was in academia. There were times when I felt I was in over my head and wondered what I'd gotten myself into. I also learned that I was resourceful and up to the challenge. I learned how to successfully navigate an unfamiliar system. My mind was opened to new possibilities. I was exactly where I needed, and was meant, to be.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
At the end of my second last year of high school, I started giving serious thought to what I would do after school was finished. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to continue my education. I wanted and needed to learn more. I also needed to look at my options and then narrow down the field.
I went to the school guidance counselor, who convinced me to take an aptitude test to determine my interests and abilities. I took the test and waited a few weeks for the results to come back. I must have missed checking the box for sex (female) because the top recommendation was that I should become a priest. That wasn’t an option. First of all, I wasn’t Catholic. Second of all, the Catholic church doesn’t allow women to be priests, then or now. I think the next recommendations were counselor and teacher. Neither of those appealed to me at the time.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. No one in my family had ever gone to college or university. Post-secondary education wasn’t on the radar. So, there was no one to guide me, give me advice, or answer my questions. And this was back in the day, before computers and the internet. My access to information was limited.
So I asked myself, “What do you enjoy?” I enjoyed being with animals, so I considered becoming a veterinary technician. I wasn’t sure of what the profession entailed, so I read whatever I could find. Surgery....hmmmm. I didn’t know if I could handle assisting in surgery, or even watching it, for that matter. There was only one way to find out. I made an appointment with a local veterinarian to observe a surgery. I needed to know if I had the stomach for it, since it was a part of the job.
The big day arrived. The dog to be spayed was already anesthetized when I arrived. The veterinarian wanted to discuss a potential problem with me. He said that if I felt light-headed or nauseous during the procedure and thought I was going to faint, I needed to lean my back against the wall, bend my knees, and slide down the wall. He made it clear that he wasn’t telling me this because I was a girl. He explained that he had a guy in to observe a surgery. The guy fainted, and on his way down, hit his head on the doorknob. I agreed to follow his advice.
He proceeded with the surgery. At first, I did my best to be quiet and respectful, listening to everything he said. He would gently pull some parts out, safely of course, and explain to me what it was and what its function was. I was fascinated. Eventually, my innate curiosity got the better of me. Questions started pouring out of my mouth.
And then he said, “I need you to move your head out of the way. I can’t do surgery unless I can see what I’m doing.” I was so enthralled with peering into the incision, I was leaning over the patient. I hadn't realized my head was blocking his view. I straightened up, took a step back, and apologized. He completed the surgery, I thanked him and went on my way.
Okay, good. I could handle surgery. I wasn’t queasy about the sight of the scalpel making the incision, the blood, or the stitches being sewn into flesh. I was one step closer to my intended goal. Next, apply to a college that had a veterinary technician program.
Next post: Almost a Vet Tech - Part 2
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
That morning, I decided to have a toasted bagel with cheese for breakfast. I cut the bagel in half, then turned to get the cheese out of the refrigerator. I turned back with cheese in hand and stared at the plate. It took me a few seconds to process what I was seeing, or more accurately, not seeing. Where did it go? Half of the bagel was gone.
I looked down at the floor, in case I had accidentally knocked it off the counter. Nope, not on the floor. It couldn't have disappeared. I turned to my right to look at the floor behind me, just in case. As I lifted my head, I caught sight of Farley standing in the doorway between the kitchen and living room.
My gaze focused on him. The half bagel was hanging out of his mouth. I did not expect to see that because he had never stolen food before. I don't know how he did it. There wasn't much space between the counter and the back of the open refrigerator door. I was also surprised that he had been able to do it so quickly and quietly, without my noticing. He must have been in stealth mode. Great, now I had to deal with a ninja dog in my life.
I'd already fed him, so he couldn't be hungry. And even if he was still hungry, he could have taken it into another room and eaten it. I would never have known. That's not what was happening here. He was standing there, waiting for me to look at him. He wanted me to see him with the bagel.
Worse yet, he was taunting me. There was a glint in his eyes, and I swear he was smiling. I said, "You give that to me, right now." His body tensed slightly, and he stood his ground. The smile became a smirk. Now he was challenging me. That was it. Game on, buddy.
I took a step toward him and he took off running into the living room. I ran after him. He went around the armchair. I couldn't see him, so I assumed he was standing between the couch and the coffee table. When I got into the room, I saw him standing on the couch, bagel still in his mouth. That was strike two against him. He knew he wasn't allowed on the furniture.
I took two quick steps to get around the coffee table and lunged towards him. He wasn't expecting that, and it scared him. He leaped over the far end of the couch. Unfortunately, his eyes were on me and not looking in the direction he was headed. Mid-air, he knocked over the lamp on the end table.
I turned to see him standing in front of the fireplace, lamp on the floor to left, bagel on the right. He stood with eyes wide, and his body frozen in place. He knew he was in trouble, and he didn't know what I was going to do. This was a first for both of us.
I did a quick visual check to make sure he was unharmed. He looked good. Scared, but good. I calmly walked past him and put the lamp back onto the table. Then I turned around and picked up the bagel. He stood still the whole time, watching my every move. Then I looked him in the eyes, and quietly, yet firmly, said, "Don't you ever do that again." Then I walked back into the kitchen and continued making my breakfast.
He never stole food again, with one exception, although I can't say he stole it. We had an extended family get-together. I can't remember what the occasion was. One of my nephews was sitting on the footstool in the living room. He held his plate of food with one hand while it rested on his right knee. He was looking to his left while talking to someone.
Farley sat beside him. He looked at the plate and then at my nephew's face. No reaction. He did it three times. It was his polite way of asking. Since he didn't hear the word no, he took that as a yes. He moved his head toward the plate and gently took a piece of cheese with his mouth.
My nephew's head quickly turned and he stared at Farley for a moment. Then his eyes flew open in surprise. He had not expected that from Farley because he'd never done it before. (In my nephew's defense, he didn't have a lot of experience with dogs.) I had watched the interaction unfold, and I couldn't stop laughing when it was done.
I know, I was wrong. I should have intervened. It would have taken one word from me to stop Farley. He was that well trained by then. Instead, I let it play out. My curiosity got the better of me. It was worth it to see my nephew's reaction.
Farley was the first dog that lived indoors with us. Back then, I didn't know that dogs, like people, go through a rebellious, adolescent stage. It only happened with food that one time. He challenged me in other ways, and we always worked through it. Truth be told, I admired Farley's defiance. Perhaps we tested each other, and with time, we both passed. I learned so much from him.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
I apologize for the poor quality of this picture of Farley. I used the camera on my phone to take a picture of an old Polaroid photo. Today was our first snowfall of 2020. I was going through some old pictures and found this one. It brought back memories of another first snowfall, many years ago.
Farley stood by the back door to let me know that he needed to go outside. Most times I went out with him, but sometimes I let him be out by himself. I always looked out the window to make sure the gate was closed. Sometimes people forgot to close it. There were three lanes of heavy traffic at the front of the house, so I wanted to make sure he was secure in the fenced backyard.
The gate was closed, so I let him out. I puttered around for a bit and then went to check on him. I thought enough time had passed for him to do his business and sniff around. If he was done, he’d sit on the step at the back door. He wasn’t there, so I went outside and called his name. He usually came right away, but not this time.
I started to walk towards the back of the house and stopped when I heard a sound behind me. I turned to see Farley sitting on the other side of the gate. I was confused for a second because I didn’t know how he got there. He was sitting with his left paw raised, a pained expression on his face, and I heard him whining. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground. When I looked down, the white contrasted with all the red. He was bleeding.
I ran to the gate and opened it. He ran to the back door. I ran again to let him inside. I told him to sit and then I looked at his paw. One of the pads was almost sliced off. I told him to stay, and I ran to the bathroom to get a towel. Of course, he ran after me. There was blood everywhere on the carpet. I was surprised at how much there was. I decided to deal with that later.
I used the towel to apply pressure to his wound. Then I called the veterinary hospital and talked to the veterinary technician. I asked her if I could bring him in. She told me to come right away. I wrapped the towel around his paw and then wrapped it with something, I can’t remember what, around the towel to keep it in place. I didn’t want dirt or debris to get into his wound. Then I put the harness on him and took him out to my car.
I helped him into the backseat and clipped the tether to his harness. I got into the driver’s seat and started the car. I turned to see how he was doing and saw that the towel was no longer on his paw. And there was blood all over the backseat and floor of the car. Oh well, I’d deal with that later, too.
We arrived at the hospital. I got out of the car and opened the back door. I put the towel back on his paw and we went inside. The technician told me to take Farley into an exam room. Shortly after, the veterinarian came in. He examined Farley’s paw and he told me that the skin of the pad was too thin to stitch back on. It would heal better if he cut it off. He assured me the pad would grow back, and eventually, it did.
He cleaned the wound, cut the skin off that was hanging, and gave Farley an antibiotic injection to prevent infection. Then he told me that I would have to change and dress the wound every day. Of course, this led to a lesson in how to properly dress a wound on a dog.
I took Farley home, with a sense of relief. After we were inside, there was a knock at the door. I looked and saw that it was the next-door neighbour. I opened the door. She asked me if Farley was okay because she saw a lot of blood. A light bulb went off in my brain. She used to knock on the front door every day, asking if Farley could be let in the back yard to play with her dog at the fence between the properties. Eventually, I grew tired of this and said no. I told her he was fine and closed the door.
My suspicion was aroused. I left Farley inside and went out to check the gate on the other side of the garage. Yep, wide open. It was rare for anyone in the house to use that gate. I suspected that the neighbour had opened it to let Farley onto her unfenced property. I put a lock on the gate after that. I didn’t bother to say anything because she was the sort of person who would deny it even if she had done it.
Farley would lie on my bed with me in the evening, while I read or watched television. He stayed until he was ready for bed and then he would usually jump down. I wouldn’t let him jump with his injured paw. At first, he was compliant with my lifting him down onto the floor. As time went by and he was feeling better, he would try to assert his independence. It was a struggle for both of us. And then one night, he quickly jumped down before I could get to him. I checked his paw and it was good. That was when I knew he was healed.
P.S. Hydrogen peroxide takes blood out of carpets and car seats.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
About a year ago, my best friend and I were discussing how we would celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our friendship. We tossed around a few ideas of places to go and things to do. After that, we'd refer to it in conversations, but nothing was decided. Then, the pandemic was declared, which seemed to put the kibosh on that and many other things. I didn't think we'd have an opportunity to celebrate this milestone.
A month ago, I was listening to Dr. Michael Osterholm's weekly podcast about COVID-19. Dr. Osterholm is an epidemiologist with over forty-five years of experience. In the course of my research throughout the pandemic, I came across his name in an online news article. I have since read his book about pandemics, and I listen to all of his weekly podcasts. I find him to be a grounded, down-to-earth, and reliable source of information in this pandemic.
Towards the end of each podcast, Dr. Osterholm answers some questions that people have sent him via email. In this podcast, a woman who asked if it was safe for her to visit her ninety-one-year-old mother, also wanted to know if it was safer to drive or fly. After describing what is known and unknown about the risks during this pandemic, Dr. Osterholm told her to visit her mother now, to not wait. He said to visit her once, twice, three times.
His advice planted a seed in my mind. I did the necessary research and talked to my friend to find out which weekend worked best for her. It turned out to be this past weekend. I booked a room in a motel, close to where she lived. We left our plans open, because who knows what each day brings in a pandemic.
I got there before the check-in time at the motel, so I went to her house first. She, the man in her life, and her eldest daughter were there. They were sitting inside the garage with the door closed, and I chose to sit outside. They joined me and we had a chance to be with each other, without masks, and catch up. My friend's daughter brought her dog, Blue. (That's the two of them in the picture.)
Blue is the first bully breed dog that I've gotten to know. When I was first around him, I was a little nervous because I wasn't familiar with his breed, an American bulldog. Over time, as I got to know him, I realized he was a gentle and respectful being.
It had been almost a year since I'd last seen Blue. He was not doing well then. He was elderly and arthritic. He had a difficult time walking, and just getting around. He moaned a lot because of the pain. Since I'd last seen him, he'd been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his back leg. Removing it would require amputating his leg, and given his age and physical build, he would not fare well on three legs. So, he will live the rest of his life as he is, with pain medication to improve the quality of his life.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was walking well. He was alert and he was happy. His owner had told him the night before that he was going for a walk on the beach. Anyone who has owned a dog knows that if you tell them they are going to do something they love doing, they will not forget or give up reminding you of what you said. He was pestering and pestering.
So, a brief discussion led to our first plans for the weekend, a walk on the beach. It was my friend, her daughter, Blue, and me. I drove myself in my car, and they went in another car. I pulled into the parking lot beside them and turned to see Blue's head sticking out of the rear side window. He was soooooooo excited.
Seeing him this time filled me with joy. He loves going to the beach, so this day was special to him. His owner used to take him there every day, but last year they moved away. Now, he was back to explore his old haunt.
He spent most of his time sniffing things. Now and then, one of us would look back to check on him. Yep, sniffing something else. He sort of, kind of kept up with us, in a slow, meandering, non-interested dog way.
At one point, his owner called him over to her. She was trying to convince him to go near the water with her. He'd finished his olfactory surveillance of the beach and was happy to comply with her wishes. I had the camera open on my cell phone, and took a series of photos of the two of them walking along the water. The one I posted here is my favorite. It shows that Blue has a pep in his step. It was wonderful to see him being playful and enjoying life.
Then we made plans to eat outdoors at a local tavern. After we left the beach, I went back to the motel. My friend and her daughter went into town to check out the tavern. It was over-crowded with too many people. My friend texted to let me know that she didn't feel comfortable going there that night. I agreed with her.
I suggested we stay outdoors, in her backyard, and order pizza. When I got to her place, it was even better than my suggestion. We had pizza and wings. It was a chilly night, so a fire was lit in the pit. After dinner, we sat around the fire. It was nice, like old times. We shared stories and discussed ideas.
The next day, I stayed in the motel room. It was blustery and cold outside. My friend texted and asked if I wanted to meet her and her gentleman friend for dinner at the tavern we had planned to go to the night before. I replied, yes. (I use the term gentleman friend because I don't know another term to describe their relationship. Calling him her boyfriend sounds juvenile at our age. When he talks about her to other people, he calls her his lady friend. So, I'm taking his lead by calling him her gentleman friend.)
They arrived before I did. I found a parking space on the road and walked to the tavern. The outdoor patio was sheltered by two walls, and there was an outdoor heater. My friend asked if I wanted to sit at the end of the table, to be farthest away from them (physically distanced), and I said yes.
The food and the service were great. We had a nice conversation with the server after the bill was paid. And yes, it is possible to be social from a physical distance. I've made a conscious effort to do that with people I know, and strangers, throughout the pandemic.
At one point, I said to my friend, "We probably won't see each other through the winter." And she said, "You could come down again and stay at the motel." I realized that during this pandemic, I keep thinking of things as having an ending. When she said that, I realized that my thinking was limited. Even during the pandemic, things can have a beginning.
Seven and half months into this pandemic, I walked on a beach with my best friend, her daughter, and Blue. My best friend and I were able to spend time together, three times over the weekend. We found a way to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of friendship. It doesn't get much better than that. I am grateful.
P.S. Here's the secret to a half-century friendship: To have a good friend, you have to be a good friend.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
I've been trying to write this story for over a week now. Last weekend was the second anniversary of Toby's death. That's what I wanted to write about. Whatever I wrote felt like I was just skimming the surface of my emotions. It was words without meaning. I didn't feel that I was doing justice to Toby's memory. And then last night, it changed. As I was writing, I remembered something about his death that has stayed in the back of my mind for two years. It came to the forefront, and I saw the importance of it.
Toby had colitis for the last year and a half of his life. He also had degenerative myelopathy during the last three months of his life. The signals from the brain don't make it down the spine to the hind legs. The condition is progressive and leads to paralysis. Toby had reached the final stage of paralysis.
A week before Labour Day, his health had declined. He was lethargic, and I had difficulty lifting him to take him outside. I made an appointment with the veterinary hospital and took him in right away. There was blood in his stool. His red blood cell count was low. His colitis had become ulcerative. His energy was low because he was anemic.
The veterinarian treated him. I took him back in on the Friday before the long weekend. His blood work had improved. The veterinarian treated him again, and I took Toby home, hoping for his recovery.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, my hope went away. I was turning Toby's body from one side to the other to prevent pressure sores, and I noticed that he had no tension in his neck. He had lost all his strength. I knew at that moment he was dying, and I accepted it.
I didn't turn him after that. I let him sleep, and when he was awake, I comforted him as best as I could. He slept for longer and longer periods of time. Over the weekend, his breathing had gradually become more and more labored. His abdomen would expand and contract with each breath. As time went on, his breathing became louder.
At 2:30 the next morning, I was awakened by the sound of his breathing. It had changed. It was louder and faster. I turned the light on and saw that his abdomen was expanding and contracting at a faster rate. This went on for hours, and he was unconscious the whole time.
I was surprised when he woke up. It was an abrupt shift from unconsciousness to being wide awake and alert. It was Toby. We made eye contact and he recognized me. I could see his body relax. I gave him water to drink and then dried him off. He was instantly unconscious again, and within minutes, he was gone.
I hadn't given much thought to his waking until last night when I was writing. I got to see him one more time. I knew he was approaching death and I accepted that he would remain unconscious until the end. His soul came back to consciousness to visit me, one last time before it journeyed home. In those few moments, I was filled with joy that I could connect with the dog I'd known for so long.
I don't know why it happened. We were given the opportunity to be fully present in the moment with each other. He, because he had regained consciousness. Me, because my attention was focused on fulfilling his needs and giving him comfort. For a few brief moments, the veil of death was pulled aside, so we could see each other and say goodbye. It was a special and precious gift. I am grateful.
When I told my students that Toby had died, one of them said, "Death is so ugly." I looked at her and said, "For me, it was beautiful." I didn't understand then why I felt that way. Now I understand.
Love ya, Tobes.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Look at that face. Isn’t he sweet? That’s the look he gives me when I’m eating, or trying to eat, in his grace’s presence. It’s not that he was lacking food. He always had a bowl full of dry food, and he would get a teaspoon of wet food in the morning, and another in the early evening.
When I first started pet-sitting Oscar, he would keep his distance from me when I ate. As time went by, and he became more familiar and comfortable with me, his curiosity and appetite got the better of him. He would come closer and closer to me. Then he started tentatively reaching his paw toward my plate. I would push him away and say, “No.” That worked for a while.
Emboldened by his taste buds, he became more insistent. He was never aggressive or overly pushy about it. He was almost polite in his quest for my food. First, he would come near me and walk around, emitting the occasional meow. Then he would get closer. Eventually, he would sit within paw’s reach of my plate.
I usually had my stuff piled on and around the small kitchen table. There was also a towel on the table that Oscar liked to lay on, so I always ate sitting on the couch. It was the perfect location for feline food filching. Sometimes he was just bold. He would sit on the couch beside me and alternate his stare between the food on my plate and me.
Other times, he was so quiet. Perhaps sneaky is a better description of his behavior. I would watch television or read research articles while eating. He waited until my attention was focused, and then he crept. Truth be told, I have no idea of how he moved toward me. I didn’t see him do it. That was probably the point of his plan.
First, he would respectfully let me know he was present by appearing out of nowhere, to sit or stand on the ottoman. I was fine with that, as long as he didn’t block my view if I was watching the television. Next was his casual walk from the ottoman onto the couch cushion beside me. The ottoman was against the couch, so this was a smooth transition for him.
He would sit or lie near me, watching the movement of the fork from the plate to my mouth. His interest was keen. Sometimes, I’d move the fork around in the air, just to watch his eyes lock on to it like a heat-seeking missile. He was no fool. As soon as he realized it was empty, his gaze would snap back to the food on the plate.
When he thought he’d lulled me into submission with his cuteness, he would tentatively reach a paw toward the plate. I’d move the plate just out of his reach and push his paw away. He would not be deterred. This continued throughout the meal. The insistence of his behavior was dependent on the protein part. If it was meat or shrimp, especially shrimp, he increased and accelerated his attempts to snag a morsel from the plate.
In my forty-one years as a martial artist, Oscar is the only animal I’ve sparred with. His balance was perfect. He was fast, and he used strategy. He put combinations together. Jab, jab, jab, meow (that was his distraction technique), jab. He was a feisty and formidable foe. The worst was when his claws came out and got stuck in the sleeve of the arm I was using to block him with. If he couldn’t extricate them himself, I had to gently do it while keeping the plate of food out of his reach. It’s a wonder I didn’t starve.
One morning, I was eating my breakfast of granola, fruit, and yogurt. Oscar wasn’t putting much effort into food snatching. He seemed more interested in discovering what was in the bowl. My curiosity got the better of me. (I’m born in the year of the tiger in the Chinese horoscope system. Maybe that’s why Oscar likes me so much. He thinks I’m kin.) I saved some of the yogurt at the end of my meal. I moved the bowl towards Oscar. He reached his paw in and mashed it down into the yogurt. Then he pulled it out and started shaking it. I don’t think he expected that consistency. Then he licked his paw and breakfast was done.
I washed up the dishes and packed my bag to go to the university library to do some research. When I got to the library, I opened my laptop and stared at the keyboard for a few seconds. I was trying to figure out what was on the surface. It was a white substance in a weird pattern. And then I realized what it was. I didn’t know that blueberry yogurt turned white when it dried on a black surface, in the shape of cat paw prints.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
Ohhhh.....I love to cook. I love everything about the process. The washing, the cutting, the different textures, the different colors, the scents, and flavors. Butter, and garlic, and seasoning, and herbs. Creating something new, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With music playing in the background, you tap into a rhythm where your movements flow with ease and grace. There’s a harmony of sensory stimulation and physical activity. I find it calming, like meditation in motion.
Cooking with a dog in the vicinity of the kitchen is not a problem. The only thing that can go wrong is if you accidentally drop a piece of food on the floor and they get to it before you do. If they’re well trained, you can give them a verbal command to leave it, giving you the few extra seconds needed to retrieve it from the floor.
On this day, I was cooking while apartment and cat-sitting for my friend. Once again, I am not familiar with the behavior of cats. Dog’s will sit or lie on the floor and wait in the hope that you accidentally drop something. They’re patient and stalwart in this. Cats, not so much. Actually, not at all. So I learned.
I was in the culinary zone. The music was playing. I was humming and dancing while prepping and cooking the food. I planned on cooking the whole bag of shrimp. I would put half into a stir fry, and the other half would go into a pasta dish. I had shelled and rinsed them. I left them in the colander to drain in the sink. I went to the stove to stir garlic into the pan of melted butter. I sauteed the garlic, and the aroma was wonderful. Now, to add the shrimp.
I turned to go to the sink and then paused. There was something different. It took me a moment to process this new visual information. You may remember the song from Sesame Street, ‘One of these things doesn’t belong here’. A cat’s butt and tail in the air on top of the counter, with its face hidden in a shrimp filled colander, is what didn’t belong!
I firmly commanded, “Oscar, you get out of there. Right now!” His head popped up out of the colander, and before I could take a step toward him, he had jumped down from the counter and ran past the island in the middle of the kitchen. I went to the shrimp to see how much damage he’d done. It didn’t look disturbed. Perhaps he had just gotten to it and only sniffed it when I turned around.
Then I turned to look in the direction that Oscar had run to. He stood beside the table, staring at me, with a shrimp hanging out of the side of his mouth. I said, “You are so lucky, mister.” And he was. He’d just scored a shrimp. One for the cat, one less for me.
I turned back to the sink and re-rinsed the shrimp in the colander. I decided to re-rinse and then cook the shrimp to destroy any cat cooties. And besides, as the old saying goes, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” I just googled to find how much a peck is. It’s a dry measure that equals a quarter of a bushel, or eight quarts, or nine liters. So, a couple of cat cooties were now included in my peck.
When my friend came home the next day, I told her about the shrimp incident. She said, “Oh, yes. Oscar loves shrimp. I put a plate on top of the colander until I’m ready to cook the shrimp.”
And there it was, all I needed to know when cooking in the presence of a cat. It was a simple solution to stop the stealing of the shrimp. That's not to say it put an end to the feline's attempts at food filching. I'll write about that in next week's story.
P.S. After I posted this, I learned from my friend that today is Oscar's birthday. Happy birthday, Buddy!!!
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
I've written about Cooper, the Golden Retriever, in my book, and my last blog post. Cooper belongs to my friend who used to live next door to where I worked. Cooper also has a feline family member. His name is Oscar.
Looks can be deceiving. Don't let the cute picture above fool you. He looks sweet, cuddly, and mellow. He can be at times, but not most times. He has personality plus, which is why I grudgingly like him a lot.
I'm not a cat person. (Ssshhh...don't tell Oscar. He thinks I am.) I like them, as I like all living creatures. I don't have much experience with them, and as a result, I don't understand them. Dogs, I get. Cats are a mystery to me.
After Toby died, I would occasionally apartment and pet sit for my friend on weekends. She usually took Cooper with her, so most of the time it was Oscar and me. Once he got used to me and stopped hissing at me when I first arrived, we got along quite well. He started to run to greet me at the door. In this way, he acted more like a dog which endeared him to me.
On this particular weekend, my friend was going away for a girls' weekend. She and some friends were getting together for a camping trip. She hadn't seen some of them for a while, and she was looking forward to their time together. I was looking forward to Cooper staying with me. It was going to be great going for long walks with him. Since Toby had passed away, I missed having a canine companion in my life.
I had packed so that I could go straight from work to the apartment. This meant backing my car up and moving it to the other side of the parking lot. The side door of the apartment was right next to the parking lot. I put all my stuff inside and then fed the boys, Cooper and Oscar. Then Cooper and I went for a nice, long walk.
The next day went well. Coop and I had our morning, afternoon and early evening walks. I'd cooked meals to freeze for my lunches during the workweek. And the rest of the time, I spent researching and writing, with Oscar mostly sleeping beside me on the couch, and Coop sleeping near us on the floor.
In the afternoon, I witnessed an interaction between them that I had never seen before. It was peaceful and quiet, and I happened to look up from my laptop. Cooper was sleeping soundly on the floor between the living room and kitchen. Oscar was poking Cooper's belly with his right front paw. I said, "Oscar, you're being a jerk. Leave him alone."
He slowly turned his head to look at me and stared directly into my eyes for a few seconds. Then he looked back at Cooper and poked him again. Cooper went from being in a deep, sound sleep to jumping up to a fully dazed stance. I could tell by the sleepy look on his face that he wasn't quite with it. He looked around a few times, and then looked at Oscar, who of course was staring at him. It was more like taunting him.
Oscar turned his head to look at me again and stared into my eyes. Then he turned and casually walked into the kitchen with cattitude. I said, "Oscar, I stand corrected. You are the king of the jerks." The little bully was a fraction of the size of the dog. I learned it's true, that cats rule and dogs drool.
At seven o'clock at night, I remembered that I had forgotten to bring some things in from the car. I had them in two shopping bags. I opened the door, came in with a bag in each hand, and saw Oscar running toward the door. He had never done this before. I used my right foot to block him. He paused for a second, crouched down, and jumped. I raised my foot higher to block him, but he sailed over top and out the door.
I was shocked. I didn't know he could jump that high. (I just did a google search and found a National Geographic video, from the Science of Stupid, about cats versus gravity. They can jump six times their height. I wish I'd known about that video before the escape.) I stood there for a second, with my foot in the air and a bag in each hand. Then my brain kicked in. I dropped the bags and ran out the door, yelling, "Oscar, get back here!" A few steps out the door, I had the presence of mind to go back and close the door so the dog didn't get out, too.
I ran to the backyard because that was the direction that Oscar had headed to. I looked everywhere, calling his name. There was no sign of him. He had high-tailed it out of there. No pausing to sniff things, no rolling around on the grass, no coming to me when I called his name. This cat was so not like a dog.
Then I had an idea. I thought that maybe Oscar and Cooper were a bonded pair, so I put the leash on Cooper and took him to the backyard. I was hoping that the sight and scent of him would attract Oscar back to us. Nothing. No sign of the cat. And then my mind flashed back to the king of the jerks incident. They were not a bonded pair. Cooper wasn't even looking for Oscar. He was too busy rolling on his back on the grass.
Finally, I took the dog back into the apartment. He had no interest in my search and rescue mission. He didn't seem to be concerned in the least about Oscar's absence. I had the feeling Cooper was a little relieved and more relaxed. He put himself to bed early and slept soundly through the night.
I didn't know what to do. My friend had told me that in the twelve years she had Oscar, he had only escaped one other time, and that was when she first moved into the apartment. He was gone for a night and came back. I was hoping the same was true this time.
I was beside myself with worry. He was not an outside cat. Could he fend for himself? He had his claws, so he might fare well if he was in a scrap with another cat. I thought about the coyotes I had heard the locals talk about. I hoped he didn't run into them.
I wasn't sure if I should let my friend know then that Oscar had escaped, or wait until the next morning before she came home. I decided to go with the adage, no new is good news. I didn't want to ruin the rest of her weekend with bad news. This way, only one of us had to worry.
And it was a long, worry-filled night. Periodically, I would go to the back yard to see if he was there. After it got dark, I used the flashlight on my cell phone to look for him. Through the night, I kept getting up. I would turn on the outside lights and check at both doors, in the hope that Oscar was there.
I got up at five o'clock in the morning, after a sleepless night. I decided to go outside, in the faint hope that Oscar came back. I closed the door, took a few steps, and stopped dead in my tracks. Mr. Oscar had sauntered around the corner from the back yard, looked at me, meowed, and walked towards the door.
I opened the door, he walked inside, and I closed the door. Then he wouldn't stop meowing, loudly, over and over. He was either annoyed at me for not letting him in at the precise moment he decided to return home, or he was telling me about all of his adventures over the past ten hours. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. I gave him some wet cat food to make him stop talking. After that, he was quite affectionate, and then went to bed.
Thank goodness, the cat came back. My friend thanked me for not telling her the night before. And the dog seemed to have had the best night's sleep of his life. All's well that ends well.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.