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.
Cooper is the ninety-pound Golden Retriever who used to live next door to where I worked. He brought his owner and me together in friendship. He would always look for my car in the morning, when his owner would walk him across the parking lot, to have his morning walk in the park.
The mornings when I arrived early and could see they hadn’t finished their walk, I would wait beside my car for him. When he saw me, he would start pulling on the leash, dragging his owner. She would release the clasp of the leash from his collar. I would squat down to dog level, with my arms outstretched to welcome him.
The first time I did this, I had a moment where I thought, “I wonder if this is a good idea?” Ninety pounds of dog was running directly at me, full speed. Cooper was more stocky and muscular than most Retrievers. He reminded me of a Sherman tank. I braced for the impact. He stopped just as he got to me and gently touched his nose to my face. This became our new morning routine.
I kept a box of treats in the office for Cooper. He would get three treats, broken in half. And as dog owners know, dogs can count. I would give him six pieces of treats. No more, no less. If I tried giving him less, he would stare at my hands until I’d given up the last one.
After the giving of the treats, his owner and I would have a conversation. Cooper didn’t like being ignored during our talk. He would keep nuzzling my legs or hands, trying to get my attention. I found it easiest to squat down and pet him while talking. Then he would bend his head down and move toward me to rest the top of his head against my chest. He would stand like that as long as I let him. I’d never had a dog do that before. It felt like a sign of trust and affection. I’ve never seen him do it with anyone else.
There was a severe ice storm a few winters ago. It covered every surface in a thick layer of ice. It was treacherous to walk anywhere. I wore ice cleats on the bottom of my boots to get from the house, down the driveway to my car. I removed them while driving, and then put them on again to get from my car, across the parking lot to the front door at work.
That morning, Cooper’s owner called and asked if I would take him out during my lunch. With all the ice, he hadn’t been able to stand long enough to squat. She was concerned because he hadn’t been able to relieve himself in the morning and she had to leave for work. I told her I would take him out.
Well, the ice had gone nowhere in the few hours since I’d agreed to take Cooper out. For some reason, I didn’t think to put the ice cleats on my boots. First I took him into the back yard, but his feet kept sliding, so he couldn’t stand long enough to do his business. I tried stomping on the crust of ice covering the snow, in the hopes that I could break through to give him a non-slippery surface to stand on. The ice was too thick for me to break through it.
Next, sans ice cleats, I gingerly walked him across the parking lot to the park. He made a valiant effort, but once again, he couldn’t squat long enough to do anything. His feet kept sliding apart. Also, he fell twice while we were walking. I was concerned because he was a rescue dog and his new veterinarian determined that his one front leg had been broken at some point. I didn’t want him falling and re-breaking it. I decided to take him back home for both our safety.
Cooper must have had a lot of pent up energy. It was as though he couldn’t control his sudden outburst. Without warning, he started running across the parking lot. Ninety pounds of dog, running across an icy parking lot with me attached to him by a leash. Once he started running, I knew he wouldn’t stop and there was nothing I could say or do to make him change his mind.
It was like dog zoomies on ice. I had no traction, so I had no control over his movements or my own. I did the only thing I could think to do, to prevent myself from falling and probably getting injured. I squatted down to lower my center of gravity, relaxed my body, and went along for the ride.
And what a ride it was! At one point, mid-ride, I thought to myself, “This must be what it feels like to wind sail. And I’m doing it on ice!” (Later, this led to a Google search where I learned that wind sailing on ice is a real thing. Hmmm...who knew?)
And then he came to an abrupt stop. I still don’t know how he did that on a slippery surface. Wonders never cease to amaze. I paused for a second, still crouched in my low position. I took stock of our situation and breathed a sigh of relief. We were both safe after our mini-adventure.
Cooper had done us both a favor. His wild run across the ice brought us close to the door of his home. We still had to gingerly walk across icy surfaces to get the door. We did and I took him inside. He still hadn’t done his business. I felt bad for him, but not bad enough to risk taking him out again. When his owner got home from work, she took him out and he was finally able to relieve himself! Yay!
Forgetting to put the ice cleats on turned out to be the best non-decision I’d ever made.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.