Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fur Kids

Growing up the closest thing I was allowed to have as a pet was a fish.  Now, not to rile the fish lovers out there, I, too, love fish but I have a harder time counting them as pets.  Yes, they must be fed and their environment prettified and cleaned, but that about covers the bases of their needed care.  Leaves little to be desired in the cuddle department, is what I'm saying, and darn it if I don't want pets that can be cuddled!

I believe the combination of my incredible love of nearly all members of the animal kingdom and the inability to own a furry creature of my own helped direct me towards my veterinary technician degree.  Mid-way through my 2-year program I scored an externship at Pender Veterinary Clinic.  If you haven't heard of Pender it's a pretty substantial place, full of lots of doctors and techs and a bazillion appointments per day.  It's busy.

One day one of the vets came back to the treatment room with the most beautiful cat I'd ever seen, I was drawn to her.  I drifted over to hold her while the vet tried to determine a course of action.  The reason for this stunning feline's visit?  The man who brought her in stated it was his ex-wife's cat and it was peeing on his 2-year-old's blanket.  While that might have been true I think her obvious lack of welcome-ness at living trapped in a back bedroom, away from the other house cats that she did not get along with, may have contributed to her displays of displeasure.  This man had not had such considerations, however, and wanted to put her down.

Did I mention Pender is busy?  The vet who was treating Fen (the cat's given name) spoke briefly with the head receptionist about getting her into the clinic's kitten adoption program.  As Fen was 1) overweight 2) peeing inappropriately and 3) not a kitten, the receptionist confirmed the adoption program would not be in her future.  It may have been my immediate magnetic attraction to Fen that colored my perspective, but it looked to me like the vet might have been starting to lean towards the man's wishes to put her down.  My heart shattered and I spoke up, at least three times (each with increasing volume) that I would take the cat and foster her myself.  An impressive offering considering I was still living with my sister in her no-pets-allowed home for another month.  I asked the owner if he could keep Fen for just a few more weeks so I could take her when I moved into my own place.

Right on schedule a month later I met him in the Pender parking lot where he all but thew the cat carrier into my car and sprayed gravel several feet high as he peeled out.  I looked at Fen and took her home wondering how on earth I'd begin trying to find her a forever place to stay.  Turns out that was the easy part.  She and I quickly fell head over heels in love and I realized I was at a position I my life where I didn't need anyone's permission to decide to keep her for myself.  Not long after we booted the F in her name and she became my Zen, in most senses of the word.

Zen was the beginning of a line of animals that would come and go from my life over the next few years.  Turns out I seemed to be good at fostering pets and became a transition for a lot of great animals.  The strangest thing, though, was how each time one came to me it was like they entered a vortex to crazy town!  Wherever I lived the animals I housed displayed quirks and behaviors that baffled me to no end.  Still, I loved all of my fur children, no matter how off the wall their crazy was.  Below are the ones who left the biggest paw prints:

Zen (female muted calico/Siamese mix, age: over 10, not completely sure)

Zen was free fed before she came to me and it was obvious.  Our first change was to establish feeding times, she got breakfast and dinner.  The morning she started crying and clawing at my door for breakfast at 4:30 in the morning, however, was the morning she scored herself dinner only.  She licks plastic hours before her dinner time as an indication that she's hungry because she knows it drives me absolutely insane.  She licks my thumbs and uses them to wash her face and curls up in a little fur ball right next to my ribs at night to sleep.  She'll spend hours napping in my lap but before she settles she walks around in tiny circles, all four of her tiny paws kneeding phantom biscuits right next to each other until my muscles are tender.  She purrs so loud I can feel it and even her meows can't interrupt them.  She issues forth mournful, pleading, skin chilling cries in the middle of the night that sound otherworldly and beyond creepy to announce she has found a slipper or sock and will carry it through the house to some unknown location where we will spend the majority of the next day searching for it.  She is special but she is my first baby.

Berko and Luna (male grey cockatiel, female pearl cockatiel, age: unknown)

I have no idea what possessed me to get birds other than I love birds.  Honestly, I don't even remember how I got Berko but I found Luna at a pet expo as a companion for him.  This proved to be my most brilliant and fatal plan.  Berko lost all interest in me but became Luna's champion.  Luna would perch at the top of the cage and any time I came by to chat with her Berko would run, hissing, from wherever he was in the cage to her defense.  The problem was in an effort to get between her and the "threat" he would inevitably end up shoving her off her perch to land in a heap on the cage bottom.  Luna got pretty familiar with the cage bottom on her own as she would like to hang upside down from her perch, wings spread wide and head swaying back and forth.  I don't know if she would get dizzy or just not have a good enough grip but she'd always end up in the same place.  She was very blonde (I'm allowed to say that, I was once blonde, too.).

Spud (male miniature pincher, age: 2 years; deceased, 5 lbs full grown)

The last clinic I worked at was in a strip shopping center and shared an internal wall with a pet store.  Because Fate can find torture amusing we treated all of their new puppies.  I managed to resist the wide-eyed charm of an incredible number of adorable creatures that I just wanted to gobble up.  Accomplishment!  Until one night I was taking out our trash at the exact time a new batch of puppies was coming off the truck next door.  The owner of the pet store stepped off the truck with a furry potato in his hand and I knew the little fella was meant for me.  I thought about it overnight and next day took home my new little man.  Spud was 1.6 lbs when I got him and fit in the palm of my hand.  He looked like a land strider from Star Wars.  He learned to fight from Zen, who ultimately wanted nothing to do with him, and therefore seemed to think he was a cat.  I fastened little black felt bat wings to his kitten harness when he outgrew the ferret sized one I started him in.  While itty bitty in size he was gargantuan in personality.  One time on a walk around the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms he ran right up to the mouth of the biggest bull mastiff I have ever seen.  That dog could have swallowed Spud like one might accidentally swallow a gnat but I think he knew Spud would make him regret it.  When he wasn't causing mayhem he would shimmy me like a monkey in a tree and settle for a nap in the crook between my neck and office chair.  Spud passed away suddenly when he was 2 years old on the one night I didn't come straight home after work.  I wasn't there and didn't get to say goodbye but I hope he knows how much I loved him and how much I miss him still.

Thayer (male, silver tabby-ish, age: roughly 4-5)

After Spud passed I thought Zen needed a friend, which is an incredibly funny thing to think.  If you know Zen you know she wishes she was an only child.  A friend of mine was sharing his adventures in searching for a cat at various shelters and rescue groups and out of some crazed curiosity I decided to check our local offerings.  There on a rescue website, full of special-need cats I knew I couldn't help, was a massive pair of leaf-green eyes staring up at me from the front of a cage.  They called him Thayer and was only a couple months old at the time and I was certain he was already spoken for (kittens get adopted so fast) but thought I would ask about him anyway.  I was shocked to find out I was the first to inquire and without a second thought said I couldn't wait to meet him and give him his forever home.  I arranged a meeting with his foster mom and we hit it off.  He was precious and "carried" (really tripped) over this gangly bright green stuffed monkey that was bigger than he was.  Thayer was too young to take with me yet but I signed all the paperwork and waited anxiously for him to grow a little bit more.  We now call him Monkey (short for Monkey Face), or Monks, much more often than we do Thayer.  He doesn't know he's a cat.  He steals the dog food and latches onto Kenya's face like an alien face-hugger.  Don't judge, they are in love.  He has almost zero sense of balance, falls over when standing still, runs into things like walls with his face and can jump like no other yet always manages to look surprised by his success.  One of our greatest entertainments is watching him collapse on the ground and attack himself on his back end, bite his hind feet and rabbit kick himself in the face.  Twice he has attacked himself so hard he screamed.  When he isn't being completely mental he sleeps in my lap and follows me around more than the dogs.

Teva (female, black lab, age: around 7-9-ish)

Clif and I hadn't been dating long when he told me he wanted a dog.  His desire for a yellow lab became the hunt for a black lab and before I knew it we were pouring through websites trying to find a perfect fit to our dynamic.  It would be his dog but since I was hoping for a long term relationship I wanted the chance to have a little input in the decision.  We found a listing that sounded perfect and ended up meeting Ms. Tootsie and her foster dad half way between DC and Richmond in a restaurant parking lot.  It was pretty much love at first sight so we transferred her meager belongings to our car and took her home.  The details are fuzzy but I'm pretty sure I had to work that day which meant I was absent for those first crucial bonding hours.  There were several weeks that I resented Teva (Ms. Tootsie had to go) and I'm sure she resented me.  I am convinced she viewed Clif as her mate and me as competition.  This broke my heart as all I wanted was to love and bond with her and she was not having it.  It took time but eventually we settled in.  She is our emo girl, inclined to sit in a corner and watch the world go by from under her eyebrows.  Just about the only time I can actually get her to come to me is if I'm holding cotton balls, she loves it when I clean her ears.  She is sweet and gentle, unless you are feeding her a treat, then make sure you check all your fingers are in tact.  She is a great cuddle buddy and my heart lifts when we let her off leash to run free on our trips to the country.  Her doggy smile is beyond infectious.

Kenya (female, German Shepard/Catahoula Hound mix, age: 4-5-ish)

Kenya was supposed to be a miniature pincher for me.  I came home one day to find Clif exploring listings of dogs up for adoption and asked him what on earth he was thinking.  He said he wanted to surprise me with another min pin, which at first I thought was crazy but Spud had been so great and I was so caught off guard I went along with the idea.  None of the pins that were available looked right for us so when asked what other breeds I like I said Rhodesian Ridgeback.  This somehow managed to lead us to Kenya's listing and let me tell you, Rhodesian she is not.  Before I could fully process what was happening we had an appointment to meet her.  The entire time we were there I kept trying to find a way to say I didn't want a second dog, especially another big dog, and why hadn't we really sat down to discuss this?  Clif loved her but all I could do was nod/shrug in confusion.  We left the foster home with a date for Kenya to come home.  For a week at least she would not. Sit. Still.  She was restless and wandering and I couldn't get her to just calm the heck down!  I am all about the chill, low maintenance animals and she was not fitting the bill.  I figured since she was supposed to be "my" dog I could decide that I didn't want her.  For 6 months I tried to find a new home for her until Clif told (yelled at) me in no uncertain terms that we were keeping the dog.  This is not a decision I was happy with at first but over time she settled.  Her desire to do anything and everything to please us at first was cumbersome and led to chaos, eventually it made her incredibly trainable and well-behaved.  She is the friendliest, most loving, most beautiful dog I've known and I can't wait to climb in bed at night and tell her "ok" so she'll leap up next to me and snuggle down along side me with her head resting on my shoulder.  She is so potently gassy she can clear a room in seconds.  She is sassy and sweet and wants so desperately to please, which she does ever so well.  At first I couldn't imagine life with her, now I can't imagine it without.

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