Once again the proud guardian of an asthma inhaler, Daughter and I set off for our morning’s shift at the cat center. After our training video, we were presented with the seemingly unanswerable question:
In which cat building do you want to spend your time? There are over a dozen buildings, most with a specific kind of cat. We could pet and coo older cats, or help care for cats who have a hard time getting around, or we could SPEND TWO HOURS INTERACTING WITH KITTENS!!! KITTENS, WITH THEIR PIPE-CLEANER TAILS AND THEIR DISPROPORTIONATE HEADS AND THEIR IRRATIONAL FEAR OF THAT THING NOBODY ELSE SEES IN THE CORNER!!!
Which was exactly why we didn’t go to kittens. Right before we left, Consort helped me pack the last of the suitcases in the car, stole a Girl Scout cookie from the Road Trip Snack cache, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I don’t expect you to come home without another animal. But, please, try very hard
not to come home with another animal. I spend enough time as it is thinking about quadruped shit.”
Being as the cats seem to take an almost sadistic pleasure in waiting until we sit down to dinner to commit an unspeakable act in the litterbox in the nearby laundry room, and being as my little road trip had made him King of Pet Excrement for the week, I couldn’t actually argue with him. He’s a saint, that Consort. Best to not be exposed to temptation. Daughter and I voted to work at the Casa de Calmar
, a house for cats with feline leukemia. Cats with feline leukemia can live healthy lives and the disease can’t be transmitted to humans, but our cats at home don’t have it and I couldn’t in good conscience bring an infected cat into our house. I could fall in love many times over at Calmar and never once ask the question, “Say, is there an adoption application around here?” I still wasn’t certain, though, how much cat-fur my immune system could stand, even with medical back-up. I prayed there was something I could do where I wouldn’t go into respitory failure. Even though the buildings have both indoor areas and screened porches
(catteries), that might be more than my lungs could take.
“Would you like to walk Moses?”
LESSON SEVEN: Walking is beneficial.
Prayers answered. Some of the cats like to snap on the old harness and leash and go out for a stroll. Mostly, I was told, they stand around outside, mark a bush or two, glare at the wild turkeys who have the audacity to stand mere yards away, gobbling rudely. Not my walking-buddy Mo. We spent the better part of an hour trudging, leaping, pouncing, skittering, cakewalking, and talking our way around the back of the property. This was one of the few moments we weren’t lunging off towards a new adventure:
When we finally took him back in, he was content to head off to a sunny spot in the cattery, and I was giddy; I had been of service and my breathing was still inaudible! What else could I do which was useful and fairly low in allergens?
Daughter went off to brush, pet and generally be an eleven year-old girl around the cats and I washed dishes. Not quite as strange and lovely as a walk in the Utah mountains with a cat, but still useful and the steam kept my bronchi open, which has its own peculiar beauty.
After lunch, we got to work with the dogs. By work, I mean walk. It was an efficient little machine; the kid would be handed a leashed dog, I would be handed a leashed dog, and we'd head towards the hike-path. We'd walk the path, take the dogs back to the building and be handed another two dogs. Best Friends has enough property so that each dog-building has their own hiking path, which means dogs who see each other on the walks know one another a bit and are less likely to act out. This means the dogs--healthy, young, ebullient dogs--know exactly where they are going, heading away from the building as if the path is paved in Snausages. I tried to get a movie of our walk but it's hard to get decent footage when someone about knee-height is concerned you've missed the INCREDIBLE CACTUS TEN FEET IN FRONT OF US PLEASE GET A MOVE ON.
Here's the path. Yes, this part of Utah looks remarkably like someone moved to Mars and did a bit of landscaping.
Daughter and I walked three dogs each, at which point it was time to pick our dog for the sleepover! There are bunnies, cats and dogs who are authorized to go on sleepovers, as long as the place you're staying is so inclined. I had picked our motel for just that reason. Our first pick was Avril,
a gorgeous marshmallow of a dog who had been making seductive eyes at the kid all during our shift and came highly recommended by the employees in that building. The trainer for this building let us hang out with Avril while he pulled her paperwork for the sleepover. Avril was kind enough to me, allowing me to pet her and make a big deal about her spotted tummy, but her heart was clearly taken by Daughter. She inched closer and closer to the girl, finally putting her paw in Daughter's hand:
They stared at each other, delighted. The trainer came back, rubbing his head.
"How old are you?" he asked Daughter.
"Eleven," she said, furrowing her brow. No one ever seems to care about her age until they are going to deny her something.
"I'm sorry, but Avril is only authorized to have sleepovers with children over twelve."
Avril and the kid both stared at him, Avril inching further into her lap.
"It's just that she was taken from a really bad abuse case, which involved a child. She's obviously better, but she still hasn't been officially cleared for younger people."
I braced myself for the sulk we'd all now be enjoying. Instead, Daughter gently slid Avril off her lap, whispered something in her ear, got up and said calmly, "Then let's meet the dogs who can be around me."
We walked out of Averil's pen. I asked her what she had said to Averil.
"I told her I was sorry."
"Sorry for not being able to take her?"
"Yeah. Sorry for all of it."
Avril stood in her outdoor run and watched us go.
LESSON EIGHT: You're never fully ready for houseguests.
We were placed with Poppy,
a lively and bouncy young dog who was incandescently joyful that someone was snapping on her leash and grabbing her overnight bag. Very bouncy, in fact; owing to having had distemper as a puppy, she has neurological damage, which means she spends most of her life as if she's standing on couch-springs. A more polite houseguest I couldn't have asked for: she enjoyed the walk we took; she enjoyed sitting with us watching us eat on the Mexican restaurant patio; she enjoyed the car trip back to the motel.
Ten minutes after arriving at the hotel, she was this relaxed:
And a half-hour after this, she was this relaxed:
It's hard to get a picture of a black dog in shadows, but trust me, she was the embodiment of a curled up, relaxed dog. I had every reason to suspect we'd have a quiet night.
There are several points to Best Friend sleepovers. If you're thinking about getting a pet, you can see if you and the dog are the right fit. You can give an animal a night of undivided attention, which most animals revel in. Or you can give Best Friends valuable information about the animal you have sleeping over. For example, say you've been given a dog with a neurological condition that makes her bounce and the trainer from Best Friends tells you she doesn't do it while she sleeps. After a single night of sharing a bed with her, you could tell the trainer that, in fact, she does twitch while she sleeps. That, in fact, sleeping next to her is like sleeping next to someone with hiccups. Daughter proved that, as an adult, she will be able to rent apartments situated under The El by sleeping soundly the entire night, even with Poppy next to her. I, on the other side of Poppy, enjoyed up to four minutes of sleep at a time. In the morning, I dragged myself up to Best Friends, waved Poppy a numbed farewell, stopped by the main offices and told them we wouldn't be working that morning, headed back down to the room and slept until noon. Daughter told me afterwards that while I slept she watched Sponge Bob Square Pants for three solid hours, which I am going to declare a continuation of our animal adventure.