Posts Tagged ‘True Tales’

I don’t dislike dogs. I enjoy the company of most dogs and I have yet to meet a dog that didn’t like me. I am not fond of small dogs as, in my experience, they tend to be far to prone to barking and whining. I become uncomfortable with their constant shaking. Medium and large-sized dogs are the breeds I prefer, they match my internal bias for what a dog should look like and how a dog should act. I don’t dislike dogs, I just don’t have a desire to add one to my life.

I must have been just entering my teenage years. It was so long ago, age and distance has merged those years of my life together into a single era. There are eighteen years in a childhood but it is impossible to separate my memories of that time into distinct years. I have memories that date all the way back to my daycare days and I find it can be difficult to place those at an age that feels correct. Time and memory can sometimes not connect seamlessly together. I am, however, fairly certain that I had just entered my teenage years when I got my first, on only, dog.

He was a mixed breed dog we had gotten from a neighbour, one of my best friends at the time. His mother was a border collie / blue heeler cross, a medium-sized dog that was fiercely protective of her puppies. She bit me when I went to take what would become my dog from her, the bite was serious enough to draw blood. She was normally a friendly dog but she was not willing to let anyone look at her puppies let alone take them away from her. I would go home with a bloody leg and a new dog.

He was tiny when he came home that first day, about the size of a small cat. He had been well fed and looked like a ball of black and white fuzz with legs, a tail, a nose and a couple of eyes. His feet were white with blackish blue speckles exposing his blue heeler blood, his feet were massive compared to his body. He was destined to be a big dog.

He would dwarf his mother by the time he finished growing. His father had been a scotch collie that had belonged to another of our neighbours. A dog that had never been fixed and was free to roam wherever he wanted, he sired quite a few litters in his day. The only thing my dog inherited from his father was his size, in everything else he took after his mom. He had the size of a scotch collie but the colouring and personality of a border collie.

We learned early in his life just how fast he was. He moved quicker than any of the family could react and seemed to possess and endless supply of energy. As a puppy he would use his speed to get at the cat food as it was put down and before the cats could even get a bite. He earned his name “Flash” as a result.

Flash learned to chase and catch balls and frisbee at an early age. It was almost an innate skill he seemed to pick it up with no effort almost as if he had been born pulling frisbee from the air. The grabbing of flying objects was not only an instinctive response it was also his favourite pastime. He would greet strangers to the property with a frisbee in his mouth, if they threw it for him they were friends and if they didn’t they weren’t to be trusted.

He was a dog of action who tended to be on the move long before he could think about what it was he was doing. One day during an extended family barbecue he ended up getting hit in the mouth with a baseball bat. We had been playing baseball and he attempted to intercept a pitch just as it connected with a swinging bat. He picked himself up, shook his head and prepared to grab the next pitch. We gave up on the game, he was too fast and there was no way to continue without putting his safety at risk.

His reactions were so quick and automatic that he could catch birds in mid-flight. Flash brought me the gift of a grouse at one point. He had been so careful when he caught it that there were no puncture wounds, no crushing from his jaws, not even any ruffled feathers. The bird had died but it was most likely from shock or fear than from any physical injuries. He had a hunter’s instincts.

He was a smart dog although he didn’t always use his intelligence for good. He had hurt one of his front paws on some barbed wire. It had been a pretty serious wound with a lot of blood and a trip to the vet. His paw was bandaged up and he limped around while it healed. He received a lot of attention while he recuperated.

It was this attention that he remembered. After he had recovered he would use the memory to manipulate everyone around him for more attention. He would hold up a paw and limp around whenever he was feeling neglected. The only flaw with his otherwise perfect plan was that he couldn’t remember which paw he had injured. He would switch back and forth between paws, sometimes even in the middle of his current con.

Despite his attempts at trickery he was still this boy’s best friend. We were inseparable from the moment we met. I was what could be called a painfully shy kid, to an extreme. I would have preferred to do just about anything to avoid having to talk to people or, much worse in my mind, to be made the centre of attention. Flash provided an invaluable friendship; I got the companionship and socialization I needed without the awkwardness, embarrassment, and pain that all too often accompanied human interactions.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have or couldn’t make friends, it was just difficult and exhausting to maintain. I had always had an affinity for animals and it was strongest with Flash. We did everything together.

He was an outside dog, his size made it difficult for it to be otherwise. We had an enclosed porch that the large dogs slept in. They had food and water put out for them and dog houses were built so they could sleep on straw and old blankets. It wasn’t heated but was otherwise a rather luxurious shelter. Flash had lived in the house as a puppy and there always seemed to be a part of him that wanted that life back.

Whenever the temperature would drop to a ridiculously frigid level he would get a taste of the indoor life. There were days when the mercury plummeted to the point where no amount of shelter or thick winter fur could keep a dog even remotely close to warm. On these days we brought the outside dogs into the warmth and shelter of the house.

This meant that I would have a couple of guests for a few nights; Flash and Shadow (a small scotch collie youngster who earned his name because everywhere Flash went he followed like a shadow). As I was his boy Flash would claim my bed, a small twin, as his. I would put out a small cot for Shadow to sleep on.

Flash and I would share my twin bed, or at least attempt to. Flash took up at least as much space on the bed as I did, there was essentially two people sharing bed built for one. Flash loved to sleep on the bed, he would jump onto it and stretch himself out on his stomach right down the centre of the bed. I would have to squeeze in between him and the wall or perch myself on the edge of the bed.

He did not make a good bed mate. I could pet him for a bit after we went to bed, but only for a short while. He would let loose a deep, semi-threatening growl when he had had enough and was ready to sleep. It was the same warning he would use anytime I moved or jostled him during the night. Without a doubt the bed was his and he suffered me to share it with him.

The bulk of the time that I wasn’t in school was spent with him. We’d throw around balls or frisbee, he’d run alongside me while I biked around the subdivision, he’d accompany me through the local marshes while I hunted frogs and snakes, and we’d have adventures together. We lived on ten acres of mostly wooded land that was nestled behind a large, government-run wildlife preserve. This provided us plenty of opportunity for adventure.

Flash and Shadow (who was never far from Flash) were fearless companions. Between the back end of our acreage and the wildlife preserve was a wide, deep creek, flooded and swollen thanks to a family of beaver that had made it their home. I used fences or fallen trees to cross over the water since it was far to deep to wade through. I was not a strong swimmer and I doubt I would have enjoyed swimming through the disgusting smelling water anyway, so makeshift bridges were the order of the day. The dogs didn’t have this concern they just swam across from one side to the other, even in the dead of winter. The water almost never froze over enough to support their weight. Flash’s loyalty and devotion were so great that he wouldn’t allow something as minor as a dip in freezing water to separate him from me.

Flash took his canine companion duties seriously. He was as faithful a companion as any boy could have asked for and staunchly overprotective. Throwing his body into danger to keep me out of it was as natural as breathing to him. He would be overzealous in carrying out his duties, there was one time he jumped between me and a neighbour, growling and snarling with such ferocity that the neighbour chose to flee rather than risk an attack by the big dog. This boy was someone that Flash saw just about everyday, his only crime was an attempt to dunk me with water from a bucket, an action I had already perpetrated on him.

The protective feelings were mutual.

One of the many children that we fostered over the years decided one day that he was going to take his anger out on me. This was not an unusual occurrence, I had learned from experience to just accept it as defending myself would just get me into trouble. It was better to put up with the bullying than to stand up for myself and wind up with a punishment in addition to the bullying. This time the bully had made the mistake of pushing me in front of Flash. The dog moved faster than either of us could react, there was no warning given, he was on the boy’s back snarling and growling as his front paws grabbed his opponent. To his credit he restrained himself from biting the other boy.

The boy turned to defend himself from the dog, his fist lashed out at Flash’s head. I saw red and threw myself at my bully. My fists connected and the boy cried for help as Flash and I fought with him. We fought well as a team, neither one of us getting in the other’s way. We were pulled off the boy, fairly quickly, I remember in my rage that all I could think was that nobody hit my dog.

Nobody.

I still rage when I think about it.

He lived to be about fourteen, maybe fifteen. He stayed with my mother as I attempted to start my adult life. They had moved from the acreage to a home in the city. Anytime I went by for a visit it was like we had never parted. He would find a frisbee, he always seemed to have an unlimited supply, and I would throw it for him. Even as old age ravaged his body he would still bring me a frisbee, in his mind it was what I enjoyed and he wanted nothing more than to make me happy. He could barely walk at the end so I would place the frisbee in his mouth and he would hand it back to me. That was how we played our game near the end of his life and they were some of the best games of fetch we ever played.

I still feel guilty over not making more time to visit him as he aged. I regret that I was not there to see him off as he left this world.

For years I kept his collar in my pocket everywhere I went. Having his collar with me allowed me to keep his presence close to me, as if we hadn’t parted company. His last canine companion would cry every time I’d visit, she could smell the collar in my pocket but couldn’t find him. Her presence had extended his life and together we would mourn him all over again.

Since I met Flash I had had the most perfect dog. I have never felt the need to replace him, it would feel wrong as no other dog would ever match him.

A Secret Learned

Days pass quickly when you’re trapped in a job you hate. Before I knew it October had run its course, November had left and I was smack-dab into December. We had gone through a lot of excitement in those two months.

Prior to adopting Panther I had had the unfortunate luck of having to go through a bed bug infestation, a few to be accurate but like most things in life the first time is the worst one. The first indication that these pests were in the building was a notice that they were going to spray the apartment in a couple weeks. There were no sign of bugs that I could see but I dutifully followed the directions they provided to prepare for the spraying. Less than a week before the spray date the apartment was crawling with bed bugs. One day I was bug free and the next I was living with a nation of them.

Part of the instructions for successfully combating a bed bug infestation is to not change your sleeping habits. Particularly important is not to change where you sleep. Which meant that I had to spend three or four nights sharing my bed with a few hundred tiny ladies whose entire reason for existing was to steal my blood. But if I moved from the bed they might shift their location and escape the pesticide. It is, by far, the hardest part of dealing with bed bugs.

After that first time it seemed as if those little vampires were attempting to move in every couple of months. It felt like there was a period of nearly constant spraying as they fought to evict these insect freeloaders from the apartment complex. It was a fight they didn’t seem to be winning. All of my possessions were boxed and stored in the middle of the dining room as per their instructions. I had been packing and unpacking so often due to the treatments that I just stopped putting anything back, it was just easier to leave everything packed where they were.

The bugs eventually stopped coming back, at least for a time. It would take months before I could relax enough to start returning things to where they belonged. It would never be complete, it always sat in the back of my mind that the bugs would return. They did.

The pesticides they use to fight bed bugs does not quite agree with those of the feline persuasion, it is, in fact, fatal. So after I discovered a pair of the bugs and, with great difficulty, managed to get a spray date set I found myself suddenly needing a place to hole up with the cat for a few days.

I had just the place in mind. A friend of mine had a sweet house geared up for cats, she would house-sit her parents’ cats once in a while and kept some feline amusements there at all times. It was a two floor house with a basement, lots of space, and large windows. A nice place for a cat to play in. A quick text got the okay for Panther and I to crash there for a few days.

The day arrived for our short vacation from the apartment. The treatment wasn’t until the next day but I wasn’t about to let Panther be alone in a strange place so we were both leaving that afternoon for my friend’s place. I spent the morning moving things into the kitchen and away from the walls. I wasn’t sure it was necessary but I pulled everything away from the wall in Panther’s room as well.

He wasn’t dealing very well with the morning activity. The changes I was making to his environment had shot his anxiety through the roof. I decided to let him roam free until the last minute, he hated being in his carrier and I couldn’t see a point in making his day any worse than it had to be.

I could understand what he was feeling. My own anxiety levels were off the charts. I don’t really like to have people in my apartment when I am home, I can’t even deal with the idea of people being in my apartment when I am not there. I can’t focus on anything else, I have difficulty breathing, my hands shake uncontrollably, I just become a mess. I had no desire to put Panther through that stress so I allowed him the freedom to roam as I prepared the apartment.

He was nowhere to be found when I finished moving everything. I had just received a text that my ride was on the way so it was now time to package the cat up for travel. I checked above the cupboards in the kitchen where he liked to go when the vacuum was running but he wasn’t there.

Panther. Where are you, buddy?”

He normally came when called. He tended to show me that much courtesy, but not today it seemed. I wandered to the bathroom to check the tub, he would sometimes curl up there to sleep off warm afternoons. I pushed the curtains aside and was rewarded with an empty tub.

Where are you hiding, Panther?” I wondered aloud as I checked under the bathroom sink. Perhaps he had gone into his room, he liked to sleep on top of the boxes I kept in there. It was worth a quick look.

There was no cat to be seen on top of the boxes I had pulled away from the wall. No cat behind the boxes. No cat anywhere I could see.

There was a large hole in the wall that was shared with the bathroom.

A big, dark, gaping hole that caused my heartbeat to quicken.

This hole was the access hatch to the water pipes that fed the shower and bath tub. The panel must have been held closed by the boxes that had been in front of it. It must have opened while I was in another room. I could see all the pipes running up and down through the wall but I couldn’t tell if there was room for a cat to slip through.

A closer inspection revealed just how little luck I had, there was enough space between the pipes for a cat of Panther’s size to squeeze through. More important was the alcove that I could make out just beneath the tub that looked large enough to comfortably fit me. I was filled with dread and despair at the two eyes that reflected the light from my cell phone back at me. It had taken no time for Panther to find this hole and get himself into the space beneath the tub.

Panther,” I tried to keep the panic from my voice, “time to come out.”

It was hard to judge if he could make it back through all the pipes but it was worth the attempt to try to coax him out. I couldn’t get my arm far enough in to pull him out. For his part Panther seemed to be enjoying this newly found cave.

I shook a bag of Temptations at the open hole. This sound would normally bring him running but today he just lay down and looked up at me. I offered a whiff of catnip, perhaps the scent would entice him. He just lay down in that hole content to wait me out.

Feeling even more desperate and on the verge of a panic attack I decided to make a phone call to the building’s emergency line.

This line is only for emergencies,” they told me, “you need to contact the building manager.”

Hot water faucet in the bath tub won’t shut off… not an emergency. Cat trapped under bath tub… not an emergency. Just what was an emergency to these people?

The building manager responded lightening fast to my call. This was the first and only time she would ever respond to one of my infrequent requests in less than a week. It was within fifteen minutes that she showed up with a maintenance man and all three of us were surrounding the open hatch. The maintenance man shone a flashlight in the hole to verify the cat’s existence (because I was obviously the type to make this type of thing up) and then they were on the move. They were going to pull down the ceiling in my downstairs neighbour’s bathroom to get to the cat.

I heard a polite meow beside me as I shut the apartment door behind them. At my feet was a very calm, slightly dusty, Panther. He had decided that he wanted to play with the beam of the flashlight and had followed it out of the crawlspace.

I grabbed him, kissed him on his head, and put him in his carrier. I managed to get downstairs in time to stop them from ripping apart my neighbours bathroom and then generously applied duct tape to seal the hatch. That done, we were on our way to my friend’s home for a few days.

The drive down there went about as well as could be expected. Panther voiced his discomfort and disgust at the situation throughout the entire journey. He changed his tune the moment he was released from his carrier into our temporary home.

The majority of the cat related items were in the basement, the litter box in particular. I brought him down and released him from the carrier. I needed to prepare the litter box and figured he could explore while I did. The basement was at least as big as our apartment so he had plenty of space to enjoy. It was a single room with a fridge, a scratching post, a table, some boxes, stairs, and various other items scattered about. There was plenty to keep him occupied while I set up his bathroom.

By the time I was finished he was gone.

It was an unfinished basement so there wasn’t too many places he could have disappeared into. I checked under the stairs and in the boxes, both those areas were clear. I could hear his meows so I was certain he was close by. As it turned out he had managed to get himself into the beams of the ceiling and couldn’t get himself down.

Maybe you don’t need to explore every hole,” I offered as I grabbed a chair so I could reach him. He purred musically as I pulled him free of the beams.

He spent the rest of the evening exploring the house. He particularly enjoyed using the stairs, racing up and down continuously throughout the night. He slept with me on the couch and spent the next day in the basement while I was at work. I only had to work the one day and then we were alone for a couple days before we would return home.

One of the more amazing aspects of Panther’s personality is how quick he adapts to changes in his environment. Like most cats he doesn’t like change but unlike other cats I have known he settled into his new environments with surprising ease. I was more uncomfortable with our circumstances than he was and it was a relief for me to be going home, he didn’t feel the same way. From a cat point of view the house with the stairs, large beds, and numerous surfaces to climb onto was a portrait of luxury. Like all cats he accepted that luxury as a birthright and was unhappy to be leaving it behind.

There were three treatment dates spread over about a month which allowed him to visit his paradise one more time. My friend was home during the second visit and Panther spent the day with her while I was at work. The reports I got from that day involve him happily joining her for a nap and, not quite so happily, respecting her requests to get off her counter tops. He was a perfectly charming house guest.

Sometime between the first and second treatments I learned a valuable secret kept by my feline roommate. It happened one morning that I was a little slower getting out the door than normal. Panther had been closed up into his room while I was temporarily flummoxed about which jacket I should wear, this choice delayed my exit by a minute or two. A flash of black burst out the door as I opened it to leave. Panther had somehow escaped from his room!

I had thought my roommate had figured out a system that allowed him to exit the apartment while Panther was loose. What was actually happening was that Panther had figured out that if he pressed his weight against the centre of the folding door it would open and he would be released from his cell. He had figured it out the first day I had closed him in the room, it had taken me considerably longer to figure it out.

It was also during this time that I accepted what would be my first promotion. I hated the job but I am something of a responsibility junkie so when they offered me the promotion I couldn’t refuse. The raise that came with it was essentially nonexistent and the included potential for a bonus was little more than a joke. The tiny increase in money didn’t come close to covering the increase in work load and daily abuse.

We settled on trading some treats for my freedom to leave. Most mornings I had to hold him in my arms, exit the apartment, and slip him back into our home while I closed the door.

We headed into Christmas having made some adjustments to our lives.

Panther, True Tales VI

Posted: March 27, 2017 in Panther, True Tales
Tags: ,

A Familiar Routine

We followed our usual routine of waking up the next morning, if you consider three AM to be morning. Not that I am complaining, I disliked a lot about my job but having the same schedule every day was one of the few positives it had. There is something peaceful about the world at that time of day, the journey between bed and work was often the best part of my day.

Until Panther entered my world, that is. All of the best parts of my days revolved around my new feline roommate. Whether it was the morning ritual of chin rubs and licks peppered by his musical purrs or the return home ritual of chin rubs and licks accompanied by some sing-song purring my heart and mind always dreamed of us being together. When we were apart I was constantly distracted by thoughts of him; I worried about his day, I wondered if he had enough to keep him from becoming bored.

Not that everything was perfect between us.

I hated having to close him up in his tiny room before I left for work in the morning but the idea of chasing him through the building’s hallways was not appealing. In the short time he had been with me he had made an attempt to bolt out the front door every single time it had been opened. He was determined to have access to the corridor and obsessed with getting beyond every closed door he encountered. Which meant he had to be closed up so I could make it out to my cab and pay our rent.

I knew my human roommate would allow him out for a bit prior to going to work so the cat wouldn’t be completely cut off from the bulk of the apartment. Still, a perfect world would have him free to roam the apartment when he was home alone. We don’t live in a perfect world but it was my intention to get our apartment as close to the perfect ideal as possible.

The work day dragged on, I wanted to be home with Panther and not at work slaving away for the benefit of a heartless corporation and uncaring customers. My job was primarily to unpack poorly stacked skids of pet supplies to fill our chronically empty shelves. These shelves were empty because we were only ever sent product that didn’t sell and only rarely the product customers wanted. To the customers and head office this was always the fault of the early morning stockers and not the distribution division. By the time my shift was over I was always relieved to go home.

I was tired and distracted when I arrived at my apartment building. My day had been spent worrying about my newest roommate and cataloguing my options for the future. I had been doing the pet supply thing for around three months at this point and I had still not managed to attach myself to the job. I am the type of man who feels very much that what I do is important to who I am. My identity is not defined by my job but being passionate about what I do is important to my well being. I didn’t have that where I currently worked and it seemed unlikely that it would ever develop.

The first indication I received about where I was was the black streak that exploded out of the apartment as I opened the door. My roommate had left Panther out again, I was really going to have to ask my roommate how he was managing to exit the apartment while the cat was running free.

The fire doors at both ends of the hall were, thankfully, closed which kept Panther contained and reduced the potential for his escape. I just needed to scoop him up and carry him back to our home. Easier said than done.

Panther had escaped from his prison and was determined not to go back. Back and forth he ran, expertly dodging my attempts to grab him as he bounced between doors. He seemed intent on catching one of the doors open but luck didn’t seem to want to favour him. Sure he had managed to escape through the cell door but he was still trapped in the prison building and the guard was right behind him. It was a valiant attempt to regain his freedom but ultimately it would not succeed.

After a handful of failed attempts I managed to scoop the wily black cat up into my arms. I held him close and stroked his back with one hand, my heart was pumping from the chase and the fear of losing him.

That was a poor choice, buddy,” I whispered to him.

I kissed the top of his head to take some of the sting out of my words. He offered purrs, chin rubs and licks as an apology. All was forgiven and peace achieved between man and cat as we returned to our shared home.

We settled on a routine for us on my return home from work early on in our relationship. He would attempt to escape when I opened the door and I would snatch him up and hold him as we greeted each other with pats and kisses. I would then give him a small can of wet food, Fancy Feast was his preference, that he would obsessively devour. There would be about half an hour of chasing the bat symbol up and down the walls, far too short a period for Panther but more than long enough for me. There would be some bird or squirrel watching and cuddling together at the window and then we’d separate and do our own thing. There would be some getting together for treats and cuddles but mostly we’d do our own thing until bedtime where he’d curl up at my feet to sleep until morning.

A second escape attempt would be made when our roommate returned from work. This normally took place around ten PM just as I was drifting off to sleep. I tried to keep an eye and an ear on the door as I waited on the couch. I would watch him for any sign of excitement, he seemed to know long before I did when my roommate was in the building. As soon as he ran to the door I would grab him, if I was home he would never make it out the door.

He had his own process with his other human roommate. Panther would sit all prim and proper at the entrance to the kitchen. He would sit patiently watching our roommate prepare dinner and quietly keep him company. When my roommate was finished in the kitchen he’d reach down and briefly tussle the top of Panther’s head with his fingers. The cat seemed to love it, he’d push his head up against the fingers with what seemed like a massive grin on his face. They would part ways after that, the human would go to his room while the feline would settle in for the night at my feet. We would drift off to sleep and awake together to relive the cycle all over again the next day.