Frequently, long enough after sunset that quiet has descended in Grant Park, a man passes by our house with two dogs. One is a small mutt who pulls the man forward with his leash. The other is a gigantic Great Dane who lumbers behind them, off-leash, inspecting trash containers and sometimes turning his gaze to me. In that moment, I just presume he’s going to gallop toward me, knock me down, and eat my luscious throat. So far, he hasn’t.
But it’s true that dogs kind of scare me. Years ago, without warning, a client brought his very gayly groomed Labradoodle to his session. He was adorable and well-behaved, but I kept watching his lips move as he bared his teeth. I thanked the client afterward for teaching me how confrontive I can be, because I stifled some feedback, fearing the Adorable Beast might snarl and snap off a few of my fingers.
I have been thinking about this because my brother recently told me how much he enjoyed hearing and retelling the story about me and Rags all his life. Who? “Your first dog – Rags, the Airedale.” I told him I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that I was given the dog with the agreement that I would take responsibility for feeding him. The story goes that a week went by before I remembered to feed him. My mother, he claims, told me not to worry about it because my indifference had already prompted her to give Rags to another family. I literally have no recollection of this, but I would have been six at the most. I managed to get another dog, a beagle (named Snoopy, of course) five or six years later. Snoopy bonded with my brother, and it was nearly a week after my mother gave him away because we were moving to another city before I noticed his absence.
I had a high-energy, ungroomed toy poodle, Muppet, while I was married. I also had an indoor aviarium with more than 12 parrots that delighted in barking at Muppet and making the sound of a vacuum cleaner when my clean-freak wife walked into the room. After we divorced, I gave away Muppet and most of the birds, keeping one: Jade, a loquacious blue-fronted Amazon whose grave I recently visited on St. Charles Avenue in Virginia-Highland. He loved to lick my toes and the toes of my one-nighters when I left them alone in bed. Yes, Jade was a shrimping cheater.
I had two more dogs – a wire-haired dachshund named Czara and a golden retriever named Flannery. Czara won the ugliest dog contest in Houston. A friend entered her in the contest, and I declined her crown. She was so obese that her hind legs became paralyzed and my partner, who kept her after our break-up, put her on some wheeled device and showed her off in Piedmont Park while he cruised the bathrooms and trails. Flannery was sweet, but I simply did not have the time to take her on runs when I moved from Houston back to Atlanta for a second term of editing Creative Loafing. She was in the habit of swallowing my socks and then halfway pooping them out. I had to pull them the rest of the way out. Sockless friends adopted her.
But cats! I got my first cat, Chester, when I was about 30. My mother despised all animals, but cats were the worst. She convinced me that I was allergic to them, but my partner talked me into checking out the Atlanta Humane Society. I was walking by a cage and a rather chubby adult tuxedo cat stuck out his paw and waved at me. We spent a few minutes together and he came home with us. Friends called Chester “a dog in a cat suit” because he was so incredibly friendly. My editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explained to people that “Chester and Cliff get along so well because neither of them can control their appetites.” Whatever. Chester did in fact develop diabetes, and I landed in AA. I gave him shots, and he gave me the love I needed to get through the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. After about 10 years together, Chester died on the same day two close friends of mine did.
I’ve never been without a cat (or two… or four) since Chester. Most have shown up at the back door begging for food and flea treatment. While I get that dogs are affectionate beings, cats seem exquisitely attuned to human emotional needs despite their constant representation as narcissistic pranksters. One cat, Nubs, left his home across the alley behind our house to move in with us. He was near the end of his life, but he saved my life. I was in a very dark period, and he appeared to truly have some kind of emotional sensor that led him to massage my heart whenever I felt especially bereft. He died after a few years.
Another cat Quiz showed up during COVID-19 lockdown, and she is in many ways a reincarnation of Chester and Nubs. She is absolutely the most affectionate creature alive. She is, according to her second owner, almost 24 at this point. Her rear legs are about useless, and she lives on a table in our sunroom. I created a stairway she can manage, but I think senility is setting in. When she’s not asleep, she howls a lot. I gave up trying to administer any pain medication besides cuddling. I know what’s ahead.
Really, I’m not a dog hater. I’ve never been bitten by one, but God knows plenty of cats have left tooth and claw marks on me. I just like the way they purr and use my flesh for biscuit making. You should get one. If not, get a damn leash for your Great Dane.
Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a former psychotherapist who now offers life coaching to clients in search of creative solutions rather than diagnostic categorization; cliffbostock.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.