City Pets: the Glue of Our Lives and Communities
Instead of creating purebreds with surreal fur coats with little regard for diseases, why not breed pets for longevity: I wish they’d come up with cats as well as dogs who live a longer time. (After all, a California breeder claims to have bred a hypo-allergenic feline.) And serendipity has given us a longer- lived dog. Small mixed breeds live longest—guys, this is a big clue. For example, my raggedy schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle) Rocky 2 lived to be twenty. But, truth be told, I did cook for him.
I’d like to tell you about one 13-year old Maltese I knew who died far too soon at age 13. This is also the story of how a community forms in the big city and remains rock solid.
First the sad part. When “J,” a lordly 13 – year – old Maltese, died of natural causes, his owner “C,” fell apart. She’d rescued him, and she and he are both beloved by her neighbors – including me – one of 50 or so rent -stabilized tenants who’ve lived together for decades. We laughed every time “J” pranced through our lobby like he was the most important resident.
Unfortunately “J” snarled like a pit bull everytime he saw me. It turns out, alas, it was about a war between “J” and my own Maltese, and “J” smelled Tootsie on me even when I wasn’t walking my dog. The only time “J” didn’t growl at me was one afternoon when he was being walked by a dog walker. Puzzled, I asked his owner about it. She explained that her valiant dog was protecting her from me and Tootsie, but didn’t feel the need to protect anyone else. “You’ve no idea how much love he has to give,” “C” whispered over the sound of her dog’s vicious barking at me.
I had a glimmer. I’ve owned several dogs, and my Maltese, (these little gems were bred to be companion dogs) is the best. Tootsie wants only to love me and Joe Weintraub (the man I live with), and to chase pigeons in Central Park.
Thirty of my neighbors sprang into action on the night “J’ passed, crowding into “C’s” apartment to console her. She thanked each one with tears in her eyes and spoke of her companion of 13 years as her protector.
Gentle reader, allow me to share with you a poem I wrote to deal about the death of my cat Butterscotch, the only living creature besides myself who’s enjoyed my singing.
The Muse meows and
The writer runs to me pad-footed.
Was she dreaming
I’m now grown skeletal, long-whiskered,
I extend a long paw,
I brace my back foot against her palm as
She lifts me into the raked litter box.
She swings me out again and
I hunch down
In the hollow of her lap.
She tickles licked gold fur
Between my pads, and I am
In the game still, rolling over her legs,
all surrendering elastic stretch.
I brush my forehead on hers, and she sings our
ancient love song.
My old cat is so many textures
Of smooth and my old cat is better
Than all children of Memory.
She rubs loose flesh under my jaw.
“You’re only old once,” she sings.
I lick her forehead. Please please oh please
Everything depends on you, and
I want to stop dying.