Much as I hate to be chasing the bumper of a fast moving band wagon, two recent articles by writers of extraordinary ability have forced pen to doggy paw, in an under-qualified, smallest dog on the block imitation, rather than emulation, of their superlative-silencing awe.
You once wouldn't have seen me writing perhaps more than a sentence on the topic of dogs, and that sentence would have probably been in tone indifferent and somewhat aloof. But a funny thing happened when I entered the spiritual life—I turned from a "cat person" to a "dog person" with devotion.
I knew a person once who insisted that you could divide all people into these two categories—wearers of either canine or feline coloured fur. This person was most definitely of the dog persuasion, and took some satisfaction in pronouncing, after I declared my like of cats, and with something of a knowing smirk, that yes, they had deduced that already. They just missed a flying claw...
It is surprising how the practise of meditation can so radically transform your personality, or perhaps more accurately in my particular case, balance it. It is not that liking cats, or even being like one is necessarily bad, but more so than cats, dogs symbolise much that is spiritually beneficial, and their doggy qualities of obedience, devotion, loyalty and sheer feline-chasing enthusiasm I have in recent years downed greedily, one bowl at a time. In fact my first inclination upon seeing a cat, and especially the skulking, timid, hiding beneath cars kind, is to pursue it with a howl and glee.
Here then is selection of short personal anecdotes about dogs and cats, perhaps not enough for nine lives, but certainly enough for one.
Running in the Rain
A recent running partner during a typical Auckland torrential downpour, a dog in character if ever there was one, was hitting every puddle he could find, seen and more often than not unseen, blissfully unaware of the fact that he was splashing me with water far more than torrential downpour's due.
You could say at this point that my "cat nature" was to the fore. There is a school of thought that we have two sides to our personalities—the public and private, and in astrology these are represented by the ascendent and descendant signs, the outer and inner realms of our personality, divided figuratively by the horizon line. Our signs or qualities situated above this line of horizon slant how the world sees us—this is our outer sense of self, while the realm below represents our internal nature, the kennel we live within. I am very much a cat when by myself—preferring solitude, quiet and control of my domain. The dog side of my nature comes to the fore rather rapidly however—just give him a ball to chase...
Swallowing a hiss, I mentioned the splashing to him—"Hey, you're hitting every puddle in sight..." He didn't get the hint—instead helping himself to encouragement: "Yeah bro, I love it!" Splash!"
I got over myself in time and several more miles, and, throwing caution and shreds of clothing not yet sodden to the blustery wind, returned the "favour" with interest at the next footpath straddling puddle.
We never had a dog when I was a child. My mother, for reasons I really can't relate to, "hates animals" in her own words. It's kind of comical really, because whenever she visits friends, sure enough their dogs and cats make a beeline for her, rubbing themselves amiably against her legs or sitting contentedly at her feet, to the mildly panicked refrain of "Get away!" and "Pssst - shoo! Get away you!" No doubt a therapist would get miles from of this sort of thing, but my dislike for therapists is such that I will decline to investigate this avenue of thought. Incidentally and by the way, my disdain for the profession of psychology is ideological alone—aside from failing a paper in the topic at University, you can dismiss the idea that I am talking from personal experience.
Another aside—it is a little known fact that psychologists have the highest suicide rate of any profession. Were I churlish I would say "much to everyone's benefit", but suicide is definitely no laughing matter...
So to my pet-hating mother, who is also something of a stickler for tidiness and order, dogs were definitely out, but a cat it seems was manageable, and a necessary compromise to please an energetic, enthusiastic, and maybe even demanding four year old self—in his own way.
Our first cat was named Celeste, a name of my own choosing, and based on one of the characters from my equal favourite book, Babar the Elephant. Were the kitten a boy it would have been George, as in the curious monkey of children's literature fame.
At first, as with most young children and animals, the relationship between us was difficult. I would pounce on her while she was sleeping, she would scratch me when I was too rough. Cats do always land on their feet—I tested this ability often in our backyard. Wisdom gradually dawned—with the assitence of several scoldings, and I realised that not only would I get scratched less were I pleasant to poor Celeste, but as with people, being kind and polite is its own reward.
I recall only having just come to this knowledge, and becoming the closest of friends, when little Celeste left my life suddenly, in a manner mostly hidden from me at the time. While you can't hide the fact from a five-old that his beloved pet has just been run over, it wasn't until years later that I learnt that Celeste, vulnerable with her kitten's curiosity and innocence, had followed my mother as she crossed the road, where, despite frantic "shoo'ing" and waving, she was deliberately run over by a car. The car was driven by several of my high-school teacher mother's pupils, who maliciously sighted teacher and kitten, the latter frozen in middle of road.
Why she didn't press charges—or even call the police—I will never understand, for as far as I'm concerned these teenage hooligans had just forfeited their rights to be driving, and maybe even walking—and she even knew who they were! Quite unlike my mother, who is perhaps quicker to turn the other cheek, to forgive a deliberate ill, I have called the police a number of times in my life, venting my fast to rise fury at injustice to at times to quite surprising consequences. The telling of such I will leave for another day.
Oscar and Runty
Oscar was the replacement kitten for Celeste, promised from an Aunt and Uncle's imminent litter of cats. For reasons which were beyond me at the time, Oscar never arrived—something to do with the fact there were less kittens in the litter than expected I think, and so this pet named after my favourite Sesame Street character remained, to my great sadness, purely fictional. No doubt you could read much into my childhood fondness for Oscar the Grouch—contrary, wise-cracking, different from everybody else—but in truth he, Ernie and the between scenes animations were the only things I recall as interesting in this officially pioneering example of early childhood television programming.
Fortunately enough our next kitten did arrive—but would it be here to stay? It was the evening before my seventh birthday, I had been promised a surprise. Taken under the cover of darkness to a house in the suburbs, we entered a street facing garage, home to the birth of a litter of kittens the day before. Given the pick of several, I immediately chose the "runt" of the litter, a choice born both of sympathy and a 7 year-old's curiosity, unfamiliar with this particular word. I fell upon it with fascination, and promptly pronounced it as the name of this black-with-one-white-spot kitten. "Hello Runty!" The disapproval of the several adults present only hardened my mischievous resolve.
Runty was the last of mother's attempts to introduce a furry friend to the family home, and despite much love and affection—on my part if not hers—it seems that I was destined to have another experience of non-attachment. Living only several houses down the road from my primary school with an extremely vivacious and outgoing kitten, Runty became free-spirited friend to all who passed—and our neighbours as well. Disappearing for days at a time, he would always return, well-fed and in good mood, until one day, no doubt enamoured of a better offer, he left us for good.