I am an indifferent pet person. Oh, not the kind that would mistreat an animal or ignore its needs, just someone who doesn’t love to have pets around. They’re there, I’m here; we mutually respect each other’s territory and I don’t even have to lift my leg.
I’ve watched many a neighbour and even a few of my own family members succumb to the treacly-sweet lure of acquiring a family pet. It’s most often dogs, although one sister of mine should apply for re-zoning under the Agricultural Land Reserve: at last count she was feeding One cat, Two fish, Black dogs, New fish, to which she added a succession of hamsters, (they die a lot) and she’s been checking out chickens – oooh, fresh eggs and all the manure that goes with them. Goody.
The first indication of an imminent new arrival of the four-legged kind is the erection of a tall and sturdy fence. Think Alcatraz. Usually a Home Depot Special, it can cost many thousands of dollars and takes a weekend warrior to install, guaranteed. (Those commitment issues never seem to be a problem in canine relationships). Folks will say with a guilty laugh, "Oh, the fence, right, it’s just to keep our dog in – not the neighbours out! Ha, Ha.” But I’ve found that keeping the dog in, does keep the neighbours out: something to do with fragrant and unexpected landmines and that excessively amusing game called "Nippy Heels”. (If the fence has see-through sections, you can also play Bob and Barker: I like to be the Barker).
Once the fence is up, you get to see a whole new dynamic take hold in your neighbourhood. Normally inviting people post signs warning you to "Keep Gate Closed At All Times”, which I think qualifies as an oxymoron, and to "Beware – Guard Dog on Duty”. It doesn’t seem to matter what size or type of dog it is, they all belong to the union, and once you let them out the door, even Snuffles and Pookie-Poo learn anti-terrorist techniques.
I have a certain respect for the cats that freely roam the neighbourhood. They seem to have Land Claims that entitle them to all of it. Everyone’s garden, backyard or porch falls under their jurisdiction, and if you grow potted plants in any season, cats will never do without: invariably, they have a pot to psst in.
A giant hair-ball of a feline recently took up a post outside my sliding glass kitchen doors. When I opened the blinds in the morning, there he, she, it, was. Waiting. Just sitting. Maybe curled up with its nose squashed against the glass. Huddled in a heap, it would watch me: I felt I was being stalked – haunted, even. I started dreading coming home from work.
So I bought cat food. You’d think that poor creature had never eaten before, which is ridiculous considering its size. Someone, somewhere was probably saving enough money not feeding this cat, to fund the Canadian military. I was pretty sure the cat would go home to its rightful owners, when it wasn’t so hungry.
I assumed the cat’s name was Mat: it slept on one outside and its very long, very silky fur was an absolute mess of them on his underside. I looked up his type on Google – they must have seen him too! – they thought he could be Himalayan, which makes perfect sense: I see him a’layin there for hours. Mat’s gender is still indeterminate, at least to me, but his behaviour was nothing short of gentlemanly. He came, he went, (and I don’t know in whose yard), he ate, he slept and he let me pat his head and rub his belly at the same time.
The arrangement was quite copasetic until it snowed. Mat became a Swiffer snowball. He picked up a flake on every single hair-end and there was no way and nowhere to dust him off. It became time for action: I phoned the Neighbour-in-the-Know (every street has one) and asked who owned the cat. Well, I did, didn’t I? The original owners having moved, the secondary owner having been deserted via a streaking form through a closed window-screen twice, it was my fate – nay privilege – to be adopted, and by the way, his name is Gus.
Gus, as in Augustus Caesar. Lordly, yes that’s him. Gus, as in Gustovian, that citizenry of a made-up royal principality somewhere in an Eastern block part of Western Europe… somewhere. Regal, yes, that fits him too. Gus, as in Gus-Gus, no wait, that’s a fat mouse in Cinderella. Gus, as in Gusto: living large and eating well. Yep, that would be right. Gus moved in with me and became My Pet.
We’re both still pretty independent. We each have our own bad habits: I take long showers; Gus still likes to watch me through the glass. I go about my business, he goes about his – he came home with a wedgie once – I didn’t ask. We tip our heads to each other as we pass in the hall, and once in a while he’ll choose to settle close enough to my lap that a stray paw can reach out and rest on my leg while he works up an intermittent, wheezy sputter.
I get all treacly when this happens. I think it means I’ve become an ‘Indifferent Pet’ person. I kind of love it.
Janelle Hoddevik is a freelance writer in Nanaimo. She can be reached via email at email@example.com