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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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Turf Wars

130525_0001Carlito’s a pussy. Cat. Of course, I mean pussycat. But my mom’s cat, for being such a big, strapping, good-looking tom, is a bit girly. As I settle in, I thought Mom and I would be the ones bickering over territory. Turns out, it’s the animals having trouble with whose space is whose. Actually, there’s no squabbles going on there either. From the moment we moved in, it was clear – Bella’s the boss.

I was all set to feel bad for her, having to live with two males. No need. She’s a tough lady. She keeps both boys firmly in their place. Frankie’s always known where he stands with her. In the houeshold hierarchy, there’s Bella, then him, then me, then Carlito. Mom’s dead last. I fight a losing battle with Frankie for dominance, but Mom doesn’t even enter the ring. Or bother getting suited up. Actually, in Frankie’s eyes, I’m probably after Carlito. Which is pretty bad, cause as I said, he puts the pussy in pussycat.

He’s proof you can’t judge a book by its cover. I mean, he’s really quite strong and handsome. But then he follows my mom to the kitchen and lets out this pathetic little mew. I wouldn’t even call it a meow. It’s kittenish. And downright effeminate.

My mom says he has all sorts of childhood issues. She found him, homeless in Miami, the last of his littermates to be taken in. She says he was a big kitten, too large in fact, to still be at his mother’s nipple. But there he was. And there you have it. I think his problems began there.

130518_0003Fast forward to present and Bella heads outside for her first stroll around the pool. The area outside the house has been Carlito’s territory. After all, she’s clearly an indoor girl, while he’s always been inside-outside. He meets her eyes briefly, then disappears, relinquishing any and all claims, while Bella schmoozes her way around the patio furniture. He loses inside too, but there I’m to blame — I’ve let Bella in Carlito’s space, but not the other way around.

So while Mom and I keep politely knocking or calling first, and the cats have worked out that what’s hers is hers and what’s his is hers, only Frankie has no boundaries. He barges in unexpectedly anytime he feels like it, through the doggy door I had put in. Bella sits and looks out, watching him mysteriously appear and disappear, but so far not figuring it out. Hey, I said she was bossy, not bright. 130516_0014

All You Need is Love

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At Home on Air

We are all creatures of habit. People. Cats. Even dogs.

“Will you be sad? Lonely?” my friend Jill asked me as she blew up the air mattress in my empty bedroom. Everything in the apartment was gone. Packed up in boxes and moved to my mother’s. I’d even sold the bed. Truth is, I hadn’t expected to sell it so quickly. I still had a few more nights in the apartment — hence the air mattress.

“I don’t think so,” I said. But as I looked around at the bare walls, I wasn’t so sure. I watched her make the little mattress with my queen-sized sheets. At least the thing was high enough off the floor. I could make an easy transfer to and from the wheelchair instead of wondering how I’d get off the floor.

Later that night, I came from the bathroom, feeling exactly as Jill had anticipated. Sad and lonely. I tucked my toothbrush back in an overnight bag, a guest in my own apartment. Then I looked at the air mattress and smiled.

Frankie was sprawled out by the foot. Bella had taken over the top half, including my pillow. They both looked sound asleep and quite comfortable. I wondered how on earth there’d be room for all three of us. Frankie barely moved over when I launched myself onto the bed. Bella looked a good deal more concerned as the bed wiggled and wobbled about like a waterbed. She crept over the unstable surface, crouching low, eyes wide, ready to flee at the first sign of danger. She slowly repositioned herself, looking doubtful of the whole affair, yet not relinquishing her customary spot. I tried to make as little movement as possible, an impossible feat for me on a regular, much bigger bed. I marveled that we all stayed put. It felt like we’d roll over and topple off at any moment.

As I laid in the dark and listened to Bella’s purr and Frankie’s snore, I felt anything but lonely.

Mr. Independent

They say that dogs become like their owners or owners like their dogs. I realize that my mom is Frankie’s “mom,” but since he spends most of his time with me, that’s really just a technicality. A recent trip to the dog park made it all too clear — Frankie and I are a bit too alike to do either of us much good.

We were invited to spend a recent Sunday afternoon at the Jacksonville Beach Dog Park. Since this is something my mom and I have always been nervous to try alone, I jumped at the opportunity to go with my neighbors, Trish and Pete and their dog, Chewy — seasoned dog park veterans. Besides, all parents are dying to watch their “kid” on the playground. To see how he acts with his friends.

I was disappointed. Frankie didn’t romp. Or play. Or chase balls. He didn’t even run fast. All the other dogs took off the minute their leashes were unclipped. Frankie just collapsed under the shade of a park bench and barely got up except to lap up the water that stained his chin or investigate the smells left behind by other dogs. Of course, he then raised his leg to mark the same fence post, garbage can or rock (any inanimate object, really.) He had to get the last word on the subject. In the dog world, it’s important to one-up the competition. To outsmell their smell.

He was the same way on a play date at a friend’s house. Boring. Frankie couldn’t have cared less about his three jolly playmates or their big backyard. He stayed inside in the AC, sprawled out on the cool tile.

It’s not like he’s the cool kid who can’t be bothered. He’s more like the grumpy old man who doesn’t want to join in the fun. Anti-social. This is where (I’m ashamed to confess) I see the similarities between us. Lord knows my mom has accused me of acting like her mother. And there’ve been plenty of times when I just can’t muster the will to go out. I’m a self-admitted homebody.

At the dog park, Frankie got up and moved whenever the other dogs started playing around him. And he growled whenever Chewy, a Shitzu-Yorkie mix (that’s right — a Shorkie,) got too rambunctious. Chewy can’t help it! He’s a youngster, still in the puppy phase. That annoying kid who just wants to be everyone’s friend. Frankie seems to have forgotten he was a puppy not too long ago. Apparently he skipped adulthood and went straight to senior citizen.

On our walks though, he seems to prefer dogs over people. Maybe, like me, he’s better one-on-one. But get a whole park full of them together and he opts out. As I watched my boy all by himself while the other dogs ran around in a pack, it was a good lesson for me. Sometimes being alone is just no fun. And okay, I’ll try harder not to growl internally when that family of four sits next to me at the movies.

The old man and the kid

Harmony: Life Lessons From My Pets

Bella and Frankie have adjusted to living under the same roof. There’s still no love loss between them. They’re not exactly grooming each other or sleeping together. But they’ve learned how to be in a room simultaneously. We should all be so lucky. So, next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ — take a hint from a cat and dog who’ve mastered it.

Allow people to be themselves. Don’t expect everybody to be like you. It took Frankie a while to get this one. He just didn’t understand why Bella didn’t want to wrestle with him. He would bounce around all excited, doing the maneuver where he lowers down, front legs out straight, inviting her to play. Bella, in turn, would get all freaked out and run away. To Frankie, of course, this simply meant game on. As an outsider, it was so easy to see all the miscommunication going on. This leads to the next bit of advice.

Stand your ground — gently. Don’t run away or give chase. This was the worst thing Bella could do. She’d tear down the hall with Frankie close on her heels; terrified, while he had the time of his life. She has learned. Now I watch her crane her neck back, moving her head as far away from him as possible without moving her feet. She stays put. Clearly with distaste, but she never moves her body.

Be tolerant. Don’t overreact or yell. She used to hiss and make a big fuss whenever he came anywhere near her. Poor Frankie didn’t mean any harm. He just wanted to get to know her. Now she doesn’t make a big production of it, just lets him take a sniff or two. She’s realized that’s all he’s after. There’s no reason to growl and get all testy.

Give others plenty of space. As with any relationship, all parties can benefit from a good dose of “me time.” Since Bella is little Miss Independent, Frankie had to be the one to learn that sometimes a creature just wants to be left alone. Now he seems to know to act bored and aloof. It goes against his nature, but he’s a quick study. What’s true for winning over a man can also be true for winning over a cat.

Pet People

I’ve become one of those crazy animal ladies.  Notice I didn’t say crazy cat ladies, because, to be honest, Bella and I have never had a problem.  And Bella is just one cat.  I think you have to have four or more to be official.  Three is pushing it.  If you live with a significant other or kids, you’re safe.  Don’t ask me why.  I don’t make the rules.  No, the problem started when Frankie came to live with us.

I bought a cat condo last week so Bella would have someplace to get away from him.  I always thought they were kind of tacky.  But, like parents who say they’ll never leave toys strewn about the living room, it happens.  Out of necessity.  And for me, guilt.  Guilt for bringing a dog into the house.  So I bought what I considered to be a more tasteful one.  A ridiculous amount of money for carpet and sisal rope, it sits unused in the corner.  She hasn’t touched it.

Mealtime has become tricky too.  First, Frankie got a can of wet food because it successfully disguised medicine.  Now Bella happily munches the moist stuff too.  Again – guilt.   I couldn’t very well treat him and not her.  My apartment used to smell like eucalyptus and incense.  Now it smells like salmon and giblets.  And that’s just going in.  With the two of them lying around all day passing gas, I’ve decided the cans should come with warning labels.  Possible side effect: intense flatulence.

I’ve even found myself saying the very things I used to roll my eyes about.  Things like, “We need to set up a play date!” or “Frankie will be at doggy daycare that day.”  I used to think daycare was for spoiled little rich dogs.  Now I defend it.  “He needs to socialize with other dogs!”  I say.  I believe in the power of the pack.  I think Cesar Millan is a god.

A friend of mine has a theory about all this pet mania.  It affects those of us who’ve never had children.  Or empty-nesters.  I’ll leave this one to the mommies and daddies out there.  I’m in no position to object.  All I know is my once impeccable apartment is littered with squeaky toys and if you’re wearing black, I’d advise against sitting down.  But I make no apologies.  They’re part of the family.

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