My husband discovers why the dogs were barking

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For the most part, the diverse animal population on our three-acre lot gets along quite nicely. Occasionally the balance is tipped in favor of one species, and we intervene to set things right. At least we try to, but it doesn't always work out.

My mild-mannered, mellow husband, Craig, and I tried one evening to ignore our three dogs outside, carrying on in an unusually raucous manner. They continued their barking past the "let's ignore it and it will go away" point to the "honey, please see what is going on" stage. Craig donned bathrobe and slippers a bit grudgingly. He ventured down the basement stairs and out the basement door into the dark of night to try to set things right.

We profess to be "dog people," but we have cared for a feral cat we named Annabelle for many years. She is too wild to hold, but we captured and spayed her. We also erected a fenced area in which we put a carpet-covered cat pole so that she can eat in peace, away from the dogs. Annabelle has a heating pad under her soft bed on our covered porch when it's cold. She is well taken care of, even though we don't own a cat.

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Craig entered the dark, fenced-in area and found our three dogs barking out of control and lunging at the chain-link fence surrounding our white cat, Annabelle, as she sat atop the chest-high cat pole, eating ... or trying to.

Craig was, no doubt, put out at the dogs for interrupting his evening and disrupting the quiet countryside. He admonished the dogs to be quiet in no uncertain terms, all the time gently stroking Annabelle, trying to calm and comfort her. But the dogs refused to comply.

So Craig engaged in a heated debate with the barking dogs, even going so far as to bang on the fence with a stray piece of firewood that was handy. But the dogs kept barking and lunging at the fence.

Sometime during Craig's unsuccessful attempt to effect calm, the fact that Annabelle's hair didn't feel quite right began to register in his consciousness. But quieting the dogs and protecting Annabelle was a mission of valor and demanded his full attention.

The dogs, by this time, were going ballistic. Craig was yelling at the top of his lungs and pounding on the fence. But slowly his eyes began adjusting to the dark, and the valor of his mission yielded to new evidence: Annabelle's tail.

Craig glanced down. He could just make out a slick, hairless tail. The last time he'd noticed, Annabelle's tail had hair on it. It took a few more strokes of the cat (owing to the fact that it was late in the day), to register that the coarse hair and bare tail meant that this animal was not Annabelle.

As two and two slowly added up, Craig told me later, the words "Oh, no!" came to his mind, He gently removed his hand from the back of the creature. He quietly put down the piece of wood and ever-so-slowly began edging backward, in the dark, toward the door.

He silently opened it and than ran, yelling, all the way up the stairs.

Naturally, we all came running to see what was going on. Craig had never made noises like the ones he was making now.

Craig looked as though he had seen an apparition. He was trying to tell us something about petting the cat, but it wasn't the cat, and her tail was wrong (or something like that).

Craig wasn't making much sense, so against his advice or possibly because of it, the children and I grabbed a flashlight and sneaked around the back of the house to see what had pitched Craig into this animated, wide-eyed, unsettled state.

Quietly, intently, we maneuvered through the dark, holding onto one another for courage. We captured the dogs, put them into the porch, and then crept uncertainly toward the cat pen.

When we finally got up the courage to shine the flashlight on the cat pole, we found ourselves face to face with the biggest, scariest possum we had ever seen. It was the size of a raccoon. Its eyes shone bright yellow in the light. It had a huge, snarly looking mouth and big white teeth. It was totally unafraid, or so it seemed. With a determined look, it stared right back at us.

It sent all three of us running back into the house, filled with awe that Craig had spent a good five minutes - or more - petting, protecting, and comforting this wild creature.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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