Managing our menagerie

We live at the edge of a college campus, and every spring wer are beset with pets which have been abandoned by the students as they roar out of town for summer vacation. Word is out among this four-footed element that if they can make it to 1848 University Avenue, they'll be okay.

This partially explains why we are currently host to five cats and dogs, making this place look like a waiting room for the Ark. They are three beagles, which we did bring upon ourselves, and two second-hand cats which we were unable to place with give-away ads in the supermarket.

We have Kitty, a ginger; slue-footed Mitty, the Charlie Chaplin of cats, and Beagle Bailey, the parent of a family consisting of Firecracker and Skyrocket. Firecracker has never in her life been full. Skyrocket has never been warm.

At first we only allowed a few of these animals into the house, but with the onset of winter, more and more have gained entry under the Most Favored Pet Clause.

I go about in an old blue sweater covered with dog and cat hair, and fresh towels are laid over everything, to keep the animals from being dirtied by the furniture.

Raising dogs is a lot like raising kids. You can't sleep late on Sunday anymore. They wake up at daybreak and have to be let out, let in, cleaned up after and fed. Then, like kids, they jump into bed with you, walk on your head, step in your eye, pounce on your stomach and then sprawl out and go to sleep, leaving you with a strip of mattress to cling to.

Kitty is passing the daylight hours hibernating in the crevice between the pillows on our double bed, arising only when she hears the sound of a can opener or the refrigerator door. At night she usurps the spot at the bottom of the bed where my feet belong. When we put her out, she barks at us.

Mitty is a food faddist who eats with her paw. She likes her meal to be a sociable time and fasts unless she has company in the kitchen with her. The rest of the day she lurks in grocery sacks in the center of a freshly ironed tablecloth. She and I are engaged in a battle of wills over which of us is to have possession of the fireplace chair for the winter.

Yesterday Firecracker chewed up a bottle of blue tempera paint. The first I knew of it, I was standing in the kitchen when this blue dog ran by. Firecracker is an "idea dog," and among her other ideas have been leaping onto the bookcase like a cat and devouring the entire contents of an Easter basket, aluminum foil wrappings and all.

Though she is only a pup, she takes great care of the cats, knocking them aside to clean their plates for them and pinning them down with her paws while she washes their ears.

There are frequent dog fights, originating over who has priority on the sofa. But I think that dogs are easier than kids. They don't criticize your cooking. They don't ask, "Why are your eyebrows on crooked?" or, "Why don't your hamburgers taste like McDonald's?"

When I go out in the car without them and return, the gods rush me joyously, wiggling and grinning. And believe me, a grinning beagle is one of the world's most hideous sights.

When I go out in the car withm them, I am draped in beagle as another woman might be draped in mink.

In the evening I go to relax in the living room, its floor strewn with dog squeakers. Beagle Bailey and Kitty are dozing bottom-to-bottom on the sofa, and Bailey is regarding me with one eye. Mitty is contendly growling and gnawing on Firecracker's nose, and Skyrocket is in his place under the curtains over the hot air register, where he peers out draped in fabric, looking like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

I settle down to read for an hour. Skyrocket leaves his post, pumps up on me , stretches and says "Mrump." Then he wedges himself in beside me on the chair.

We all go together like cats and windosills, and all the beastly inequities of that day are forgiven. There I sit, secure in the knowledge that God never gives us more housepets that we can handle. Allis peaceful here in Beagle Valley.

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