Once Again, I'm a Two-Legged Friend

Animals come to me not because I seek pets, but because someone says, "I can't keep this animal anymore. Could you take care of her (or him)?" Thus Dudley, the gray striped cat, joined me, and Simon the long-haired Siamese tom, and Simone, the Siamese female. Simone came on her own and scratched on the door of the cabin Laura and I lived in for a while at Toadtown. She obviously needed food and a place to live, so we took her in.

Kylie became my dog because my sister couldn't keep him anymore. I worked in the mountains then. I tried to teach him not to chase deer, until a doe with a fawn drove the lesson home by turning and chasing him into camp. She got so close to him with her sharp hooves that he took rapid refuge under my pickup. The doe turned and greeted me, decided I wasn't a threat to her or her fawn, turned and left camp in a dignified and graceful walk.

Spot refused to go with Joe, her owner, when he moved from the cabin on Nimshew Ridge, because he was viciously mean to her. I moved into the cabin, I sat on the porch a lot, waited, and talked quietly. Eventually, Spot came out from under the cabin, eventually sat beside me, eventually let me touch her. She learned to trust me, though she'd never let any other man near her. Women, yes, if they were gentle and patient, but she associated men with her past and Joe.

Years later, my family and I took the job as caretakers of the ranch in Whitney Valley. Tex, the previous caretaker, drove in with his dog, Pooch. He asked me, "You know anybody needs a good stock dog?"

"No, Tex, I sure don't."

"I got to give this dog away. He's a good dog, but they won't let me keep him down where I'm working now. Too many dogs there already. That young couple in Hale Valley said they'd take him, but now they've gone to the city, and they might not come back. You ought to have a good stock dog here. He's a good one, just two years old."

"No, I don't want him. Life's simpler if I don't have a dog."

"Well, I thought it might go like this. I brought my rifle. I'll have to shoot him on the way home."

"Tex, you wouldn't really shoot him."

"I hate to do it, but what else can I do? I can't find anybody wants him, and I can't turn him loose. A dog without any owner is a danger to wildlife and to stock. Some rancher's going to shoot him anyway, first time he bothers some cattle."

"I'll take him, Tex. I can feed him and take care of him."

"You won't regret it! He's good with stock. He's a good dog. You'll like to see him working cattle. He's a real picture."

And he was. He herded anything that moved. Our daughters were small, and we had to teach them how to say a strong "No" or Pooch would try to herd them where he thought they should go. Outside, he'd bunch up cattle, move them into a convenient fence corner, and keep them there until I discovered he was gone, tracked him down, and relieved him of his duties.

Elm-Oak, the cat, and Thorn, the dog, were marvelous animals. We acquired them for our daughters, and they were all close friends to one another. Our daughters grew up and went away to college, and Laura and I took care of the animals. When Elm-Oak and Thorn finished their time in this world, I said we wouldn't have pets again. Animals tie us down, and it was too hard for me to lose Thorn and Elm-Oak.

But then Leiza needed a home for Lobo, her cat. I encouraged her to find someone else to care for this black and white, but when she turned up nothing, I took Lobo.

NOW we are here, just the two of us much of the time. I've been trying to answer the question, "Can a cat be trained?" She's been trying to answer the question, "Can a human being be trained?" We've come up with similar answers, "Yes, within limits."

I don't want Lobo in my study when I'm not there. She got tangled in the computer wires, and if that happens when I'm not there, she could get hurt and break equipment. If I'm not here to tell her not to, she gets up on my work surfaces and lies on manuscripts. I'm sure a generous coating of cat hair doesn't encourage editors to give serious consideration to manuscripts. So I've trained her. When I leave the room, she comes along. She also understands the word "No" and obeys, and she usually comes when I call her.

In turn, I respond to her appeals three times a day and give her canned cat food to supplement the boring diet of dry cat food. I've learned to provide a lap several times a day, and I've learned that when she nudges me with her nose it means I've forgotten to scratch under her white chin.

I've also learned to leave room on the bed for her, and not to be too restless a sleeper, as she needs peace and quiet through the night.

We accommodate each other. I haven't met a cat quite like Lobo, who follows me around like a dog and waits by the door for me to return. She probably thinks she hasn't met a human quite like me, kind but insistently independent in thought, so we both learn something about the world by our association with each other.

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