“Dumb Animals?” Not At All!

The term “dumb animals” does not mean “stupid animals.” According to Webster’s dictionary, one of the meanings of the word ‘dumb’ means ‘lacking the human power of speech.’ Oh, we may think that the neighbor’s dog who howls along with ambulance siren is dumb/stupid for doing so, but he has a reason for it that makes sense to himself. It could be that the noise hurts his ears, or that he just likes to harmonize. He might even be thinking, ‘that’s not nearly loud enough; I must help that other howling dog be heard!’

We have all heard of pets who have saved their owners’ lives by waking them when a fire starts, or when someone falls, has a heart attack, etc. We also know that animals will risk their own lives to save their young. Who could forget Scarlett, the stray cat who saved all five of her kittens from a burning house in Brooklyn, NY in March of 1996? She was so severely burned in the process that her eyes were swollen shut, but once out of the building, she touched each kitten with her nose to be sure she had them all. The little family was rushed to an emergency vet and received excellent care. Happily, once Scarlett and her kittens were well enough, all were adopted into loving homes. Scarlett herself was adopted by a woman who adored her and treated her like a queen.

There are also ‘helper animals,’ from dogs to birds to monkeys who assist disabled folks in accomplishing daily tasks. There are therapy animals who can reach the human heart faster than a cardiac surgeon, and who bring autistic children out of themselves with their unconditional love and acceptance. Many domestic pets can sense when an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc. is on the way. If you pay attention, this is an excellent early warning system.

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I have three “special needs” cats; Nala (9-year old female), Pookie (6-year old male), and Pepper (8-year old male). We adopted Nala from a couple who had added a dog and a new kitten to their household. Nala was terrified by the dog and hated the kitten. She was well cared for, but had been living a rather lonely existence in the cellar, afraid to come upstairs. Pookie had been rescued from a home with too many cats, and had been in a local shelter for several months. He came to the shelter severely stressed, was being treated for a UTI, and spent most of his days hiding behind the director’s desk. Pepper, *rescued last December by the Crankee Yankee, came to live with us at the end of last year. He has an incurable heart condition that requires us to administer three meds every morning and every night, plus a special one every three days to keep fluid from building up around his heart. This morning and evening routine takes time and Pepper certainly doesn’t love it, but it is worth it to see how healthy and strong he is now.

When we adopted Nala, our beloved cat, Blackie, had just died in my arms with vet assistance at the ripe old age of 20. Nala needed a home, and we needed her; not to take Blackie’s place, but to fill the empty spaces in all our hearts. It took a while, but soon Nala began to relax after she realized that no dogs lived there and that she had our undivided attention and love. Two years later, I read about one of our local shelter’s “Desperate Housecats;” cats who had been in the shelter for over six months. Pookie was at the top of the list. I felt I had to go see him, so my best friend/sister-in-law went to the shelter to have a look. Of course I fell in love with this sweet, green-eyed black kitty, and when I picked him up my heart whispered, ‘take him home!’ He has been an absolute joy ever since.

Of course, Nala had something to say about it. It was just as if we had a 17-year old girl and a 10-year boy in the house; they lived to bug each other. These days, though, flareups are rare and not serious. Pepper fit in with the other two because there was no other choice; knowing how much help he needed, how could we put him in a shelter? We socialized them all as best we could, and soon they all got used to each other. There are dust-ups from time to time, but nothing serious.

Our cat crew doesn’t always allow us uninterrupted sleep. Pookie starts talking when the lights go out. He wants us to know that he caught a vicious and possibly dangerous stuffed toy, and he won’t shut up until I get out of bed and tell him what a good brave boy he is. Pepper hops up during the night to nuzzle the Crankee Yankee’s ears and nose, then lies down wrapped around his head.  Early in the morning, Nala likes to park herself in the window behind our headboard, whapping our heads alternately with her tail. Sometimes, just to mix up things up, one or two of them will start chasing another, eliciting indignant growls and hisses, which of course wake us up.

The cats get fed and watered before we even have our first cup of coffee. Our living room floor is littered with dozens of catnip mice, jingle balls, plastic spirals, the annoying chirping stuffed bird that Pepper loves to shake, fuzzy toys, fluffy toys, various scratching posts and boxes, and other cat amusements. The cats sleep on the fleece blanket on our bed, or the fluffy blanket on the bamboo chair, or the other fluffy blanket on the sofa. Downstairs, the Crankee Yankee has built platforms in the two casement windows with a transom in between so that the cats have downstairs sleeping lofts. Each cat has his/her own carrying cage, fitted out with clean cozy blankets and a catnip toy in each one.

They all eat vet-recommended kibble, and the Crankee Yankee did considerable research to determine the best wet food that combined what they liked and what was also good for them. Their water is changed twice a day, and litter boxes are cleaned twice a day. They are all soundly kissed, petted, cuddled and are told on a daily basis was good ‘kids’ they are. And before you say it, we know–they rule the house; we just pay the bills and provide service. We are simply the staff.

Trust me, there is nothing dumb about these pets of ours. They have us right where they want us and they are not about to change. I would write more here, but it’s time for me to fix the cats’ mid-morning treat of pan-seared salmon on toast points with bearnaise sauce…..

*Those who have read “The Christmas Cat” (published here in December of 2013, and later, “Love in the Shape of a 12-lb. Cat”) will remember our rescued cat, Pepper. Long story short, the Crankee Yankee (my husband) was in Pepperell, MA for a meeting with his model railroad group, which was in an industrial park. The cat who became our Pepper came running to him, climbed up his pantleg and settled himself on the Crankee Yankee’s shoulder–and did not move. It turns out that Pepper had been living on his own in that park for at least two years.


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