By David Feela
In our 15 years residing at the top of Turkey Buzzard Hill – less than a half mile from the county landfill – seven cats and three dogs have found their way out of the ditches and up our driveway to make their homes with us. That number doesn’t include the neighbors’ cows and horses grazing in our flower beds, skunks rummaging through the compost, a mountain lion just checking things out, deer eating our shrubbery like pretzels, a ringtail taking pears from our only producing tree, and, strangely enough, an emu posing in our yard like the last exit along the evolutionary highway.
None of the brood we ended up raising were ever cute or cuddly, and every one of them suffered in some unique way from the scars irresponsible owners inflict. Like foster parents everywhere, we learned to accept each animal’s peculiar way of dealing with pain, cared for it no matter how it managed to return our love, and above all, tried not to get bit.
At one time, my wife claims, our cats qualified as psychotic, neurotic, and moronic, all living together in the cluttered cacophony of our garage. We had them vaccinated, fixed, and we bought food and cat litter by the cartload. We wormed them regularly and hunted for ticks. We even tried sharing our house with their singular dispositions, thinking they’d come around to appreciating their new surroundings, but one of the females led a urination revolution and after that, the cats resided in the garage while the car cowered outside under the elms.
Every animal has its place, but the animal that most tugged at my heart showed up one rainy day while I sat on the roof repairing one of those annoying leaks that are impossible to locate on sunny days. When I glanced down from the roof I saw a soggy, muddy, and thoroughly washed-out dog, with the most soulful brown eyes, curled up like a worn-out rug at the foot of my ladder.
I tried scaring it away by waving my arms and shouting, but all my commotion accomplished was to bring my wife out to see if I had finally fallen from the roof.
She immediately noticed the soggy dog and her expression, which seemed to say, I told you you’d kill yourself! changed to Where did that poor thing come from? By the time I climbed back to earth, the dog had been christened “Lonesome” and installed in the woodshed.
All dogs must start out as cute, frisky, playful puppies, but we had to wonder if Lonesome had ever been young. You see, Lonesome could barely walk. She couldn’t chew dry dog chow, and she would fall six times out of a dozen in her attempts to climb two stairs to the porch.
It didn’t embarrass her that “Tuna Buffet” was her favorite meal, but the cats weren’t happy about it. We crushed traces of aspirin in her cat food, hoping to ease her slow, painful gait – after all, it worked for me. We tossed the proverbial “fetch it” stick while she just watched; we whistled, but she’d never look up. Basically, she was crippled and her deafness only added to her reputation as useless.
Despite the health problems, we thought no one could have dumped such a sweet dog. She had the disposition of a saint, though she looked more like a Spaniel than a Bernard.
I suspected she’d wander back to her real home in a few days, but when we removed two old carpet tacks from her legs while brushing out her muddy, matted fur, it became clear that someone had planned her disability: The tack embedded in her front leg was identical to the one pushed into the muscle of her opposite back leg. She didn’t even howl as they were removed. How could she return to the person that crippled her, even if she wanted to?
Dave Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.