Sometimes unexpected friendships are the best

I’ve been thinking a lot about odd couples, or what looking at from the outside seem like odd friendships. These musings started, as many of my musings do, watching the animals awaiting adoption at the animal shelter where I work (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF). Often, an animal housed with another animal will do better at the shelter, and in the home as well. So our behavior and animal care teams try out pairing roommates, and sometimes they come up with what turn out to be surprisingly winning combinations. Our marketing department even recently developed a campaign for 2 cats using The Odd Couple theme as a hook.

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The Odd Couple, Cash (black) and Swift (tabby).

In Neil Simon’s play (1965), later a movie (1968) and then a television series (1970-1975), the mismatched roomates are the persnickety neatnik Felix Ungar and cigar-chomping slob Oscar Madison. On Broadway in 1965, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau (he seems to have been born for the role), with Art Carney as Felix.

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Water Matthau and Art Carney, 1965 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
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The ever-funny Neil Simon, still smiling at age 90.

 

Felix and Oscar were perfectly portrayed in the 1968 film by Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau again as Oscar. When adapted for television, Tony Randall was cast as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.

 

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Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as Felix and Oscar, 1974.

 

But back to Cash and Swift. Cash arrived at ARF as a tiny kitten with his sister Mermaid. The shyer of the 2, Cash watched as his sister and then several kitten roommates were adopted. Unfortunately, black cats, including kittens, tend to stay longer at the shelter awaiting adoption, so Cash was growing up at the shelter. I love our shelter, but kittens should grow up in homes with loving families. Swift, a little zany guy with a serious play drive, was so active that he overwhelmed his siblings. He, too, was the last of his litter reamining at the shelter. Cash was between roommates, and Swift needed a buddy, so the team decided to give them a shot, and it worked! Cash, in the role of Felix Ungar, taught Swift, as a tiny Oscar Madison, some calmer manners, and nutty Swift brought Cash out of his shell and showed him how to have fun. The first time I saw the 2 curled up together on their cat bed, I knew in my heart that they had to stay together. Others at ARF felt the same way, so we made sure to make a point of sending them to an adoptive home together.

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It’s not quite as odd a pairing, but it seems to work, for another cat set of roommates: Nathan and Wynn. Nathan is another shy black kitten growing up at the shelter. Wynn is a little older and also very shy. Nathan has done well with roommates, and Wynn originally came in with 3 other cats, more outgoing than he and quickly adopted. Wynn was really shut down at first, cowering in a corner behind his cat tree. But he and Nathan, in an example of mutual support, are both getting a bit bolder every day. It’s sort of more like 2 Felixes making each other feel better about life.

 

 

I suppose I’ve been a part of some odd couples. Not so much personality-wise, but more in the Mutt and Jeff way of me being not-tall and many of my friends being not-short.

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In the classic odd couple pairing, I was the quiet, good girl who ran off with the loud, bad boy (or wannabe bad boy, anyway). It worked until it didn’t anymore. That’s all water under the bridge, as they say.

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I was looking for famous examples of odd couples, not necessarily of the Hollywood celebrity variety, and this one in particular struck me: comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and renowned poet, essayist, and critic T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They became pen pals in 1961 (coincidentally the year I was born) and maintained a correspondence, finally meeting in person in 1964.

 

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The friendship supposedly began when the author of such profound classics as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, wrote to Marx, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, asking for his autograph. Yes, Eliot asked for Groucho’s autograph. My favorite lines from Prufrock:

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A Groucho Marx line that always makes me laugh:

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But as Groucho pointed out, they both liked puns, cigars, and cats. Remember, T. S. Eliot did write Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted into the musical Cats in 1980.

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T. S. Eliot stops to say hello to a cat.
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Groucho Marx with one of his cats.

Of course, let’s not forget all of the cats who look like Groucho Marx.

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Another human odd couple that I am fascinated by: Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) and actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).

Miller And Monroe

They married in 1956 and divorced in 1961 (something about that year, 1961). Famous for such heavy-hitters as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller and sex symbol Monroe faced numerous hardships: investigations into Miller’s communist sympathies and Monroe’s depression, miscarriages, and drug use. Monroe died the year after their divorce, at age 36, of a barbiturate overdose. You know I had to look for a pet connection. Marilyn was an animal lover, saying, “If you talk to a dog or a cat, it doesn’t tell you to shut up.” That’s a really sad quote when you think about it.

 

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Monroe with one of the many animals she loved during her too-short life.

 

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Miller, Monroe, and dog Hugo.

 

On a lighter note, there are so many examples of unlikely animal friendships: the gorilla Koko and her love of kittens, Bubbles the elephant and Bella the dog, Mabel the chicken and her puppies, to name a few. There are even several books available about these friendships.

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While not quite as exotic as some of these, our late Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix Sadie was mother to abandoned kittens Ben and Sara, and she and Ben were close their entire lives.

 

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Ben and Sadie in their senior years.

 

More in alignment with the original Felix and Oscar theme, we also have Misty, our gorgeous but persnickety 6 year-old diva of the Greta Garbo “I want to be let alone” school, and goofball and wild child, 1 year-old Marble, who insists that they play together. And sometimes Misty will play. When we decided to keep Marble, I was afraid Misty might try to hurt him, but he is persistent and she can’t help but play chase and wrestle with him. He is a force of nature, an irresistible force to her immovable object.

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Misty, up top, with Marble, down below.

 

I was that unmovable object once, in the face of an irresistible force–a pit bull named Snuffalufagus. I never thought I’d feel so much affection for such a big dog. She changed my mind forever about pit bulls.

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She’s irresistible, and I turned out to be movable!

 

 

Don’t resist–make friends where you find them, even if they seem to be unlikely candidates. Greta Garbo didn’t say she wanted to be left alone, she said she wanted to be let alone, and there’s a big difference. Treasure your friends and family.

Peace and hugs.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (okay, he’s heavy, but still, he’s my brother)

I never understood what the song that goes “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” really was about. It just sounded kind of cool back in the day (1969). You know, he ain’t heavy, but he’s groovy, man.

The phrase originates, as far as I can tell, from a story about Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan as a community for homeless and troubled boys. One boy wore leg braces, and the other boys would take turn carrying him on their backs. One of these boys is reputed to have said, when asked, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” A lovely story. True? I don’t know. But there are several statues titled Two Brothers at Boys Town, and the line made it into the movies in which Spencer Tracy portrays Father Flanagan.

 

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Photo that is said to have inspired the stories.
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Two Brothers, Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska.
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Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

This isn’t about my brother. I wrote about my own brother not so long ago. This is about 2 brothers, Ringo and Tiger, and their special relationship and what they’ve been through together. Ringo and Tiger are, of course cats, not humans.

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No, not these goofballs.
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Yes, these goofballs.

Ringo and Tiger are very special cats, and I feel privileged to be a part of their human fan club. To put it bluntly, these cats would likely have been euthanized in many other shelters. They are 9 years old, which is considered “senior” in the world of cats, although it is the equivalent of only 52 in human years. So at almost 56, if I were a cat (oh, what a thought!) I would be a senior, even though I don’t think of myself as one at all as a human.

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Ringo is termed “morbidly obese” at 18 pounds. Tiger has cancer, and is not exactly a petite guy himself at 12 pounds. They’ve been together all of their lives. They were surrendered by their guardian to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, from where they were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma.

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Wings of Rescue (a wonderful organization) flew them out with about 160 other cats and dogs on September 7, 2017. When they landed in Hayward, California, volunteers from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) were there waiting to transport them to the shelter in Walnut Creek, California.

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Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California.

 

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Ringo and Tiger arrive at ARF from Florida.

Two very lucky cats indeed. According to the ASPCA, every year 5 to 7 million pets enter the shelter system. More than half of these are cats, of which approximately 70% (yes, 70) are euthanized. And who are most likely to be euthanized? Guess. Older cats and cats with medical issues. Ringo and Tiger are defying the odds.

 

 

 

Ringo is a laid-back cat, loves to sleep on the bed with his people and follow them around, and gets along with everyone! Tiger is sweet, sociable, and loves to cuddle. Those are pretty good dating, I mean adoption, profiles.

Because they have been together all of their lives and are attached to each other as one would imagine they would be, they are a bonded pair, meaning they have to be adopted together. Another factor that means it will be just a little harder to find a home for them.

 

bonded pair

 

Ringo obviously doesn’t carry Tiger on his back. But Ringo could live a long and healthy life if his adopter works with a veterinarian on a careful weight loss plan. Tiger’s potential life span is not known, but his adopter would basically be taking him in for hospice care. It will be a special person or family with big hearts who will take these brothers into their lives. It will be worth it. And I know that person or family is out there.

 

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Best of all, at ARF Ringo and Tiger have a great room to stay in together, they get love and attention from the staff and volunteers, and they have all the time they need to find their human family. I take great pride in working in a system that allows for cats like Ringo and Tiger a chance to start a new life. Please support in whatever way you can your local shelter so they can help more animals in need. And do consider a senior and/or special needs pet. They need love too, and will add so much to your life.

You can help support the work of Wings of Rescue as well.

 

Peace and hugs. And meows and purrs from Ringo and Tiger.

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Literary Pets (Cats Who Write Murder Mysteries)

There is a real cat credited as a writer of murder mysteries–Sneaky Pie Brown, who pens the Mrs. Murphy mysteries with her human, Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is a crime-solving cat who works with a Corgi partner, in case you thought she was a human Miss Marple type.

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Sneaky Pie Brown with Rita Mae Brown.

I think cats would make natural murder mystery writers. There always seems to be an implied “I could kill you but I won’t” message underlying the looks many cats give us humans, and sometimes dogs, and sometimes other cats.

You know this cat is not thinking good thoughts about you.

There is a book about this, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

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Maybe that’s what started me on playing the game, what author would that animal be? Or maybe it was that time I went to a reading and book signing by the author T. C. Boyle and thought he looked like a Borzoi. It turns out that Boyle, author of one of my favorite books, The Tortilla Curtain, is actually partial to the dreadlocked Puli, which is pretty cool.

 

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Puli dogs

Tortilla

 

I’ve only done this with dogs and cats so far, but I am sure you can play it with any type of animal if you can match up their personality, looks, and likely literary style with a human author.

My own companion animals were pretty easy to match up.

Sara, my 19-year old brown tabby cat, would clearly be one of the classic older ladies of the English murder mystery genre. Perhaps Agatha Christie, but I think really of a writer who had a bit more edge, like Ruth Rendell. Much darker things happen in Rendell’s books than Christie’s, and even thought Sara is an affectionate cat, she is a cat, and was also quite a hunter in her day.

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Dame Agatha Christie, creator of the aforementioned Miss Marple.
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Dame Ruth Rendell, author of dark mysteries under her own name, and psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

Misty, our 6-year old Turkish Angora who was rescued from kitty death row, where she was placed for having a personality disorder that made her “unadoptable”, would be a perfect Gillian Flynn,  author of the disturbing books Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Misty is beautiful, but beware what lurks in that brain. I call her the Ferocious Beauty for good reason!

Scary, each and every one of them.

Marble, the new kid on the block, is hip and eccentric and a little wild, so I am picking Dave Eggers for him. Maybe Eggers, perhaps best known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a dog guy. I don’t know, but Marble would be a good hipster author who can be funny and profound and will always do things a little differently. And sometimes follows you around like a dog.

And then there is Einstein. Einstein is not named for his staggering genius, but for his unruly fur. I think he should be a humorist, and I know Dave Barry likes dogs because he has written about them frequently. And his bangs hang in his face, like Einstein’s.

Of course, I have to delve into memories of pets past as well. Our dearly beloved Ben, the classic orange tabby with a heart of gold, would be Calvin Trillin, winner of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He’s a classic himself.

Then there is the dynamic dog duo, Bingo and Sadie. Bingo was a ham, always taking credit for Sadie’s work. She was a lovable free-spirit.  If we took them to the beach and threw sticks in the water, Sadie would swim out to retrieve them, but as soon as she got to shore, Bingo would grab them from her and run over all proud for having supposedly retrieved them himself. Obviously, to me, they are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Bingo, left, with Sadie.
F. Scott with Zelda.

I can go on like this for hours. Now I’ve started matching up animals at the shelter with their literary doppelgängers.

When I first saw Mordecai the mastiff, his stateliness made me think of Charles Dickens, the venerable author of so many icons of English literature. But I have revised my opinion lately to thinking he is really John Steinbeck, the venerable author of so many icons of American literature. Steinbeck, by the way, wrote a lovely book about his Standard Poodle Charley.

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Mordecai

When I saw scrappy little dachshund mix Facebook, I immediately thought of Alexander McCall Smith, prolific author of the series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Scotland Street. He has an infectious personality and his books are light and fun.

Facebook

 

I picked David Foster Wallace for Joey, mostly because for some reason he just looks like he’d write some of my favorite essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Joey will not follow in DFW’s footsteps in terms of early, self-inflicted death. Joey will live to be a grumpy old man cat with a sense of humor.

Joey

 

 

 

I’ll just do one more. Like I said, I could do this for hours. I read a lot, and I see a lot of animals in the course of my day.

Another of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I don’t know why it took me a little while to realize she would be my recent foster cat Merida. There is a sweetness to Tyler’s books, along with a faint melancholy, and always a theme of family and relationships. Merida is a sweetheart, had a rough start in life, is looking for her forever family, and could easily be the central character in a Tyler book if Tyler wrote books about cats.

Maybe some day I’ll actually write and publish a book. I hope so. I have a great author photo ready to go–I look serious and moody.

And then maybe someone will pair me up with my animal doppelgänger. I’m hoping for a sleek, dignified beauty, like an Irish Setter.

But I won’t be surprised if it is a roly poly kitten, either.

Meow!

Made to Order (Or, Just Accept Us All for Who We Are)

I woke up thinking about the little girl I never had, who I wrote about a little bit in Broken Dreams. In my fantasies, she loves to do the things I love to do. We would read together, I would teach her how to cook, of course she’d love animals, and we’d fingerpaint whenever possible. But maybe she wouldn’t have enjoyed these things. She might have prefered super heroes and running outside, climbing trees, and getting into mischief. Or maybe she would have been a math and science whiz, and smarter than me! Or maybe she’d have been all kinds of things. And of course I would have loved her no matter what.

 

Maybe in a science fiction movie or some weird clinic somewhere, you can put in your order of what your child will be, but it doesn’t work that way for the most part. On internet dating sites, you can look all you want for that perfect person who meets all of your criteria, but no one is exactly perfect and we shouldn’t expect them (or ourselves) to be so.

charlie

Working with adopters at an animal shelter, every day I talk with someone with very exact criteria of what they are looking for. For example: a small, white, hypoallergenic dog who is house-trained, doesn’t bark, likes kids, cats, other dogs, and can be left alone all day. Or a short-haired female kitten who is snuggly, playful, good with small children, dogs, chickens, litter-box trained, won’t scratch the couch, and just this shade of brown tabby. These are not realistic parameters.

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I’ll try to direct people to what I think are good fits for what they describe, but then they also expect to feel an instant bond, for the animal to look into their eyes and give them the sign that “this is the one”. Much like when we are meeting people, friendship can be slow to develop. Love at first sight is common in movies, but not so much in real life. We need to spend time together, get to know each other, and look beyond the superficial traits to the ones that really matter.

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Love at first sight might not turn out well. Look what happened to Romeo and Juliet, or to Tony and Maria.

 

Picking a companion animal based on looks often fails. Take the ubiquitous family with toddlers and an older dog who insist that the big beautiful young German Shepherd is the perfect dog for their family despite what we tell them about breed traits, jumpiness, keeping working dogs both physically and mentally engaged, energy levels, etc. Yes, sometimes it works beautifully. And sometimes the dog will be returned to the shelter within days for “being more than they could handle” or “knocks the children over” or “doesn’t get along with resident dog”.

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A bored dog is a naughty dog, as we say.

 

It reminds me of women who yearn after the cute bad boy only to find out later what a jerk he really is, while the really nice guy has been sitting there all along. All of her best friends warned her, but she wouldn’t listen. Of course this is a common movie theme, much like love at first sight, but it happens. Trust me. I have an ex-husband out there.

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Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled that people are coming to the shelter rather than going to pet stores or breeders. Sometimes love at first sight works for the human and the dog or cat. Just the other day a young woman took home a scruffy little dog who had been returned once already; she met him and loved him, went home to think about, and came back about an hour later, hoping he was still available, because she was sure he was right. And I believe it. They were perfect together.

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Sometimes the so-called “imperfect” ones, the one-eyed cat or the three-legged dog, are the most awesome friends you could ever ask for. And they deserve a chance at love and a good life just as much as any others. It’s what I call the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree approach. Love and attention made that tree beautiful; it was the one nobody else wanted but Charlie Brown saw that it needed him and it showed itself to be the special tree that it was all along.

What frustrates me is people who come in having seen a picture of an animal on the shelter’s web site. They want that one. Only that one. They don’t want to meet any other animals. And if the one they want has been adopted or isn’t perfect when they meet, they aren’t willing to meet a different dog or cat. Maybe the one you haven’t considered is the one for you. Think about it. It doesn’t hurt to give love a chance.

chance

 

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Please support your local animal shelter

Believe me, I hate asking for money as much as anyone. I could never work in development in any of the non-profits where I’ve worked or that I support. I am terrible at schmoozing, and I’d love it if we didn’t have to ask. But we do.

Yes, we all work hard for what we have. Most of us have causes near and dear to our hearts. I give money when I can, usually to animal shelters and rescues. I know people are in need as well, and I am glad that there are advocates for children, the homeless, the hungry, the environment.

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In searching for numbers, I found that in 2015, Americans gave $373.25 billion to charity in 2015, a record whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. That is incredibly generous. Americans also gave their time. Also in 2015, about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization. Non-profits depend on generosity of heart, mind, and, obviously, wallet.

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My cause of choice is animal shelters and rescue. For more than 6 years I volunteered at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, California. I made many friends and met some of the animals who now live with me. I still try to help out by fostering cats and kittens.

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Chiclet, my most recent foster for the East Bay SPCA.

 

I have been fortunate enough to change careers to now work for another animal shelter in the community, Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF).

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Baseball’s Tony La Russa founded ARF after the famous incident of a cat, later named Evie, running onto the field of an Oakland A’s baseball game.

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Located in Walnut Creek in the East Bay area of California, ARF is a wonderful facility. A private shelter, we rescue animals from the over-crowded public kill shelters and give them the time they need to find their forever homes.

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ARF offers many wonderful programs and services in addition to adoptions: many youth programs (my favorite being All Ears Reading), dog training, the Pet Hug Pack therapy animals, FoodShare (pet food pantry), the ARF Emergency Medical Fund, low cost spay/neuter services, a mobile clinic, and the awesome Pets for Vets program.

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Children develop reading skills by reading aloud to Pet Hug Pack animals through All Ears Reading.

 

 

So, here’s the part where I ask for money.

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I am fundraising for ARF’s yearly Animals on Broadway event, a pet walk and festival on Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Saturday, May 20. I won’t be walking in the event, as I have to be at work at the shelter helping adopt out animals! I am a virtual walker, a walker in spirit.

 

My fundraising goal is fairly modest, at $500. I have $300 as of the writing of this blog post. Thank you from the bottom of my animal-loving heart to those of you who have donated. I love you all!

If you can give any amount, please consider helping out. If not to my fundraising page, to someone else’s, or to your local shelter, or to whatever cause is important to you. If not money, time if you have it. Getting involved was the best decision I ever made. You won’t regret it.

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Snuffalufagus says Give!

 

 

Making a kitten video becomes a music appreciation lesson

Smart phones and social media have made it possible for me to indulge myself in my fantasy world of talking animals that I so believed in as a child. I was a shy, quiet, bookish girl, lost in my stories of animals and little people like The Wind in the Willows and The Borrowers (see Some of the books that made me a life-long reader). If I had access to video and the internet in the 1960s, I am sure I would have been unbearable, dressing the family pets in clothes and making them act in weddings and other such human activities. But I can have my second childhood now and let my mind go back to that precious place.

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Today was the day that the most recent family of foster kittens left our care to return to the shelter for their next steps in the adoption process. So the 10-year old that lives in my head decided we needed to make a graduation ceremony video. My cameraman (cough, cough, Robert Ward) kept getting his hand in the picture, but we are still working on our technique.

 

You can’t have a graduation without playing Pomp and Circumstance.

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Which is where the story takes a turn from kittens to musicians. As we were driving the kittens to the East Bay SPCA, Bob, who happens to be a classical musician, said, “Elgar is the James Taylor of classical music.” Um, what? This required some explanation.

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Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
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James Taylor (born 1948)

James Taylor has a way of creating a sentimental, nostalgic, introspective mood that often seems to look back on better days and times.

 

Matthew Riley wrote an entire book on Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination (2007, Cambridge University Press). He uses terms like vanished greatness, a lament for times past, childhood and the countryside of an old England as musical subject matter. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th were times of great change, and Elgar’s music was a look at times past, not a look forward to the future. Arguably, the same can be said for James Taylor reflecting on the late 20th century/early 21st century.

While driving me and the kittens (I see a new story called Driving Miss Crazy Cat Lady in here somewhere), Bob put the car audio system on Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A Minor. It’s quite lovely. Here it is performed at the North York Moors Festival in 2013.

 

It was suggested by my instructor that I might like the Enigma Variations as well. I do have a taste for both nostagia and melancholy, but I usually lean toward sad and folky singer/songwriters since I am still fairly ignorant of the classical music world after all these years (sorry Bob).

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The Enigma Variations (1898-1899) comprise 14 variations on an original theme, each variation being a musical sketch of a loved one or close acquaintance. I won’t post all 14, but here is a selection, Nimrod, the 9th variation and tribute to Elgar’s great friend Augustus Jaeger, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1997.

 

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Music editor Augustus Jaeger (1860-1909).

Another singer/songwriter in the musical world I inhabit is Natalie Merchant.

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Natalie Merchant (born 1963).

Whenever I take a foster cat family back to the shelter, saying goodbye to them always makes me think of the song Break Your Heart.

 

Did Sir Elgar like animals? I have no idea. I assume Natalie Merchant does, although I couldn’t find an image of her with any. She did allow the use of her song My Skin on one of those heart-breaking and tear-inducing ASPCA ads, which is too hard to watch so I am not showing it here. But this is the song:

 

I know James Taylor likes animals. His cat, Ray Taylor, is often featured in JT’s social media.

 

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James and Ray Taylor.

Now that we’ve come full circle back to cats (I knew I could do it), I will leave you with this. Please consider fostering for your local shelter. It will add joy to your life, and help the shelter save more lives. You might even meet your new best friend, like Marble here, who entered our lives as a foster and now is a member of our furry family (see The one that didn’t get away).

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Peace and hugs.

When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

beauty

In physics, it’s called the irresistible force paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The paradox exists in that at its center are two incompatible principles–an unmovable object and an unstoppable force. The logic arises that neither such thing exists.

In music, it’s a  wonderful 1955 song called Something’s Gotta Give, with words and music by Johnny Mercer and famously sung by Frank Sinatra.

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Johnny Mercer

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In my life, I am the unmovable force and a dog named Snuffalaffugus (a misspelling of the Sesame Street character’s name Snuffleupagus) is the irresistible force.

 

As many of you know, I work at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). I am Proud to be a Crazy Cat Lady. I love dogs, yes. The world’s cutest dog lets me live in his house.

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Einstein, another irresistible force, adopted from the East Bay SPCA.

At the shelter, I am more comfortable over on the cat side than I am on the dog side. I love scruffy terriers, and if a dog remotely resembling a Cocker Spaniel arrives at the shelter, I immediately start singing songs from Lady and the Tramp.

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A Cocker Spaniel and a scruffy terrier–I’m in! Plus there are cats, evil Siamese cats. A Disney classic.

 

Then along came Snuffalaffugus, who I call Snuffy. This 91-pound American Staffordshire Terrier (also known as the Amstaff or Stafford or by the more common pit bull terrier) mix does not look like a dog I would hang out with. I confess to a lingering fear of large dogs, especially the “bully breeds”. In short, I am afraid of pit bulls.

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The classic American Staffordshire Terrier. This is not Snuffy.

 

As an adoption counselor, I remain neutral on breeds and help potential adopters with whichever dog or cat they’d like to vist. The first time I was called on to show Snuffy, I went into an internal panic. But I pulled on my big girl panties, grabbed a leash, took a deep breath, and entered her kennel. And fell in love.

My first meeting with Snuffy. The irresistible force won.

 

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Meet Snuffaluffagus.

 

We were recently asked to submit photos to use on the Foundation’s organizational chart. A group of us decided to take each other’s pictures with ARF animals. I went against Cat Lady character and decided to pose with Snuffy. It took quite a few shots, but we finally got one with both of us sitting still.

 

Now I spend every spare minute I have visiting Snuffy in her kennel, getting doggy kisses and singing to her. We both need to lose a few pounds, so I really should be out walking her around, but I prefer sitting on the floor while she tries to fit herself in my lap and knocks me over in her enthusiastic face licking frenzies.

 

Amstaffs are one of the several breeds referred to as pit bulls. Pit bulls have had a lot of bad publicity and have become subject to insidious breed restrictions. These restrictions make it harder to place loving dogs like Snuffy with good families.

Amstaffs historically were considered to be loyal family dogs and good with children. In old photos, you often see pit bulls pictured with children.

 

The classic early comedy short films from 1922 to 1944, Our Gang (The Little Rascals), featured the gang’s loyal companion Petey. Petey was, you guessed it, an American pit bull terrier.

 

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The RCA Victor dog is a pit. So is the dog from the Buster Brown stories and shoes.

 

So, what happened to lead us up to the days of stories like Michael Vick and his dog fighting pit? (I will not show the horrible images of the maimed dogs he is responsible for.)

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The concept of pit bulls as Nanny Dogs may be a bit overstated, but the bad reputation of the dogs is something fairly recent. For reasons I don’t know and won’t investigate here, dog fighting rose in popularity in the 1980s and continues today. Pit bulls are incredibly strong dogs and super smart, meaning they are highly trainable. Which can mean trouble if the dog trainer has bad intentions. With the pit bull’s massive head and jaws, their bite can be deadly. In addition to fighting dogs, they have come to be seen by some as cheap, effective guard dogs. I prefer an alarm system myself.

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At the animal shelter, our aim is to place companion dogs in homes with loving families. Snuffy’s previous family was displaced by a house fire and had no choice but to relinquish their beloved dog to the shelter system. They loved her dearly. She was a member of their family. Now she is with us at ARF, and we will do our best to match her with guardians who understand her and will give her the love and exercise she needs.

You might ask why I don’t adopt her myself. One, I have a full house: Einstein, 3 cats, and a continuing rotation of foster cats. Two, I am at work full time, as is Bob. We aren’t able to provide Snuffy what she needs. Three, I want to see her make another family as happy as she makes me. It’s one of the rewards of my job. I can’t adopt each and every animal I fall in love with, but I can feel the joy of someone else falling in love. I get to be a part of something special.

Consider donating to or volunteering at your local shelter so they can continue saving lives like Snuffy’s and Einstein’s. Adopt, don’t shop. And spread the word for Snuffy and all the other animals who deserve better than the cards they’ve been dealt in life.

 

Peace and hugs.

 

Why cats need claws (and how to make me really mad)

Note: You may find some of the images included in this post disturbing.

I work at an animal shelter. We are against the declawing of cats. I am against the declawing of cats. There are so many reasons why it is wrong, and, to me, there is no good reason to do it. Drapes and furniture are not worth causing suffering to an animal, possibly for her entire life. It is not up to a human to make a choice to mutilate an animal. You want to tattoo yourself, put plugs in your earlobes, have cosmetic surgery, whatever, go for it. It’s your choice.

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If you want to do this to yourself, I will not stop you. (Although maybe I should.)

 

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If you want to do this to a cat, I think you and the vet who performs the surgery should both be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
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There is no excuse for this.

A cat is not given a choice when declawed. If someone asked you, “Hey, how do you feel about having  all of your fingers amputated at the first knuckle joint?”,  I have a strong feeling you would say NO as you ran quickly in the other direction.

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Why am I bringing this up? Recently at the shelter, we had 3 cats come into our care that had been declawed. Two were brothers who were only 7 months old. They are not done growing at 7 months old. And the people who had them declawed decided they didn’t want the cats anymore anyway. THIS IS HOW TO MAKE ME ANGRY! VERY ANGRY.

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You don’t want to make me angry.

Luckily, we were able to place all 3 cats in loving homes with families who understood the implications of declawing (cats must be kept indoors, they can be in pain and possibly have litterbox issues because it hurts to dig, they can bite since their first defense of claws  has been taken away, they are more more prone to joint problems such as arthritis) and were willing to give the cats a safe place.

But then we had a potential adopter come in who insisted that she would be declawing the kittens she wanted to adopt. Sometimes we have issues of language and come to find that people actually mean trimming claws when they say declawing. Trimming a cat’s claws is a good thing; declawing them is not. It’s good to clarify this going into any adoption conversation. The shelter informed her we would not adopt a cat to her. I am so relieved that our management stuck to their guns; this person was a potential donor to the shelter and we like to keep them happy. Funding is important. I am proud to say I respect my managers and director for saying no.

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If your furniture is that important to you, don’t bring a companion animal into your home! I wish I didn’t have to say that; I wish all homes enjoyed the love and special bond of having animal best friends. But honestly, it is best if some people do not; if animals are going to be left outdoors and/or mutilated because it is more convenient, then get a houseplant instead. You can talk to them. They don’t do the things that animals do that seem to be a problem to you. You can give them names. Dress them in little clothes. Get into bonsai. I don’t care.

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Declawing is considered an act of cruelty and is illegal in at least 22 countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

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The first declawing ban in the United States was instituted in West Hollywood, California, in 2003. Last November, New Jersey was on the path to becoming the first US state to ban declawing (the medical term is onychectomy), with a bill that was approved in legislative assembly. I need to check into the status of that bill. I hope it paves the way for other states to follow suit.

Why cats needs claws:

Parade.com’s pets and wildlife writer Michele C. Hollow summarizes 5 reasons cats need their claws:

-Protection

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aggressive

-Exercise

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-Marking territory (declawed cats retain the natural instinct to scratch; their scent glands are in their paws)

-Balance

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-Health

There are humane alternatives to declawing!

-Cat trees and scratchers

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-Nail covers (they look goofy and I’m not sure how the cats like them, but better than declawing!)

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-Keep nails trimmed. You can learn to do it. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, ask your cat-loving friends for help. Or ask for your cat to get a “mani/pedi” whenever you are on a visit to the veterinarian.

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-Cat aversives (double-sided tape on furniture, bitter apple or citrus sprays; best in combination with cat trees and scratchers)

-Products such as Feliway, which mimic cat pheromones, to reduce a cat’s need to mark territory

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-My approach: cats are cats and I am a trendsetter with my “fringed” furniture.

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It’s trendy in clothing.
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Women pay a lot for jeans that look like they should be thrown away.

I love cats so much that my tolerance for “furniture fringing” is pretty high. I also have a new sewing machine and am interested in learning to make slip covers for my upholstered furniture. A much less expensive way to get a new look in home decor!

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Apparently, there is even such a thing as cat-friendly upholstery fabric that won’t shred.

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Cats are living beings who suffer pain just like us. I have had special bonds with every animal I have had the pleasure to share a home with. I remember all of them (see Remembrance of pets past (National Pet Memorial Day 2016)). Do I remember my couches over the years? Not really. As my friend Molly said, “It’s just cloth.”

If you MUST have a declawed cat, please look at shelters for cats that are already declawed so another cat won’t have to go through this. There are sometimes ones in need of adoptive homes.

I will end my soapbox rant here.

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I have absolutely no reason to show this photo. I just think it’s ridiculously cute so I am putting it here because I can.

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The City of Oakland wins the battle, but I win the war (meow)

If you are one of my loyal readers (Hi Beth, Cathy, Ellen, and Bob), you might remember my call to arms over being issued a parking ticket on Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day when the meter was clearly marked that it was a meter holiday (see City of Oakland, You Suck! (Or, a Tale of a Valiant Fight against a Parking Ticket)).

 

I filed my appeal, and waited for the ridiculously slow snail-mail response.

I finally got the letter in the mail. Remember when going to the mailbox to get the mail was exciting? Those days are long gone.

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When I was a kid…
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…versus now.

 

Basically, the result of my so-called “administrative hearing” (how is it a hearing if I never got to speak?) is that I am being called a liar. M. Thornton, the Administrative Hearing Examiner, writes: “The pay station in the photograph does not match City of Oakland pay stations.”

 

 

WHAT?! Last I checked, Ultimate Grounds Coffee at 4225 Park Boulevard, Oakland (where I was at the time of the ticketing) was most firmly in the City of Oakland.

 

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M.Thornton advised that I had until December 16 to file another appeal, which would cost $25. I already paid the $58 ticket. I don’t really care about the money. It’s the principle of the darned thing.

 

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I enlisted my deputy, Bob. Armed with a mighty iPhone (and reinforcing our strength at Marzano restaurant, conveniently across the street from the alleged parking violation), we gathered our evidence.

 

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As you can see, not only is the pay station still marked with the meter holiday label in question, it also is marked with the City of Oakland logo. What do you have to say now, M. Thornton?

 

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I could smell victory in the air! Or maybe it was the coffee from Ultimate Grounds.

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The only problem was, I had to now actually find a time to go in person to Alameda County Superior Court. I work full time. And I am a full-time student. And it was coming up on the end of the semester with 4 major papers due. But I had plenty of time, so I said to myself.

So I procrastinated. I worked. I wrote papers (or procrastinated about writing papers). And all of the sudden it was December 15th! Argh! What’s a warrior princess to do?

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Then I got the email from the East Bay SPCA. A mother cat with 1-week old babies needed a foster home. Could I take them? And pick them up during my last two-hour window of time to file my appeal of the ticket on December 16 before I had to be at work? Of course I could. Kittens! Hello! Kittens will always trump parking tickets.

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The scales of justice will always favor kittens in my book.

 

I heeded the wise words of Goethe.

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And I did what would the best thing not just for the kittens, but for my peace of mind.

 

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Yes, this looks exactly like me. Really.

 

Meet Rosarita and her little beans. All are healthy and doing well.

 

I hope when the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future visit M. “Ebenezer Scrooge” Thornton, they scare the wits out of him/her.

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How I picture M.Thornton.
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Scrooge visited by the Ghosts. He became a nice man after this.

I’ll leave you with the words of Tiny Tim.

 

Oops, wrong Tiny Tim.

Even you, M. Thornton.

Three little sailors

In a moment of insanity, Bob agreed to me bringing in another foster cat family from the East Bay SPCA.
We have 3 resident cats and a very tolerant dog.

Einstein

 

Sara, 18 years old and queen of the house.

 

Misty, the magical mystical cat.

 

Marble, the new kid on the block.

 

But knowing that we could help save 4 more lives outweighed my common sense and Bob is the best boyfriend ever, so welcome aboard Yuki and her babies Kyro, Smudge, and Patrick. I’m in love again!

Yuki, such a good mom and super nice.

 

Yuki and the kids. Patrick is the orange and white, Kyro is the gray and white and little Smudge is the dilute tortie.

 

It’s hard not to fall in love with kittens! And I play the “if I could keep one, which one would I keep” game. Smudge.

Marble is understandably confused about the guests in what used to be his room.But he has Einstein to harass and Misty has taken him on as her annoying kid brother to boss around.

Me, I’m spending a lot of evening hours sitting on the floor taking endless pictures and videos of the family and introducing the kittens to my favorite shows. They love a good cooking competition.

Kyro likes Worst Bakers in America.

 

Kyro, winner of Best Kitten Belly.

 

Patrick weighs in.

 

Smudge, wriggling her way into my heart.

 

Whenever we have kittens in the house, and they are just getting mobile, I can’t help singing the old song about drunken sailors.

 


They’ll be with us for another couple of weeks. Fostering is one of the best things we do!

And thank you, Bob.