“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Day 27: Zoe + Rebecca +Webster: An Interspecies Love Triangle

Anyone who insists that dogs only live in the present and don't have long memories has never tried to take Zoe on a walk up Prospect Street.

Rebecca hasn't lived in the little house halfway up on the right since Zoe turned about two, but Zoe always pulls me to that house when we are on the street and then runs up toward the porch wagging her tail. That's because this house was on Zoe's regular round of stops we made during the first summer of her life, when I had far too much time on my hands (we call this a sabbatical) and I took her on three or four short walks a day, the last being after dinner, as night was falling.

Rebecca loves all animals and had great tips on housebreaking pups and how to train them with hand signals so that I could get Zoe to lie down without having to interrupt what I was saying.  She had raised dogs in her past out in Oregon, and her advice was solid.  But Zoe's fascination with Rebecca and her porch--where the two humans would sometimes drink a glass of iced tea or soda water or wine on a nice, hot summer night while practicing sign language with Zoe until she was supine--lay less with us and more with the critters lurking just beyond her grasp.  Rebecca had two cats.

I wanted to introduce Zoe to every kind of animal, human and non-human, so that she wouldn't always be so shy, and wouldn't remain as she appeared at the onset: a one or two person dog.  And so I took her to meet other people and other dogs from the start, and soon, Zoe had a lot more friends than I do.  Once, I took her out to a woman's hobby farm so that Zoe could learn to commune with horses and donkeys and goats, but that didn't work very well.  When we got on the other side of the fence, Zoe ran up to the geese and tried to herd them.  The miniature horses and donkeys and goats took one look at Zoe and said, "Who made you Tzar of our farm?" and without so much as a group huddle they charged her--they charged us.  The panic in Zoe's face as she ran from the field to the fence--as we ran together to the safety of my car on the other side of the street, past oncoming traffic--is a memory that imprinted itself on my brain as one of the stupidest things I ever did with her, even if it doesn't stay with her or stop her from telling off the Amish horses clopping past our house.

But Rebecca's house.  Wow.  Those cats were fascinating.  Sometimes Jasper would deign to let her come a little bit closer, but he made it known that if she crossed the line, he would scratch her eyes out.  At least he let her on the porch.  Sophie was the boss of everyone and had no interest in acknowledging my pound pup's existence.

I wanted Zoe to become a cat-dog.  I'd heard the two species, if introduced at the right time, can coexist in peace and even become friends.  At the time many of my friends and colleagues had cats and I wanted to be able to bring Zoe over.  I could picture her spooning with a big fat Manx or sniffing catnip with a tabby, but my dreams, as ever, were just a bit too romantic and utopian for real life.

At Rebecca's house, Zoe was on cat turf and she had to hold herself back.  But the thrill of the chase--it was intoxicating.  These cats are going to love me some day, she would tell me.  Or maybe it was just, I'm going to rule these cats and they will be my servants, just like I rule you.

When Zoe, as the mistress of our household, convinced my husband and me to take her to France (not that we needed much persuasion) I worried at first that she'd be too playful and friendly to the other dogs we'd see under tables in nice restaurants.  But Zoe was so shocked and amazed to be inside these forbidden places that her fear made her docile.  She was a bit like me at my first trustee dinner straight out of grad school when, across the table from millionaires, I focused more on using the right fork and not putting the butter directly on my roll than on the conversation at hand.  On the hoof, she frolicked only with dogs who invited her to frolic, and that was on walks in parks, but truth be told, the French are not big on the canine meet-and-greet.  Their social reserve extends to the dog world as well.

But all of that changed when we went to Corsica, our favorite place of all our travels in France.  One day we walked to a part of the island you can only get to by boat or on foot.  In a short span of time, Zoe got to hike, swim, greet cows and pigs from a polite distance, and love up a series of dogs who were as warm and boisterous as Americans.

But then something happened that darkened our day.  Zoe took her fascination with kitties--her unrequited love/pursuit of them--to the next level, and she got scratched on the face.  The café cat she and I encountered up the hill was, I discovered after talking to a few locals, known for being a bully.  This cat had scratched and terrorized her before I could say, "I told you so," and Zoe was running away, back to the bar where my husband was relaxing with a beer, before I knew what had happened.
Zoe running away from her perpetrator, the wicked café cat, who was hot on her heels

The evil cat running after Zoe.  I'd never photographed my own shadow before.
I do think Zoe's memory is selective, because if she remembered this unfortunate contretemps on Corsica, she would not keep pulling at the lead on evening strolls in Canton and demanding to go to Rebecca's house.

After we pass the little house on Prospect, Zoe then tugs and pulls until we get to State Street, where Rebecca moved with her husband before Zoe was a full-grown dog.  I am not a big fan of the pop-in, the unannounced visit, because when people drop in on me I'm usually napping or reading or writing or wearing sweatpants and have crumbs in my hair, but Zoe thinks that it's a good idea to drop in on Rebecca no matter the hour.  I might try to nudge her to go a different way home, but Zoe sits down and does a hell no, I won't go--holding her head defiantly and refusing to budge.

I know she loves Rebecca for other reasons.  Rebecca gives her greenies.  Rebecca gives her love.  Rebecca pets her and scratches her ears.  But after Rebecca lost her husband and found a new cat, Webster, to keep her company, Zoe decided that Webster would be her new best friend.

But Webster is shy and Webster is smart.  He knows when a dog has entered his domain before we've even knocked on the door, and he runs into his hidey-hole before I can even say, "Sorry, Rebecca, another pop-in."

Zoe runs around the house, drinking Webster's water, smelling him on the carpet and on his toys, and sometimes she sticks her head underneath the furniture where he has hid.

But it's no use.  This love, this pursuit.  It's unrequited.  Webster hides and Zoe stalks him, but she'll never ever catch him.

As with many creatures of this earth, human especially, sometimes it's more about the thrill of the chase than the realized goal of actually communing that makes her go where she goes and tug and pull as she does.

In the meantime, Rebecca and I drink our iced tea or seltzer or wine and talk about how good it is to see each other, and how much we love our pets, and how we couldn't live without them.

1 comment:

  1. Love the photojournalism of kitty crimes committed in Corsica!