County wordsmiths write about life with their furriest, funniest, most dependable—and sometimes most difficult—family members.
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Just Who, Exactly, Is the Master?
By Terry Richard Bazes
Terry Richard Bazes and Dr. Watson
The family loved the idea that the new kitty was to be the Watson to my Holmes. I took that to mean that he was supposed to be content with the role of sidekick, while I was the one solving the big mysteries. But it hasn’t worked out that way—especially when he hides every time I try to put him away, or jumps up on the table when we’re eating, or puts his ears back and bites me for his own mysterious reason. Which is why, sometimes, I at least show him the spray bottle—just to let him know who’s supposed to be the top cat on Baker Street.
But (especially considering the name we’ve given him) the question of who’s in charge isn’t quite so easy to settle. After all, our kitten’s fictional namesake is a writer. If Dr. Watson hadn’t recorded all the great detective’s cases, the world would never have heard of Sherlock Holmes. So isn’t it possible that my own little Watson has at least as much to offer me as I have to offer him? And I’m not talking about just the warm furriness of his extravagant beauty.
Like Sherlock with his spells of ennui, I’m always getting lost in human problems. But for Watson, the sound of crinkling cellophane is a source of wonder and a cardboard box to hide in or a ball of paper on the floor to swat at are enough to make him happy. And Watson is a model of patience. If he smells a mouse beneath our refrigerator, he remains staked out on our kitchen floor for hours. Even scooping out his litter box is good for me because it reminds me of Dr. Johnson’s dictum that “nothing is too small for such a small thing as man.” As I walk by in a cloud, he’ll leap up onto the top of an armchair and tap me with his paw, as if to bring me out of my human daze and return me to the moment.
But it’s much more than that. I was the father of two little boys who’ve now become men. And now that they’re grown and out of the house, Watson is the child who still sits on my wife’s lap at night, the little boy who will never grow up and go away from Papa. That’s not to say that all is well between us. I see the way he looks out the window and longs for the adventures of the forest. I know he’s still a half-wild thing—and that it’s wrong to lock him up.
But that’s the deal: I give him the safety of a home and he brings the forest inside with him. Why should I expect this bargain to be perfect? Watson doesn’t like it when I shoo him off the table and I don’t like it when he uses our antique loveseat as a scratching post. But when I lie down on the couch in front of the fire, he’ll often jump up on my chest—and sometimes we’ll take a snooze together and, in our creature warmth, forget about the differences between our species.
In addition to being the father of one cat and two humans, Pleasantville resident Terry Richard Bazes is also the father of two darkly comic novels—Goldsmth’s Return and the soon-to-be-published Lizard World.
The Ticking Time Bomb of Puppy Love
By Benjamin Cheever
Author Benjamin Cheever with Hotcakes and Oodle
My wife and I were waiting to go through security at the Providenciales International Airport when the woman on line in front of us unzipped her carry-on and produced one brown puppy and then another. “The security officer had to make certain they were puppies and not bombs,” I said afterwards when I told the story, and I've told the story often. Janet had taken me to Turks and Caicos as a surprise birthday present. This secret was well known to everybody but me.
Puppies and bombs have more in common than we might at first suppose. Puppies are all about love and love is the most explosive element in a human life. It doesn’t ordinarily rate news coverage, but it’s love, not plastique, that spins lives along.
Can you see what’s coming? Turned out the pups were Potcakes, being brought to the States for adoption. Potcakes are Caribbean mutts, named for the food stuck at the bottom of a cooking pot. Legend has it that these scrapings are often fed to the feral dogs who live on Turks and Caicos and in the Bahamas.
The volunteer for the Turks and Caicos Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals let me handle the pups before we boarded our flight for New York. Janet could see I was in love. I’ve been looking at her that same way for decades now. The dog we already had, Oodle, the Schnoodle, was female. So we took the male. Schnoodle is now six. Hotcakes (rhymes with Potcakes) will be three in May. They get along famously.
Friends and neighbors thought Hotcakes should be thankful, on account of he began life as a stray, covered with fleas (which I picked up that first night). A dog that would have been lucky to get the scrapings from a cooking pot now feasts on Science Diet for Sensitive Stomachs. An animal who might have slept in drainage ditches has his own personal mattress. "Where’s your bed?” I ask, and Hotcakes goes and fetches it and brings it to his spot beside my own bed.
His sense of self is too great for a life of gratitude, though he doesn’t complain—as does his master—about the bitter winters. December finds him spread over the heating vent in the kitchen.
I called on our stray after I slipped on the ice last winter while running. I hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, I went upstairs to take a hot bath. I called Hotcakes. I thought I’d find in his big, brown eyes the confidence I needed—hard to get into a tub when only one hand works. Hotcakes came but, when our eyes locked, he put his tail between his legs and hurried downstairs and into his crate. He could see that I was in shock. Turned out that I had broken my arm. Hotcakes was the first to know how badly I was hurt.
Hotcakes didn’t take me to the hospital. He didn’t even have the stomach to stick around for my bath. He didn’t pretend to share my pain. He shared it so thoroughly that it freaked him out.
That first night, almost three years ago, I rode back from the airport with the pup sleeping in my arms. We had plans for the evening so, when we reached home, I fed the dog, let him out, and then took him into the bathroom. After he’d fallen back to sleep, I tiptoed off, but he heard the click of the door closing, and let out a poignant little cry that clove my heart. The love first voiced at that moment has echoed and deepened since then, changing everything. There was a bomb then in that carry-on bag.
Benjamin Hale Cheever is the author of four novels (The Plagarist, The Partisan, Famous After Death, The Good Nanny), and two works of non-fiction (Selling Ben Cheever and Strides) as well as the editor of The Letters of John Cheever. He lives in Pleasantville with his wife, Janet Maslin, film and literary critic for the New York Times and president of the Board of the Jacob Burns Film Center, and their two dogs, Oodle and Hotcakes.
Must Absolutely, Positively Adore Dogs
By Laurie Yarnell
Gary and Laurie Yarnell with 80-pound Maggie
“So that’s why you’re so into dogs,” people say when they learn that my husband is a veterinarian. “Actually, no,” I say. “That’s why I got into him.”
My love affair with all things canine dates back to my childhood, through Smitty the beagle, Roger I and Roger II, our back-to-back collies, and Happy the dachshund—and certainly pre-dates meeting my husband, then a veterinary student. And yes, his future career definitely added to the attraction. Here was a guy who would never—okay, hardly ever—make fun of me for kissing any future fur children on their snouts, giving voice out loud to their obviously brilliant inner musings, and welcoming them into the parental bed—and under the covers. So maybe he ended up being not too crazy about the under-the-covers part but even he couldn’t argue with lower winter heating bills when I spun cuddling up with 80 pounds of warm puppy as an eco-friendly way to reduce our household’s fuel consumption.
And, as I had hoped, my husband the vet has more than upheld his share of the bargain, from those early years before we had kids of our own species right on through their launch out the door. Our various dogs were family before, during, and after the various hands-on human parenting stages. And now that our kids are—mostly—out of the house, our pooches are the ones who are excited to see us when we walk in the door, keep us company when we’re under the weather, and drag us around the block to give us some exercise. “What empty nest?” the hubby and I ask each other on the nights when our little litter—he, I, our Lab puppy, Gracie, and our 12-year-old standard poodle, Kayley—lay sprawled out on our king-sized bed together.
Do we love our dog children more than the ones who actually share our DNA? Of course not. Though not one of our furry offspring has ever brought home 13 pounds of dirt-encrusted gym socks or “bumped into” another car on 287.
What Do We Do without Buddy?
By Carly Phillips
Author Carly Phillips with Buddy and Bailey
There is an old saying: “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Anyone who owns a pet knows this is true, but some dogs are something more. My best boy, Buddy, a soft-coated Wheaten terrier, was my best friend and so much more. He epitomized love and the emotion emanated from his eyes. I felt this love every time he curled into me and he charmed everyone he met. A piece of my heart is forever empty as I recently helped him over the Bridge. The whys don’t matter. What does matter is that he was at peace at the end, loving and sweet until his last breath, and I held him until he was gone. Now my heart is breaking and I’m trying to find a way to go forward without my best boy.
I used to tell Buddy, “You’re on the not allowed list”—not allowed to get sick, not allowed to die. I think he listened, because he gave me twelve and a half years. I can look back now and see the last six months he wasn’t my Buddy. He was skin and bones—his ribs stuck through—but he was bright-eyed and full of love, as always. I wanted to believe there was more in him, that he had more time. In the end, I think we made the decision before he started truly suffering but after the real ending began. Now, I’m left trying to find some peace. It’s going to take awhile. My entire family is devastated and lost and, every time we all look at each other, we start crying again.
From this experience, I’ve come to hate the word “time”—time heals, time will tell how we will cope. Time is but an illusion. When our dogs are with us, time goes too fast, and, when they’re gone, time seems to drag.
So what happens now? We have another Wheaten named Bailey and she’s three and a half years old. We adore her. But she’s not Buddy. She’s herself. Like children, dogs have their own personalities. I’m not sure I understood that before we were owned by two Wheatens. Bailey is female and, while Buddy was all about what we wanted and needed, Bailey is all about herself. What we can do for her. Pet her. Rub her belly. Feed her. But don’t expect her to cuddle into us or give us attention when we want or need it. Before we lost Buddy, the differences in dog personalities didn’t seem to matter so much, but now, we all need so much more.
The lesson and the way to go forward can be summed up in one word: acceptance. Accept that Buddy is gone and there will never be another dog like him. And, most important, accept Bailey for who she is and don’t expect her to be something she’s not. Learn to celebrate her and what she gives in her own way. Dogs teach us so many things in the course of their too-short lives and even more with their passing.
New York Times bestselling romance author Carly Phillips has written more than 25 published novels with her beloved Wheaten terrier, Buddy, by her side. She lives in Purchase with her husband, two daughters, and her soft-coated Wheaten terrier, Bailey, who acts like their third child.