Pet Prose

County wordsmiths write about life with their furriest, funniest, most dependable—and sometimes most difficult—family members.



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.

 

 

My Four-Legged Muse
By Andrew Gross

Author Andrew Gross with Tobey

People always ask me, as they do all writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” I figure each of us has our own secret weapon—the one thing that always works when the creative engine has ground to a halt. When all else fails. Maybe it’s jogging under a blue sky. Or sitting at Starbucks with a latte. Or listening to Mahler’s Fourth, smoking who knows what.

Mine is white with four legs. It’s my Westie, Tobey.

It always seems to happen like this: it’s the middle of the night, one of those rare, beautiful sleeps allowing me a small respite from two weeks’ worth of plot elements that go nowhere and ideas that end up as dead-ends. Suddenly, my wife and I are jolted out of sleep by the ear-splitting cannonade of our dog barking his head off, feverishly scratching at the bedroom window, madly trying to paw his way through the glass.

We shoot up in bed. It’s 3 am. My usual first reaction cannot be printed, and probably isn’t appropriate for an animal-friendly article.

Then he’s on the floor, barking at us, hurling himself against the door to get out. We open the door to let him go, or cover our heads with the pillow yelling at him until he finally settles down. My wife is usually back asleep before her head hits the pillow. I, howeverm, grumbling why we even have this dog (just kidding!!!), lie there watching the clock slowly tick away.

And then it starts to happen: first, maybe just one little nugget that solves a book thing I’ve been noodling out for days. Yeah...I run it over in my head about a dozen times. That might just work! At least being woken up at 3 am hasn’t been a total waste!

Then, it’s like comets flashing in the night—as soon as I close my eyes it happens again! That character’s song lyrics—they could mean something. They could be a message for something, or even a warning! I like it! I jump out of bed, eager to write that down!

All of a sudden, I’m wide awake, but it doesn’t matter, because everything, everything that has escaped my grasp for the past few weeks, is suddenly taking shape! Suddenly, it’s like there’s music in the wind and I’m the only one who can hear it. I race with the pen just to keep up with each new idea. The only challenge now is to simply get them all down—and hope they’ll make sense in the morning. Which they usually do. Where the hell is it all coming from? Every book I’ve written can trace its finest moments to a random nocturnal event, having been woken up by...

I turn and look at the dog. By that time he’s usually curled back in bed. Asleep. I stare at him until he finally opens his eyes. (Reversal is fair game!) And I wonder, does he know? Are you aware? Hello in there... My muse, the thing that always comes to me when I need it most...
Tobey, is it you?

He wags his tail just once with a look that says something like, “Well, someone has to keep this family in dog food.”
Needless to add, my writer friends all ask if he can spend the night at their house every once in a while.

After co-authoring with James Patterson five #1 New York Times bestsellers (e.g., Judge and Jury, Lifeguard, Third Degree), Andrew Gross went on to write his own New York Times bestselling thrillers, including The Blue Zone, The Dark Tide, Reckless, and Don’t Look Twice. His next book, Eyes Wide Open, will be published by William Morrow in July. He and Tobey (and his wife Lynn) live in Purchase.

 

Pet Stories
By Kate Buford

A donkey, two horses, dogs, a bunch of ducks, one lamb that lasted about a week, a couple of feral cats, one of them pitch black. There were so many pets running in and around the Northern California home where I grew up, a place a lot like Westchester. At Easter, we got to go downtown and each choose a baby chick, often dyed pink or green, and bring it home in a little Chinese food box. They never lasted long. I had a turtle once. He died, too, when I couldn’t figure out how to open his food tin. The goldfish got proper burials in the flowerbed just outside the kitchen door—also called “The Infirmary,” where my father nursed sick red geraniums back to health. Our Popsicle sticks were the tombstones.

My father was great with dogs, especially Labs and Retrievers. He loved to train them to perfect obedience, something he was never able to do with his four children. A favorite trick was to place a piece of meat, preferably raw, on the bridge of a dog’s nose and make him, blinking and salivating, keep it there until Dad said, “OK!” We were always surprised when outsiders thought that was cruel. Didn’t they understand that the dogs worshipped my father, gathering at the door, ecstatic, when he came home from work every night? When Cuchulain, our great and noble Golden Retriever, came to the end, Dad took him to the vet to be put down. The dog knew what was up, but he faced his fate bravely. When it was all over, the vet, a family friend with a slight stammer, said to my dad, “He was a g-g-g-gentleman!”

But probably the most apocalyptic pet story was the one about the rabbits. One spring, some friends with a farm up near Santa Rosa let me take home a litter of about 10 beautiful Dutch bunnies. They were small, delicate, and had various white and brown markings. Dad let me have them because there were already a couple of rabbit hutches, empty, next to our paddock. I just had to remember to feed the bunnies. Which I did. Eventually, they grew into rabbits and, by late May, I had given all but one away. She was my favorite, brown and cuddly.

It gets hot east of the Berkeley Hills where we lived—dry, blistering, cobalt-blue heat. By mid-June, the night of the high school graduation, it was well over 100 degrees. I was new to rabbits and didn’t realize I should have soaked burlap sacks in water from the horses’ trough and draped them over the hutch. “They’re your rabbits, dead or alive,” said Dad the next morning, Saturday. So, I took a shovel, walked down to the paddock, dug a hole next to the hutch, and buried my rabbit.

But, I had forgotten about Cuchulain, who was still with us then. And the heat. Sunday morning, my little brother, Kevin, came to the bottom of the stairs leading to my room above the garage. “Kate! Wake up!” he yelled. “Your rabbit is resurrected from the dead!” The dog had dug up the rabbit and deposited it at my door. It was hard, green, and smelly. Dad made me bury it again. Cuchulain dug it up again.

By now Dad was mad. This time, he took the rabbit, hiked to the top of the almond orchard, and buried it himself. Deep. Cuchulain watched the whole thing and never dug up that rabbit again.

Kate Buford lives in the Yonkers Waterfront District and in Lexington, Virginia. Her new book, Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe (Knopf), is a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Knopf, 2000), her previous book, was on the Best Book of 2000 lists of many major newspapers. She is a member of the Marmaduke Writing Factory in Pleasantville and is on the advisory board of the SUNY Purchase Writers Center. Her two children graduated from Irvington High School and loved all the many pets of their own childhood.

Love at First Sight—Twice
By Nancy L. Claus

Nancy Claus's two boys, Jackson and Foster

When my beloved golden retriever died a few years ago, I didn’t think I’d get another dog. With an empty nest looming, I figured I’d enjoy the freedom. I figured wrong. When I found myself intercepting stray balls and Frisbees on the beach, playing with other people’s pets, I knew it was time. And, that this time around, I wanted a rescue, not some doggie in the window of a pet store.

A friend told me about Sunshine Golden Retriever Rescue (sunshinegoldenrescue.com), a group of volunteers who find Goldens (or the “golden hearted”) in high-kill shelters, mostly in the South, and transport them, in a kind of underground doggie railroad, to new homes along the East Coast. When it comes to matchmaking, eHarmony has nothing on these folks: I was more thoroughly, um, vetted by SGRR than any dating service. Once approved, my daughters and I checked the website and studied the histories of available dogs. Independently, we each chose Jackson. And, after a number of e-mails and phone calls, Jackson’s foster mom chose us.

I never had believed in love at first sight. I do now. In just a few short months, Jackson became as inextricably intertwined in our lives as the silky, golden mesh of hair now covering every surface in our house. Indeed, we’re so in love that we just adopted our second Golden rescue, Foster, last December. And the two boys are as crazy about each other as we are about them.

 

Authors on Animals

Top Dogs

Most dog lovers are familiar with the classics: Old Yeller, Lassie Come Home, Call of the Wild, and White Fang. We queried local librarians for their choices of the top dogs in canine literature.

[Children]
Good Dog Carl
Alexandra Day, 1985
Leaving a baby in the care of a pet Rottweiler seems a dubious premise, but it works in this fun series of wordless books. Both Pound Ridge Library Director Marilyn Tinter and Ardsley Public Library Director Angela Groth give Carl and his adventures a solid thumbs up.
[Young Adults]
Lad: A Dog
Albert Payson Terhune, 1919
Before Lassie was even whelped, there was Lad, a heroic collie with “absurdly small white forepaws,” who battles burglars, rescues children, and wins dog show blue ribbons with equal aplomb. We guarantee a good cry.
[Adult Fiction]
Where the Red Fern Grows Wilson Rawls, 1961
Groth loves this classic tearjerker about a boy and his two coonhound pups growing up in the Ozarks.
 
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein, 2008
“I don’t usually enjoy books told through the eyes of an animal, but this one touched my heart in a special way,” says Mount Kisco Public Library Director Susan Riley of this New York Times bestseller. According to Bedford Free Library Director Ann Coonan declares it “hands down the best”
 

 

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle David Wroblewski, 2008
“This debut novel is absolutely astounding,” Riley says. “The quality of writing and the evocative descriptions of farm life draw the reader into the story to the point where it becomes impossible to put the book down. I will be re-reading this one.”

—NLC

 

Doggie Playlist

Dog and cat toys have advanced far beyond tennis balls and yarn. Westchester veterinarians give their picks for what will set your four-legged friend’s tail a’ moving

[Dogs]

➜ Kong Company Wobbler $19.99. Motion causes food to fall out of the Wobbler, providing play and physical activity for dogs. Vets love that it slows rapid eating and prevents gulping
of food.

 


➜ Orbee-Tuff
TUG tug-of-war toy
$24.95. Whether dog versus dog or dog versus person, this near indestructible toy provides hours of fun for chew-happy canines.


 

[Cats]


➜ FroliCat Bolt Automatic Laser Pointer toy
$19.95. Easy to operate, the Bolt's red laser patterns have even the most listliss housecats pouncing and chasing.