37, college grad, 2x married, one son, one stepdaughter, four cats, one idiot dog, one very small house and small garden.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

My Lovely Zoo

We have been told by no less an authority than my husband's idiot ex wife that we have too many pets. Okay...and why does that matter to her? She doesn't live here. As far as I can tell, pets and people all live in harmony here in our tiny house on Dexter street. (With the notable exception of trying to figure out whose turn it is on the Playstation 2. That requires the intervention of the Army National Guard.) That's more than you can say for her house. I haven't seen that much instability since the last time I looked at aerial photos of the San Andreas fault.

One moronic opinion notwithstanding, when I describe our animals to people, or when friends come to visit, every single person is amazed at how well they all get along with each other and with us. That is highly unusual for such a disparate group of mammals. But I've done some reading on the subject and I think I know why we've been so fortunate. We were lucky enough to first acquire what can be called a Bellwether.

In shepherding terms, a bellwether is a sheep who has the ability to make the other animals follow her or fall in line with her wishes. She is the natural leader of a group of mammals that are not related to each other and would not ordinarily have anything to do with each other. Dexter Doright, our three year old male tabby, is our bellwether.

When Dexter found us, we still had my beloved Bonnie dog. But Bonnie was more person than animal, and tolerated Dexter's presence largely by ignoring him. The two of them did NOT interact, save for the one time Dexter tried to 'claim' Bonnie by spraying her and Bonnie bit Dexter's tail. That was the only time they ever 'got it together.' When Sarah Sweetie came along, Dexter immediately claimed her by grooming her obssessively day in and day out for weeks. The two of them were then stuck to each other like glue. They curled up together to sleep, and were rarely out of each other's sight.

Then came my wonderful, gorgeous boy, ZenSunni. He is a black and white male cat roughly the size and shape of a baby killer whale. He was given to us by our vet, after he had been dumped on the vet's doorstep and they needed to find a home for him. At first, Zen and Sarah did not get along. But every time they started to fight, Dexter would calmly walk between them and sit down, breaking up the fight. After a couple of weeks of this, Zen and Sarah decided it wasn't worth the effort and became napping buddies. Dexter was still in charge of baths, but napping was now a group thing.

Then came the huge upheavals of 2002 and 2003.

My husband Bruce, bless his heart, can't stand to see an abandoned animal. So when he saw the black lab/chow puppy that had been found on the side of the road, he immediately called home and gave me the whiny voice. He knows I am powerless against his whiny voice. I can withstand any amount of kid whines, but husband whines are torture. My first instinct is to rush over and stroke his hair and reassure him that of course, he can have what he wants...I'll do anything...yada yada yada. I'm pathetic, really. So he brought the puppy home and Webber Wetherby, who is now about 70 pounds and dumb as a bag of hammers, entered our lives. Amazingly enough, he got along beautifully with the cats, and he and Bonnie ignored each other. (Bonnie and I were still glued together at the hip at this point.)

Then in August of 2003, my Bonnie passed away. I was devastated. This was a dog who had seen me through all the worst trials of my life. She had sat on my lap and licked my tears...she'd followed me everywhere for years...she'd always trusted me to do the right thing by her. And I always tried to live up to her expectations. Then she was gone. It was weeks before I could function properly again. Zen did his best to help; he often tried to drape his massive weight across my chest and purr me back to life. He and I bonded during that time, and we are now 'sympatico,' as they say.

Things went along their merry way, with Dexter in charge of grooming and social interaction, and the rest of us following his lead, until a few months ago, when once again, my darling hubby rescued an endangered animal. This time it was a tiny gray and white tabby cat, who was being tortured by a couple of kids on our street. Bruce stormed across the street and gave the boys what for, taking charge of the frightened little thing.

Now, Webber did not like Archimedes, or Archie as we call him. But Dexter fixed that as well. Whenever Webber would get ready to jump Archie, Dexter would calmly walk between the two of them and stare the dog down. Then he would start grooming Archie as if to say, 'This one is mine, just like all of you.' Quite often when he was done with Archie he would start licking Webber's ears as well. And Dexter never seems to mind when Webber wants to lay his giant head on Dexter's belly for a while. As long as everyone in the house knows who is in charge, Dexter can be quite accomodating.

Yes, multiple pets can be very rewarding...providing you can find the right bellwether. Without that, I'd say you better stock up on bandages and peroxide.


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