Thanks so very much to everyone who has sent me a note or card regarding my mother's sudden death. I'm trying to respond to everyone personally (I will, soon!), but I have been flooded with messages, which is helping me cope: it's comforting to be in your thoughts and prayers. Thanks, again.
An ugly little stray dog showed up right around the time my mother died last Sunday. I certainly don't understand all the mysteries in this life, so I wonder if maybe my mom had a hand in it. But I also acknowledge the following: a) we're suckers, and b) we live in Trenton, where EVERYTHING is disposable, especially ugly little stray dogs.
There must be something about death that makes Sunday's events very clear for me: Miss Karen came over for brunch; Glen cooked; we all ate; Miss Karen helped Glen move some furniture down the stairs for my sister Karen (thanks, again, Miss Karen! I would have helped, but I am currently not allowed, per the laws of Glen and my sisters, to move furniture down the stairs); the sky turned dark, and the wind whipped up; Miss Karen left; and Glen spotted the ugly little stray dog eating chicken bones in the middle of our intersection.
We've become incredibly demoralized by the stray animal problem here in Trenton, though usually we encounter cats. The whole situation sucks, and reflects a bigger problem of poverty and lack of care in our society, and yeah, people are to blame, but there are plenty of "stray" people as well, so I try not to hate humanity that much. Our attitude goes up and down, depending on what's happening in our lives, how many animals are currently swinging by for dinner and so forth, and last Sunday, we kind of had the "there's only so much we can do" mentality. So, Glen went over to the dog, and kicked the chicken bones to the sidewalk, at least so the creature wouldn't get T-boned by an uninsured, idiotic Trenton knucklehead; that is, before puncturing his digestive system on the damn bones. But the dog was thrilled to see Glen, and acted like they were long, lost friends, and Glen picked him up. The dog was a disgusting, filthy, smelly thing (which he was), so Glen held him, dog legs splayed every which way, as far away from as he could. He set the dog down on our porch, and the little guy squealed and jumped and danced and licked my feet, as if we'd just been reunited after a long, long time.
And then it poured. Glen made the decision — since I no longer want to accept the blame for this situation — to bring the dog in, unwilling to let him run around on the streets, especially in the rain. We gave him some cat food — I had just brought myself to throw Lacey's food away about two weeks ago — which was all we had. The ugly little guy was very thankful. Then, we threw him in the tub. Glen asked around with the neighbors, and no one knew anything, except for one guy who said, "I thought that thing was a possum," and that he had seen the "possum" hanging around for the last few days. The dog doesn't look like a possum to me, at all, although he has perhaps the ugliest rat tail I have ever seen...it's almost perverted.
We dried the dog off, and the hockey game came on, and he curled up with us, finally settling in the crook of Glen's arm, as if he was part of our family all this time. As ugly as he was, he was also so adorable and so very sweet: he was happy and slept easily, with no anxiety. He was home, in his mind. We made plans to continue to ask around about the dog, and figured we needed to have a name for him in the meantime, and so, we called him Steve. He became Steve because we don't have very many Steves in our lives. For the record, Steve is the first dog I've ever named in my whole life, and I took the job seriously, and I think I did an excellent job. He is a Steve, and he learned his new name immediately.
A short time later, my sister, Jenny, called to tell me that my mother had died. My sisters arrived and the three of us headed to Maryland to be with my father; Glen and Steve and the cats stayed behind, and Steve's info was posted to one of the local community bulletin boards, and Glen asked a few more neighbors. No one has asked about Steve, and there are no "lost dog" signs posted in our neighborhood.
Glen came to Maryland on Wednesday, and brought Steve with him, since he couldn't leave him at home. Steve travels well, and was a good boy at my parents' house, which was important, because I'm sure my father wouldn't have been able to handle a bad boy at this time. We came home late Thursday, and still, no one had claimed Steve. Because of everything that happened, I didn't get to spend that much time with the dog, but discovered on Thursday that he still has his testicles. Of course. This is Trenton, after all. Testicles or not, part of the reason I'm writing about him is because I can only imagine how I'd feel if I had lost Lacey at some point — I'd have been bereft. I'm not convinced that my feelings for Lacey are anything like what Steve's (previous?) "owners" feel for him, though. I'm assuming, based on the sheer volume of other strays we've encountered, and more importantly, that some of the idiots down the street were obviously engaged in some sort of "animal situation" that necessitated the police to send small animal control out just about two weeks ago, that Steve is probably just another Trenton stray, maybe "owned" for pit bull bait, or by an irresponsible jerk who couldn't stand the thought of removing his dog's "junk," or some combination of both, and was ultimately kicked to the curb as soon as he became inconvenient. Or, maybe he got lucky and escaped.
My mother could be contentious and critical and harsh, but she had a soft spot for those unable to care for themselves. She spent a lot of time visiting people in nursing homes; for some years, she worked with developmentally and physically disabled kids; she painted pictures for the Pediatric AIDS ward at a North Jersey hospital, back in the late 1980s; she opened her doors to kids who were kicked out of their homes; and she often allowed us to bring in random animals we found wandering the streets, much to my father's dismay. Most recently, not long after we moved to Trenton, a mama cat with two kittens showed up. Glen and I thought we were so virtuous because we had, by that point, cleaned up and fixed three Trenton strays, and figured we had made a dent in the problem. We were on a roll and pimped this new mama and her kittens, and we were lucky enough to find the kittens a home, contingent on their clean bill of health. Alas, that was not in the cards. The kittens tested positive for Feline Leukemia, which is probably the most dismal cat disease, and is very nearly always quickly fatal in kittens. Mama cat, somehow, tested negative. Despite getting thrown to the lions with this cat situation, we were so naive, and had no idea of just how lousy some cat diseases can be, and in reading up on Feline Leukemia, I was certain that we had exposed our animals; I lost sleep and beat myself up. I was so distressed we could live in a world where baby ANYTHINGS could die, especially since they were so damn cute, and so full of life. And they did die, those two little kittens. Even though I tried not to bond with them, their deaths are one of those hurts that hasn't ever quite leveled out, mostly because we had been naive do-gooders, and were maybe a bit smug about that. I'm not a militant animal rights girl; I'm not a vegetarian. So, I will tell you, even those of you disinterested in cats and kittens, that I don't care what Wild Kingdom said; I don't care that Survival of the Fittest and Culling of the Herd stuff makes logical sense, it is just plain wrong when baby creatures die, specifically domesticated creatures. Life and death are random, and it should not ever happen to the young. Ever.
So, we were left with the mother cat who may or may not have been incubating the disease. We had considered, originally, the sterilize and release option, but my vet recommended that she get tested again in another couple of months, to see if her exposure to the virus would manifest itself in the disease; my vet recommended euthanasia if the mother cat did test positive, so she wouldn't continue to spread the disease. Logically, I got that. It made sense; why spread a horrible disease? But also, we felt betrayed by the universe: we had been trying to do good by these cats, and suddenly, we were put in the position to play God. The problem existed before our arrival, and despite our efforts, continues to exist, and so the whole idea of deciding who lives and who dies in the stray cat world just made me sick. We were in over our heads. Plus, at the time, with Lacey, and healthy cats of our own who were not vaccinated against Feline Leukemia (they're indoor cats, the vet reasoned), we were out of options.
Or so we thought. My mother said she'd foster the cat, at least until she could be tested again for Feline Leukemia. My mother was 60 at the time, and had commented on many occasions on how much she hated cats; she had never owned one, and wasn't interested now. But she, too, hated what we were going through, and hurt along with us, at the kittens' diagnosis. And she wanted to help. As animals are inclined to do, this mama cat got into my mother's heart, and fortunately, the cat continued to test negative for Feline Leukemia. My mother named her Lady, which, no offense to my mom, was an inappropriate name, since the cat spends most of her waking hours splayed right in the middle of the living room licking her crotch. Other than the obsessive crotch licking, Lady is a social, beautiful cat. My mother was impressed because Lady is relatively uncommon, especially for a stray: she's a female tuxedo, and what makes Lady so striking is that she has great, big green eyes, and a "beauty mark" right on her cheek: a small black splotch of fur amid the white on her face.
While Lady is worthy of some more ink (and it will come, I'm sure), I mention her as a way to illustrate my mother's open-door policy toward those in need. I am religiously-challenged, at least in the organizational fashion, and have a hard time believing that maybe my mom guided Steve, a creature in need, to us. But who knows? Maybe she did. Or maybe it's just the statistics of living in Trenton.* Lacey died in October, and she was just such a fantastic dog, that I haven't felt ready for another: I miss HER, not dog ownership, specifically. But at the same time, dogs are great, and I felt that if one just kind of fell into my lap, that would be acceptable, but I wouldn't, under any circumstances, go "shopping" for one, maybe never again. And then Steve appeared within minutes of my mom's death, and it brings me a bit of comfort — even if it makes me seem insane — to think that maybe these two events are related. So, I'm hoping that no one claims Steve, because, yep, even though he's ugly, and oh yeah, farts more than Glen does (which is a lot), or a dog four times his size, I do love him already, and he's brought us a lot of laughter and warmth during this otherwise dismal time. And he runs all over the place with a little cat toy, which he found all by himself, that says "I love cats,"** and I think that's just priceless. If he came from a loving, responsible home, we are willing to give him back, and I hope his owners, if he had owners, will contact us. With each passing day, though, it seems maybe Steve's former "owner" was a Michael Vick wannabee, or in some other way, just another irresponsible Trenton ass. I'm betting that odds are in our favor that we'll wind up with Steve, and I'm really hoping for that, too.
* Regarding statistics in Trenton: in addition to encountering too many stray animals, we're pretty damn likely to have a car T-boned by an uninsured driver; which happened to us the first month we moved here (for more on T-boning in Trenton by the uninsured, check out this). We've gone on to see a multitude of T-bonings at the hands of the uninsured, though we have since gotten our vehicles in the garage to reduce our risk. Also, here in Trenton, our chances are higher than they are anywhere else for getting hit in the head by a beer bottle, thanks to the asshole visiting the crazy guy across the street who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to throw his shit into someone else's backyard (i.e. our yard). These, of course, are not acts of God, but rather acts of knuckleheads, so it leaves me feeling confused about why Steve came to us in the first place. Statistically, he's no different than a beer bottle that's been lobbed in our direction, or a T-boning, but he's far more awesome than both of those things suck.
** I would never buy a cat toy that said, "I love cats" or anything else with those words on it, for that matter, because pretty much anything with the word "cat" on it, or a picture of a cat on it, is a sign of getting old (click here for more on signs of getting old). I'm not crazy about getting old, but more than that, I don't want to get old THAT WAY, you know, in the crazy cat lady way. And also, while I do feel love for cats, it's not the predominant sentiment. Mostly, I think they're some of the biggest bastards in the universe, and I really admire them for that. Anyway, the "I love cats" toy was a gift, and none of the cats have ever touched it, because they are just way too cool. Steve, however, operates outside of cool, and that's what makes him so special.