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Monday, March 9, 2009

My History With Pets

Written by Kodi Wolf at 11:16 AM

My first pet was a cat I named Junior because I thought it meant small and he was very tiny. I was about 6 or 7 years old. I'd found him and one of his siblings running around the apartment/housing complex I lived in and managed to finally corner them with another kid who lived in the complex. I don't think their mother had been able to care for them or else they probably would have been with her because they only looked to be about 4-6 weeks old.

Anyway, like I said, me and the other kid managed to chase them down and I scooped them up and handed one to the kid and kept the other for myself. We both planned to beg our parents to let us keep the kittens.

We went to my house first, but before we could go in, I noticed the girl wasn't holding her kitten properly (she had her grip around its chest), so I told her to give him to me because she wasn't holding him right. Well, this only made her grip the kitten tighter as she held it away from me, and I eventually started screaming for my dad to come out. He did and I told him what she was doing and he immediately played the commanding adult and ordered her to hand the kitten over. She reluctantly did and I remember seeing the kitten curled up in the palm of my father's hand (that's how small the kittens were). It took a few gasps of breath and then nothing more. My dad said it was dead and the girl immediately started asking for my kitten to replace hers. I remember feeling absolutely panicked because I knew my kitten would be dead within the hour if I handed it over, so I pleaded with my dad to let me keep it and he agreed, as long as I remembered to feed it and take care of it. I agreed. The girl gave me dirty looks and then ran off home. My dad and I buried the kitten in the junkyard near our house.

Junior was a great companion. I remember playing with him with a red and white fishing line bob tied to a length of green twine. I would swing it back and forth like a pendulum and he would run back and forth trying to catch it, but I never let him have it. I remember my mom saying I had to let him catch it sometimes or he would lose interest and wouldn't want to play with me anymore, but he never did and I would swing that thing for an hour and he'd keep chasing it. I think he understood the game better than my mom. It was the chase that was fun.

Junior always slept with me, against the wishes of my mom, because while I was asleep, he would curl up around the top of my head and play with my hair all night, so that when I woke up in the morning, I had a tangle in my hair the size of my fist. I would cry and struggle as my mom combed it out, but I never once thought about moving Junior away from my head. I liked having him play with my hair. It was soothing and he enjoyed it, so even though it wasn't really a conscious decision, somewhere in my mind I decided it was worth the pain.

Junior also had fleas. It got so bad that I started walking on the furniture to get from the tiled kitchen through the living room to my bedroom. Otherwise, if I stood on the carpet in the living room for even a few seconds with calf-high socks on, I could see dozens of fleas jump onto my socks. But compared to the roaches, mice, and ants, it was just another nuisance.

Unfortunately, I think it was flea bites that made Junior sick. He started getting these thumb-nail sized sores on the back of his neck. This was after my father had gone to prison for molesting/raping me and money was tight, partly because there was less of it, but also because my mother just had no idea how to maintain a budget. So, my mom told me there was no money for vet bills, so we had to take him to the animal shelter. I remember crying and begging her not to give him up, but there was no dissuading her. I think I remember asking one of the people at the shelter what would happen to him, and I think I got the impression that if what was wrong with him was simple to fix, he'd get treatment and be put up for adoption. If not, he'd be put to sleep. I have no idea which way it went.

My next pet was another kitten I named Dakota because I'd been reading about the Sioux and learned it meant "friend." I think I was about 10 or 11 because I had finished 4th grade and had been out of school for the beginning of 5th grade because my mom and I had been living in a homeless shelter for several months. The shelter normally had a limit of 30 days, but they kept letting us stay longer because my mom was very good at the "poor me" story of how she kept looking for a place for us to live, but nobody wanted kids or the rent was too much, etc.

Finally, we were referred to a woman who I think had either previously been at the shelter or was just some kind of affiliate. We went to interview for the room in her house and her cat had recently had kittens, and I just went crazy for them and played with them the whole time. I remember the woman asking me what kind of kid I was (basically, would I disrupt her household and break her stuff) and me being the little adult I was, I clearly stated how quiet I was, I got straight A's, etc. She also said I could have one of the kittens if she decided to let us move in. Well, she did and I got Dakota.

I don't remember much about Dakota. It was a very hard time for me. I developed severe schoolphobia and would miss days, sometimes weeks, of school. The school was a year-round school, so by the time I was ready to come back, the track I was on would be on vacation, so they'd switch me to another track, but then I'd start missing school again, etc. What I do remember is my mom finally making the decision to move a few cities over to be closer to her sister. I kept wanting to move back to my other school, which I had gone to from 1st through 4th grade, where all my friends and favorite teachers were, so I was not happy about that decision. But my mom found another room to rent, so we moved.

Dakota turned out to be female and went into heat. I don't think the family we were living with enjoyed the late night yowling (I can't say I did either because we had to keep her in the small bedroom with us and Dakota could go on for hours). Anyway, one day, they left the front door open (after we had asked them to keep it shut) and off she went. I never saw her again.

My next pet was a puppy. The man my mom and I were renting a room from brought him home one day from some people with a cardboard box of "free puppies" outside the grocery store. He named the puppy Petite (but called him Pete for short) because the dog was a small Maltese Cockapoo and the man knew the French word meant "small." So, technically, he wasn't my pet, but after the first night of listening to him whimper and whine all night because the asshole locked him up in the upstairs bathroom with a ticking clock (to supposedly mimic his mother's heartbeat), so he'd get used to being by himself, I took over. I was 13 and had been in adult mode since I was 7, trying to take care of my mom and just survive my life, but by that time I was also starting to recognize I had some power and I didn't have to just accept what the adults in my life were doing. I was finally starting to rebel against things that went against my sense of morality and I refused to stand by and watch the dog be abused. So, I just started keeping him in my room and when the man asked where the dog was, I told him I was taking care of him so he wouldn't have to. He seemed to accept that and continued to buy dog food and stuff for him, so my mom couldn't bitch at me about it costing us money.

A short while later, the man came home with a kitten (named Tux because of her black coloring with white paws and chest like a tuxedo). Pete and Tux would run through the house for hours. Pete would chase Tux going in one direction and then when they came back, Tux would be chasing Pete. It was hilarious. But I never really took over Tux's care, except to explain to the man why she wouldn't eat right next to her litter box under the stairs, so I don't consider her one of my pets. However, one of the other people renting a room upstairs had taken a shine to her and took her with him when he moved out, but me and the other people living there told the landlord that she must have run away. He was drunk all the time and rather dimwitted, so he never made the connection that she disappeared when the guy moved out.

Pete was a great dog. He was very smart. I trained him so that he would only bite when I was wearing a certain burgundy leather glove. In fact, as soon as he saw it, he'd start biting it before I could even get it on. But if I took the glove off and tried to get him to bite me (I even put my hand in his mouth to test him), he would just look at me all slack-jawed like, "You're kidding, right? I'm not gonna bite you." He always slept with me, came when I called, played fetch, etc. The only problem he ever really had was getting too excited when the doorbell rang. Actually, he'd start freaking out when people just walked by on the sidewalk in front of the house. I used to say he could hear the ants crawling on the sidewalk out there. But when he'd get excited, he'd pee. Like I said, it was his one major flaw.

About a year and a half later, my mom finally decided I could have my own dog, so we answered a classified ad and got a puppy. Her mother was this huge German Shepherd and the owners said they didn't know who the father was. It was either a Samoan or a Chow from the neighborhood. I named her Heloj Okuloj (Esperanto for "light eyes" pronounced hell-oy oak-oo-loy) because she had these pretty light blue-gray eyes and I had just started learning about Esperanto. However, it was a bit of a mouthful, so I called her Okie for short. At 8 weeks, which is when I was allowed to take her (I first met her at 6 weeks), she was already bigger than Pete who was fully grown. But being a puppy, size didn't matter, and she followed Pete around like he was the end-all, be-all of the universe. She wasn't quite the fast learner that Pete had been, but she was really sweet and I loved her.

Then, on my 15th birthday, a police officer came to the door based on a report my therapist had made about my reports that I was being abused by the other people renting rooms in the house. I'd stayed home from school and the officer was there to take me to the station so I could make a "cool call" (that's where the police record the phone call to the suspect in hopes of getting a confession) to one of the men living in the house who had been molesting me with his wife and best friend. I got him to admit everything he'd done so that when they arrested him, they played his confession to him and he pled guilty and they didn't have to go through a costly trial (he received 8 months work furlough, meaning he went to jail, but got to leave to go to work). The detectives talked to me and found out the landlord had also been feeling me up during his daily drunken hazes, that my mom knew about all this (and was sleeping with him, too), so basically, even though I was pretty much self-sufficient and taking care of myself, I wasn't doing too good a job in some respects, so they decided to remove me from my mother's home until she could find another, and better, place to live (she never did and I never lived with her again).

So, I went into what I thought then was temporary foster care. A few weeks later, I found out my dogs were being kept outside in a so-called "dog run" that was about 8 feet long by 4 feet wide next to the garage with an overhang of about 4 inches and it had been raining for several days. I told my mom to come pick me up, we went to the house, put the dogs in the car, and took them to the same animal shelter we'd taken Junior to. I was told that they routinely put down Chows because of their unpredictable aggressive behavior and that I should just put down for Okie's father that he was a Samoan mix. I was told there would be a 14-day quarantine period, and if they survived that with no problems, then they'd be put up for adoption. I have no idea what happened to them, but I hope they found good homes. I think Okie, if they didn't peg her as part Chow, probably did fine because she was only a few months old and looked like a big, fluffy Golden Retriever. But I've always worried about Pete because I was pretty much his whole world. He didn't like strangers and never listened to anyone else but me. I can only hope that someone saw past that and took him home and he decided to forget me and love another human.

My next pet was a cat I named Dakota again (Dak for short), but actually it was the house cat for the group home I was living in. I was about 16 and the Program Director had purposely put me in charge of the cat because she knew I needed something to care for. I was routinely suicidal, but taking care of the well-being of an animal helped keep me focused on living. However, there were kids living in the house who were HIV+, and eventually, an edict came down from the Executive Director that no cats were allowed in the group homes anymore because of the potentially fatal problems that could be caused by the litter boxes for the HIV+ kids. Those kids weren't happy about losing the cat either and thought it was really unfair, so I never blamed them or anything, but it was still hard. At least I knew Dak went to a good home because the Program Director decided to keep him.

My next pet was Akasha, who I named after the Queen of the Vampires from Anne Rice's novel, which I was reading at the time (I wasn't sure what sex Kash was when she was first born, so if she'd been a boy, she would have been Enkil, after the Queen's husband). I just liked the name and only later found out it comes from Sanskrit for "ether" in reference to the spirit element (earth, air, fire, and water being the other elements). Just before my 18th birthday, I came back from Michigan, where my adopted sister had sent me to stay with some friends when I ran away from the group home when I was 17. Her and her roommate had taken in a stray who was pregnant and when she gave birth, my sister promised me I could have one of the kittens.

I think she thought the same thing the Program Director at the group home had, which was that if I promised to take care of an animal, my honor and sense of responsibility (not to mention the emotional connection I made to the animal) would keep me from committing suicide in order to keep my promise. There were several close calls (it was a really crazy year, which we've always referred to as the "Year of Hell"), but when my sister wasn't there to talk me down, I had images of my cat looking for me and me not being there to make me stop and reconsider.

Anyway, I chose Akasha from the litter of 8 because she had the same markings as Junior, my first cat (except her stripes were more gray; Junior's stripes were brown). Of course, my sister fell in love with the runt of the litter, who she named Guim (originally, I remember it being "gwym" for the personal ads listing the acronym for "gay white young male", but somewhere along the line, she changed it to Guim). We had to keep pushing aside his brothers so he could nurse, but finally on the third day, his mom licked him clean, so we knew he would make it. When we moved out into our own apartment when they were 6-8 weeks old, we took them with us.

We had planned to get one of them fixed, but before I knew it, one day I was playing on my Nintendo and looked over to see Guim mounting Kash. I told my sister and we took Guim to be neutered the next day. Of course, it was a little too late by then, and Kash gave birth a couple months later to 3 kittens, one of which was Felix (my sister named her and the original spelling was Feel Licks, but that always seemed a bit much to me, so I changed it to the standard spelling).

At first, I didn't like Felix. She was a little bully. She constantly attacked her two brothers. I've since learned from a documentary that female cats that were between male cats in the womb tend to be more aggressive, so I'm guessing that's probably what happened.

Anyway, my sister was trying find homes for the kittens and I really wanted to keep one, but I wanted to keep the one that looked like Kash. However, my sister said it would be easier to place the male cats, so she wanted me to keep Felix. She was rather insistent (and manipulative, and sneaky... :)). She would pick up Felix and put her on me or in the crook of my neck when I was laying down, and Felix would start purring and cuddling into my neck and sleeping and just generally being too cute for words. So I caved.

Kodi with Felix and Guim, February, 1995

Seriously, could you have said no to that face? :)

And now Felix is my baby, my familiar, and in general my favorite and most loved pet I've ever had.

She is very sweet and quite bratty all at once. She knows she's cute and uses that to her advantage. There's also the piercingly loud meow that will make you do just about anything to get her to shut up already.

But back to Kash, which I've obviously skipped over a bit. That's because it really hurts to think about her right now (see previous posts).

When she was younger, she was kind of standoffish. She didn't cuddle very much and she hated to be picked up (that part never really changed until just these last few weeks). But after she got pregnant, she became a lap kitty. Corene and I called her Stealth Kitty because we'd be watching TV and all of a sudden we'd notice Kash was in one of our laps and we couldn't remember her climbing into it.

Akasha has actually had many nicknames over the years. Here are the ones I can remember. Kash, Kasha, Kashi, Kashi-Go-Lean, Mama Bat Cat, Mama Bat, Stealth Kitty, Slut Kitty, Skinny Bones, Skinny Butt, Little One, Sweetie, Squeaker, Old Woman, Mouser.

She also sounded a lot like her mother, who we used to joke must have been an old woman who smoked all the time in her previous life because her meow was more scratchy than actual sound. But Kash had a bit of sound to her meow, and when we picked her up, she would squeak (hence the above nickname).

She also was a little catnip addict. We found these really cool cloth mice stuffed with catnip at Wal-Mart, so every Winter Solstice, we put a couple in Kash and Felix's stockings and let them go to town on them on the day. They both would rub and love on them for quite a while, and then go into that drugged haze afterwards, but Kash seemed to find them and go back to them more often. Of course, they both treated them like prey, so every now and then, we'd see one of them with a mouse in their jaws making the "I have bounty, come partake of it" meow.

Kash now has the distinction of being the first pet I've had from birth to death. With her, I was finally allowed to take care of her the way I wanted to, not give her up because of circumstances outside my control. I was an adult when I got her, so I didn't have to bow down to other people's decisions.

I think when I was younger and other people were in control of my life, I sometimes wondered if I would be any better at taking care of my pets than those people. Well, I don't wonder anymore. Kash had a good life with me. I just wish it had been longer.