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Samantha SpeaksKalbee Jane, aka Pooka BearBlix's CountermelodyPrince, Junkyard DogSander, the Other CatThe ReboundThe Joy of VolunteeringMillie's ChoiceHer Name was Abingdon


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Samantha Speaks
By Gray Tuggle
Durham

Late one November evening several years ago, when heading to my car after a dinner out, a small orange cat ran in front of me. The cute cat meowed and disappeared into the bushes. This event began a new experience for me. I learned how to use a trap to try and catch this skittish little guy. I started trapping behind the restaurants where I saw the cat. Since it was cold outside, I checked the traps several times each night.

Night after night, my orange furry friend eluded me. Each time I saw an empty trap, my heart sank. Finally, after a week of empty traps, there was a creature inside! I was very surprised to see something other than my orange tabby friend inside. Instead, in the trap was a very scared brown tabby. This began the saga of Samantha. (A few nights later, the sweet orange boy was trapped, taken to the vet for care and later adopted into a great home.)

Samantha, however, proved to be a truly feral cat who did not want to be with humans. She was spayed, vaccinated and released in the wooded area near where she was trapped. A feeding station was set up deep in the woods with a shelter for her.

For over two years, several times a week I would go to the woods and call for Samantha while filling her feeder. Sometimes, late in the evening, she would be lurking near dense brush just in case I dared to approach. As I would leave the area, Samantha would move toward the feeder.

At one point, Samantha disappeared for months. I asked the merchants if anyone had seen her. I feared the worst for my little feral friend. Finally, she reappeared, a bit skinnier and with limp. I learned later that she had shattered her elbow and walked with a limp due to the injury.

I was notified Samantha needed to be relocated because her wooded area was to be cleared. Once again, I started the trapping process. Thankfully, Samantha went into the trap again, on the first night!

She moved to a sanctuary to live out the remainder of her life in safety. After being at the sanctuary a few months, Samantha was doing poorly and all were concerned that she might be seriously ill. The director brought a terrified Samantha to the vet's, and I met them there. This poor cat, who had been reclusive and quiet at the sanctuary, meowed as soon as I spoke to her. The director was stunned. She could not believe Samantha recognized my voice. I explained she had heard my voice for years every time I filled her feeder.

Samantha's blood work showed elevated levels indicating she was fighting an infection, and she had lost 2 pounds. She had a lengthy recuperation at the vet's office, and then the question became: Where could Samantha go now? The answer was to my house.

Samantha has now lived in my closet and master bath for over a year. At first, I never saw nor heard her. All I did was change litter and food, with no other evidence that there was even a creature in there.

Now, Samantha plays with catnip mice and other toys and enjoys sleeping on a small rug or her cat bed. She still moves to hide when I come in, but she does it a lot more slowly these days. I see her most days now. And, she still meows when she hears my voice!


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Kalbee Jane, aka Pooka Bear
By Stacey L. Qandil
Durham

As a puppy, Kalbee Jane, aka Pooka Bear, our female boxer of fawn color, had exuberant energy that was a challenge to tame but left us with many good tales to tell. The first time she touched sand, her upper body fell to gravity with her front legs spreading out wide, while her hind quarters remained high. She proceeded to spin in circles repeatedly with great joy and delight.

But there were times her energy wasn't channeled in a desirable direction. She tore into two papasan chairs, three couches, photo books, one wallet, and, luckily, a small amount of money. To discourage her from getting to the furniture when we were out, we confined her to the kitchen with a toddler gate, which she managed to climb like a monkey.

One night, my husband and I returned home from playing midnight tennis. I walked in the apartment to find cute little Pooka Bear sitting ever so sweetly next to the front door, with her head cocked to the side and a bird's claw hanging from her mouth. My first reaction was audible in nature. As I peeled my eyes off Kalbee and surveyed the apartment, I found the floor covered in white feathers, and one dead black bird that had not been touched. The previous week, Kalbee and Kip had been scratching at the closed-off fireplace. Needless to say, we found out why.

In her mature years, her once exuberant energy was channeled more to her persistent but ever so gentle stubbornness. She never asked for much, but when she needed to be heard she knew exactly how to assert herself without uttering a sound. Her tempo had decreased, but surprisingly her endurance hadn't. The length of walks that she could take, and take happily with great desire, was amazing to me. Many times when it was time to turn around after a half-mile, Kablee would, with polite stubbornness, dig her paws solidly into the ground to tell me she wasn't ready yet.

Her gentleness permeated throughout her entire life and was felt by anyone she crossed paths with. She was the only animal, including humans, who could be so clever and coy to delicately and successfully seize food from Kip, a dominating, food-possessive male dog four years her senior. But she could, with grace. Years later, our son was born and Kalbee's gentleness shined through again. From the countless times he blocked her in small spaces, dragged her from place to place, sat on her, and tied her up, she never once showed an ounce of frustration.

Kalbee passed away on Sunday, April 1, 2007—her 13th birthday. She was an incredibly snuggly bear and remarkably gentle, core characteristics that lent to the creation of her nickname, Pooka Bear. What I loved most about Kalbee, and what I will take with me in my own life, is her balance between exuberant joyfulness and gentle persuasion. I will never forget her head on my knee looking toward me with her big, brown, yearning eyes. I loved her dearly. I miss her deeply.


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Blix's Countermelody
By Wendy Spitzer
Bynum

Instructional brochures warned us that when we took the cat home from the shelter for the first time, she would either huddle in the carrier or make a beeline for under the bed. Our cat, however, made a steady and meticulous survey of every nook of every room, poking her thin white muzzle to sniff behind the toilet and refrigerator, underneath the recording equipment and inside the dirty laundry hamper. Through these painstaking observations she concluded there was no danger in the house&masah;no plutonium, no enriched uranium, no snarling puppies, nothing. We thusly named her Blix, after her inspiration: Hans, the U.N. weapons inspector.

Though she is 2 years old, she'll sometimes, worked up during playtime, forget that the swishing tail is attached to her body. She'll swat at it until she catches it and sinks her teeth in, and then mewls in terror. She will demand of us: What happened?! Why did you do this?!

When I'm playing the oboe, she'll come into the room, sit so she's looking up into the bell, and will meow a countermelody. She will perform only cat-oboe duets; electric bass, accordion and organ yield reactions of ear-flattening disgust. She is an aficionado of classical music, and this makes sense: She is already dressed in a tuxedo, ready for the world stage.

When owners surrender their pets to the shelter, they fill out a form so any pertinent information can be passed along. We learned that Blix's previous owners were on a fixed income and couldn't take care of all of their animals. This phrase is a coin I turn over in my mind, lying on the couch with Blix sprawled on my torso, pushing her face against my hand to be petted. This is what I consider, while her purr vibrates my ribs: Did those owners agonize about their financial situation and come to the heartbreaking decision to take her to the shelter? Or was it easy come easy go, can't afford the pet, so dump it, who cares? I'll never know.

On the off chance those owners were heartbroken when they took Blix to the shelter, and you're out there reading this, I offer you this story's happy ending: That tuxedo cat with the big eyes and ears, the comically long whiskers and go-go booted white back legs—you knew her as Rosie—is a healthy, only cat who's been spoiled rotten with toys and brand-name cat food and veterinary care, the queen of a rented millhouse in ever pet-friendly Bynum. If you spent at least one night wondering her fate and worried for her, I hope I've given you the gift of knowing she's more than just safe, she's thriving. And if you were the latter type, the dumper who didn't care, then I write this for Blix: We're just as lucky as you are, buddy. Welcome home.


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Prince, Junkyard Dog
By Sharmin Mirman
Carrboro

Prince, my newly adopted Doberman, was home recuperating from a five-story dive off the roof, a fall that would've mangled (or killed) a normal dog but left him unscathed. The vet marveled at how he survived without a scratch and prescribed lots of rest.

I spent hours sweet-talking to him, cradling his head in my hands. He'd gaze into my eyes adoringly. To say that I was smitten doesn't even begin to describe the sublime connection between us—a sense of belonging where time stood still. My husband, Pluto, was devastated. He felt responsible for turning his back on Prince when he fell. Now, when he looked at him, lying docile as a lamb, his dreams of a ferocious watchdog were shattered. (Or so he thought.) "He's a pussy," he grumbled. "What do I want with a dog like that?" Nevertheless, he cooked him goathead soup and rice to build his strength.

As Prince recovered, he revealed the true colors of his personality. Prince Charming loved to lie on his back and have his belly rubbed; the epitome of contentment. I'd leave the room and come back to find Prince of Darkness crouched and ready for a showdown, growling at me like I was a stranger. The hair on his back bristled and he bared his teeth, sucking air in choppy 16th note inhalations like Hannibal Lecter.

Minutes later, he tried to make amends, looking at me with soulful eyes and nudging me to pat him. I was torn. Heartbroken. I was also in denial. "He'll come around," I told myself. I thought that time and love could change him.

Besides, I reasoned, in my neighborhood I needed a mean dog. My apartment had been robbed in broad daylight, random car windows were routinely smashed, and my friend survived being shot in front of my building. I felt safe and tough walking with Prince. I thought we looked cool together: a couple of stepping razors with "don't you dare even think of fucking with me" attitudes.

One day Prince lunged after a man who had the audacity to walk too near us. I yanked him back and he tried to bite my leg. Luckily, I escaped onto the roof of a nearby car but it was the end of the road for us. I thought of dropping him off at the ASPCA with a sign reading "If you don't mind getting stitches, this is the dog for you!" but I didn't have the heart.

Pluto knew a guy named Ray with an auto repair shop in a rundown, forsaken part of Brooklyn who said he'd take Prince. Ray was an enigma to me; a loner holed up on the outskirts of life in a place where love couldn't find him. They hit it off immediately. Prince wagged his stumpy little tail when Ray said his name. It felt like kismet. I waved goodbye to my dog and he never glanced back as we drove away. He was home.


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Sander, the Other Cat
By Amber Koo
Raleigh

I moved to North Carolina for graduate school five years ago. I left my hometown in Ohio and was truly on my own for the first time. I was exhilarated at this new freedom but also homesick. I am an only child, so I've always had my mom, dad and feline siblings to keep me company. Even in college, my folks would come nearly every weekend to watch me cheer on the sidelines for the Bobcats. They would bring me groceries and homemade zucchini bread. So when I moved three states away, I suddenly had to learn not only how to make my own zucchini bread, but how to cope with coming home to an empty apartment.

I was ecstatic to learn that I lived across the road from the local animal shelter. Before I had finished plastering every available space of my 500-square-foot apartment with mementos from home, I had made the journey to the shelter. I was taken past the barking dogs to a cage that housed two kittens. The orange tiger was clinging to the side of the cage while the gray one was curled up in the corner. I noticed that the rowdy one was already claimed, so I choose the other cat. I was told that I had to wait a few days before I could come pick her up for good.

For the next several days, I visited "my" cat at the shelter, anticipating the day she would get to leave her metal cage and come snuggle in my arms. I bought all the necessary (and unnecessary) cat items and prepared my place as if I was bringing home a newborn baby. On the day I was to pick up the kitten, I received a call from the shelter informing me that the owners of the kitten had come to retrieve her. Evidently, she had been lost and the family had just located her. Of course I was happy for the reunion, but I was sad about my loss. The woman at the shelter told me that they did have a kitten already to go if I wanted to come over. I was at the shelter before the words were out of her mouth. Surprisingly, it was the same orange tiger that had been climbing the wall of the cage with the cat I was supposed to get. The lady mumbled something about "being returned" and "high needs," but I knew he was all mine.

Sander came home with me that day and hasn't left my side since. Literally. He is a high needs cat, but that is just fine with me. I think of him as my security blanket because when it got tough to be away from home, I found comfort in his unconditional love. People may say I am a crazy cat lady, but thanks to my Carolina cat, I have found a new place to call home.


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The Rebound
Steve Gilbert
Youngsville

The five of us stood at the edge of the woods, where the ground was not so hard that it opposed all manner of digging and the sun shined most of the day. In the muted, gray light of the evening that day, we looked down at where the dog lay. Were it not for the fact he was wrapped in a towel, he would've looked almost as if sleeping.

It all had happened so suddenly, without any kind of notice, as bad news often does. Just that day I'd driven him six hours from my parents' house to our vet and their terminal diagnosis and the needle that waited for him all his life to this hastily dug hole along the wood line. It'd caught us all off guard, but especially my wife and I, who considered ourselves responsible dog owners and couldn't understand how his illness could've gone unnoticed.

Digger had come along 12 years earlier, when my wife and I were just starting out as a couple and living in Arizona. At the time, I was missing the dog from my previous marriage, and she was missing her son, whom she shared custody of with his father back in North Carolina. Digger served the role of dog and dependent quite nicely, but it was fair to say that, in date-speak, he was picked up on the rebound.

Oh, but he had it going for him: handsome, dark looks; a charming personality; well traveled (though of questionable lineage); and a loyalty toward his family that knew no boundaries.

Like any follow-on love, however, he had his moments when one might've questioned the benefit of his companionship: his indiscriminate eating habits that included amongst its contraband stolen property, sharp objects, and television remotes; a fondness for laying around on the couch all day; and his insatiable, casual wandering. There were plenty of times like these that another love might've found themselves on the pointy end of a cowboy boot.

But Digger came to us at a time when our hearts were overcast, and no amount of bad behavior could eliminate the joy we felt by simply being in his presence, such was his and our devotion to being with one another. Through the trials and tribulations we faced we learned, and with Digger there beside us our family grew from two, to three, to four, and finally, the number five we are today.

Death, as we know, has its limits, however, and after we had buried him and were standing there reminiscing about all his antics, my 7-year-old daughter asked in a soft voice, "Daddy, when are we going to get another dog?"

I squeezed her hand. "Not right away," I answered.

She looked up at me and said, "I didn't mean right away. I meant like tomorrow after lunch."

I smiled, though her innocence took me by surprise. I looked back down at my and dog and thought: Isn't that the way things go, old friend, with lovers and admirers.


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The Joy of Volunteering
By Julianne Weinzimmer
Durham

Last year, I read the Dog Days of Summer issue by our beloved Indy. I was so inspired by the touching stories of animal rescues that I decided I too needed to help out some of these innocent beings whose lives lay totally in our own hands. I found a wonderful local organization, Independent Animal Rescue, which works tirelessly and totally voluntarily to save the lives of hundreds of cats and dogs every year.

I can't tell you how much joy my volunteer work over this past year has brought me, not to mention it's a wonderful distraction from writing a dissertation! Every week I get to go play with cats and kittens we house at local pet stores. Watching up to 10 cats and kittens skid across the floor as they tirelessly chase each other is some of the funniest and best entertainment I've ever had. And the feeling I get knowing that my visit is the highlight of these cats' day is pay enough for cleaning their sometimes noxious litter boxes.

I've also been able to personally save cats whose days were numbered, like my furry friend Lucky. I heard his story—his mom had to move to Alaska for military service and couldn't bring the poor guy with her—and knew I had to step in. We took him into our program, and this truly lucky cat has since been renamed Geordi by some awesome Trekkies who gave him his forever home. I am now fostering four scrumptious kittens I've named after four amazing women, the Golden Girls, and I've been able to find them all wonderful homes with people as infatuated with them as I am.

You have no idea how good it feels to save an animal's life until you experience it for yourself. That's my challenge to all you Indy readers out there. You don't have to do what I do, although any local shelter or rescue organization would surely love to have your help, and we are always in need of more foster parents!

You can start small by making sure your pets are spayed and neutered. I was devastated to learn how incredibly high the shelter euthanasia rate is in the Triangle. It is really a tragedy that breaks my heart, and it's totally unnecessary and preventable. There are wonderful local organizations like POP and SNAP who will spay or neuter your pets for a highly reduced fee, so we all can afford it.

You can also help by adopting your pet from the local shelters or from one of the many foster home adoption services in our area. For that cat or dog, you're the hero who stepped in and saved their life, and they will love you forever for it. And so will I.


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Millie's Choice
By Karen Dalton
Bynum

Our dog Junior is the latest member of our family. He was forced on us by our Jack Russell Terrier, Millie "Queen of the Castle."

Two years ago, Millie's companion of 13 years passed away. Millie slowly started to get depressed and finally didn't even want to eat! When a Jack Russell doesn't eat, it's serious! So we went to the shelter and met Junior, who was then named Barry. Nature drew Junior with five crayons: gray, black, beige, white and gold. He is truly a work of art. The shelter said he was about 3 months old and part Catahoula Hound, we think the second part may be Carolina Goat.

Junior being the youngest addition to our family really made our heads spin like tops! What had we done? Training and raising Junior was quite a challenge. I think even Millie considered whether being the only dog might have been a better idea.

We bought Junior a few toys and a Nylabone. Little did we know that Nylabones would make us all a very happy family again. The number of bones that have past through here is countless. He has a few in the house that are not allowed out, and the bones that have been really enjoyed are now out living in the yard.

A month ago my husband hired a few workers to help mulch our flowerbeds. When they arrived they immediately started digging, raking and mulching. This disturbed Junior quite a bit. All his Nylabones were out there! Would these men be finding his buried treasures? After a short while my husband called me out to see what Junior had done. He went and dug up six old, dirty bones and placed them in the grass right in front of the deck, and there was Junior lying on the deck watching over his stash. He nose was covered with dirt. What a site!

During the next few hours Junior did visit with the workers, especially during lunch. Late that afternoon the workers left and Junior buried his bones back in their secret places. The bones are now safe again.

Junior is now 2. After eating seven beds and a gazillion Nylabones, he has turned into a smart, super sweet, obedient and, not to mention, very handsome boy. We love him very much and can't imagine life without him.


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Her Name was Abingdon
By Dan Amey
Durham

Abby was an 11-year-old, 75-pound, pure bred, champagne colored Golden Retriever. When we picked her out of the litter of eight 3-week-old pups, she came immediately to my wife while we were trying to decide which one to choose (so she actually picked us). We had 5 weeks or so to pick out a name, and we wanted to give her a name related to M.G. cars, our hobby for the past 26 years. Nothing came to mind right away, so we did some brainstorming during a trip to the New Jersey shore. Lucas, Morris, Cecil, Hank or Kimber, important names in M.G. history, sure didn't fit a female. We didn't like "Midgee," "Emgee" or "Midge," and struggled a bit. When we hit upon Abingdon, nickname Abby, it was an immediate YES! THAT'S IT.

Well, her name must have influenced her love of riding in the M.G.s, for ever since she was a pup all we needed to do was open the door in our MGB or TD and, without hesitation, in she would go and settle down on the passenger seat. As you may be aware, there isn't much room for a dog her size to lie down, so she would sit and look out the windscreen and loved to have the wind in her face. It seems that nose prints are permanent marks on the inside of the windscreen. It was fun to watch people's expressions when we went for a ride. Our 1953 TD is right-hand drive, so Abby sat in the left-hand seat. People reacted first to the classic car and, when they saw her sitting in the "driver's" seat, they would do a double take.

Abby loved people. She had a strong dislike for some dogs, all deer and tolerated cats. She was a beautiful dog and always attracted attention. When we were out walking with her and people asked her name we would say Abby, but invariably folks would say "Hi, Abigail" so we ended up having to explain that she is named Abingdon, not Abigail, after the town in Oxfordshire where M.G. cars were made. This of course led to conversation about how their father, brother, sister, uncle or good friend had one, etc. This happens all the time when M.G. is mentioned and is one of the reasons that the car club motto is "The Marque of Friendship." The cars and the dog always helped to strike up a conversation.

Abby was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2006. Surgery and chemo helped prolong her life for another year, until the cancer reoccurred and she died peacefully on June 28, 2007.

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