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My Reason

Her name was Reason. Everyone needs a reason, and she was mine, for almost 15 years. The only thing that would have made our life together any better were if it would have lasted forever.

Reason came into my life at a time when I couldn't figure out how to save myself. Her loving puppy eyes beckoned me out of my darkness. It started with sitting on the porch steps and quickly moved to short walks around the apartment complex. It wasn't long before Reason had me exploring all the local parks.

She was an ambassador for her breed. Reason was a Boykin Spaniel—the state dog of South Carolina. Even living just across the border in North Carolina, her breed has been relatively unknown. Reason's beauty surprised and impressed all who met her. Boykins are bird-hunting dogs by breed. While we didn't hunt, Reason and I spent miles and miles hiking, even two days' worth on the Appalachian Trial. I remember on one of our hikes in Raleigh's Umstead State Park, encountering a fellow hiker who was also a bird hunter. He was delighted to tell me what a wonderful bird dog she would be. He said he could tell by the way she worked the floor of the woods.

There was no need to keep Reason on leash when we hiked. She stayed within sight of me always. A short whistle would bring her tracing her steps back to me. It seemed her hikes were twice as long as mine. She found such joy in the simplest pleasures—jumping fallen limbs, rolling in smelly discoveries, digging up rocks, and swimming.

She's the only dog I've ever known who would swim for leisure. She didn't need to retrieve sticks or balls to be coaxed into the water. Reason loved the water. She would dive in with her little tail wagging the whole time she swam, like a rudder guiding her along. Other dog owners would stop and ask if Reason could teach their dogs how to swim. For Reason, it wasn't a skill—it was a calling.

I admit, I still feel broken without her. But I can't help but smile when I picture her on the trail ahead of me, looking back with eyes full of excitement and her tail declaring the same, pulling me forward on my own path step-by-step. Before she came into my life, all I could find in my soul was darkness. She helped me find joy and meaning.

When I hear the gentle rustle of the wind blowing through the not yet fallen leaves, or feel the warming spring sun on my face, I am grateful. I think of her when I hear the birds sing their souls or the squirrels scamper up the trees. She died the day after Thanksgiving 2006. I haven't figured out how to say goodbye, and I don't know that I ever will. All I know is that her life for me will always be a celebration of gratitude for all that she taught me. She will always be the sun on my face.

—Donna S. Elliott, Garner


My mutt Simon

I could hear his booming bark, down a long hallway and through two sets of double doors in a local county animal shelter. He heard my voice first, and was returning a bark that said, "HELLO! But hurry up, I can't wait!"

As a volunteer, I quickly got to know Simon. He insisted on that. And insisted, too, on being the first dog in his row to be let out. We would go flying down the hallway, Simon in the lead. And to emphasize that he really couldn't wait, he left his mark on the pamphlet table every single time. Once outside for a 10 minute walk, he became quite a mellow guy ... enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and all the usual smells dogs enjoy.

A boarder collie-husky mix, Simon looks a little wolf-like and could be scary to little children, even though he is the gentlest of fellows. Eyes of two different colors added to his comical personality. But people worried he might be blind.

Simon had the misfortune of arriving just as the shelter was closing for the Christmas holidays, so he missed the rush. Days became weeks and still he waited for a home. As I got to know him better, I was easily able to extol his virtues to perspective adopters, interested or not. I would frequently end my sales pitch with "This is an excellent dog!" Whereupon Simon would throw back his head and sit at perfect attention, all the while doing a dance with just his front paws moving.

As the time he had was coming to an end, I began to debate taking on a third dog. I already had two demanding Westies. Simon even helped by testing heartworm positive. Love for this dog clouded the rational self-debate I was hoping for. Simon is home with me now, enjoying long walks and everything good life has to offer. The only challenge for him is keeping those Westies in line, which he usually does with one outstretched paw.

Simon truly is an excellent dog, as are most all of the pets you'll find at your local animal shelter. Consider visiting yours for your next best friend. And consider volunteering at your local shelter; it will be a big help to the dogs and cats, and a rewarding experience for you, as well.

—Barbara Wood, Apex


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The best souvenir

In 1999, North Carolina sponsored its first annual bicycle tour, Cycle Across North Carolina (CNC), with the inaugural journey from Murphy to Manteo. In historic Gold Hill, I bought a brass spider with web for a garden ornament as a trip memento. For the next four years, every October I pedaled my way across North Carolina. One year, in Bath (a former hang-out of Blackbeard the pirate), I purchased a cute metal frog souvenir at the museum. Another year, again in Gold Hill, I bought a flower wreath.

In 2003, on the last day of CNC, pedaling my way down a long, straight stretch of back country road in the desolate Green Swamp near Whiteville, far ahead by the roadside something was popping up and down, reminding me of the Energizer Bunny. Wheeling closer, I saw a puppy running along the road, happily following cyclists whizzing by. She must have been chasing bikes for hours. The hammerheads (really fast cyclists) had passed through the last tiny community earlier in the day, and by this time the pup was miles away from home.

I pulled over and she came panting up, wagging her tail, a tired but sparky little pup. She had no collar but was well fed and healthy; I estimated that she was around 8 or 9 months old. It seemed unlikely she would ever find her way home. I was concerned she would get hit by a car or wander lost and starving in the vast swamps and forests. I flagged down the "sag wagon" (a van that patrols the route, picking up cyclists with problems). I pleaded with the driver to take her with him, promising I would pick her up at the grand finale celebration in Oak Island in a few hours.

My boyfriend picked us up at the celebration and kindly agreed to backtrack along the route to try to find the pup's owner. I knocked on a lot of doors, but no one recognized her. We left our contact information with the Whiteville police. The officer on duty called the pup a "sooner," a Down East name for a mutt; he had doubts she would be missed. The animal shelter was closed. Their metal drop box was not inviting. With a heavy heart, I struggled with the decision to take her or leave her. After a bit of reasoning and with me being near tears, my boyfriend agreed we could take her home, with us thinking that if no one claimed her I would find her a nice home.

We waited; no one called. One week passed, then two, then three. We named the pup Thistle. She fit right in with my other two dogs and cats. Thistle is now 5 years old. She is still a sparky little dog with a tenacious terrier personality, floppy ears, a curly tail, and bright sparkly eyes. She is addicted to balls and loves to play. As we ramble along the creeks and through the woods and fields in this southern part of heaven near Chapel Hill, I reflect that Thistle is my best Cycle North Carolina souvenir ever.

—Suzy Lawrence, Chapel Hill


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Tough as nails

I guess there is no way to explain why Tex chose our house for his home. For one thing, there were already three cats in the house. Brothers Tucker and Bailey are inside cats, both adopted from the humane society. Buddy is an outside cat who was abandoned by a neighbor who moved away. With an outside cat, there was sometimes food available, which perhaps served as an informal invitation.

The gray cat was persistent. I don't like to encourage strays to hang around because we live in a semi-rural area and there is a threat of rabies, but I admit I might have put out a bit more food knowing he was around. He was a handsome cat, a bright-eyed gray tabby with an outline of lighter color around his eyes like eyeliner. He was on the small side, a big kitten we thought, and his legs were considerably shorter than normal. He didn't act like the usual stray, so it seemed worthwhile to take him to the vet to see if he had an ID chip; I had already checked around for lost cat signs. There were no signs and there was no chip.

The vet thought he was full grown based on his teeth, which made us think he was perhaps an exotic breed, since there are show breeds that are small with short legs. He was sweet. We didn't even take him to the vet in a cage; he let us hold him the whole time. In the waiting room, we decided to adopt him and name him Tex; a formality, I guess, since he apparently had already adopted us. The vet was pleased with the adoption plan but was surprised at a name like Tex for a smaller cat.

Turns out the vet was wrong about his age, because he has grown quite a bit. His legs are still short, but they seem incredibly strong and are wide in proportion to his body, with heavily muscled shoulders like some kind of throwback Neanderkat. We were wrong too: he is no longer the sweet, gentle cat we held quietly in our arms at the vet's office. And the name? Let me tell you, it is a fitting name: Tex is one tough hombre.

He totally dominates Tucker and Bailey. He has little to do with anyone but me, and he just barely tolerates me. When he wants to be petted, he'll let you know, and then when he's finished, he'll let you know that too, often with claws or teeth. Did I say he tolerates me? My wife Gretchen says that if I fall asleep on the couch watching television, Tex will position himself in the adjacent chair and just stare at me. She thinks he idolizes me. Is that what these scars mean? But seriously, in his own way he is a good cat. He is just tough as nails and, basically, I think he is happy to be home.

—Thomas Fenske, Mebane


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Clarissa, diva and dowager queen

My late wife Anna and I adopted Clarissa on the rebound, after losing a beautiful male black cat, Bartleby, when he was only 18 months old. Clarissa was also black but a somewhat homely kitten, her head a little too big, and her back a little too bony, as she sat on the window sill watching the birds, her little teeth chattering with excitement. She soon blossomed into a swan, tending, Elizabeth-Taylor-like, to occasional overweight. Clarissa soon sorted out sleeping arrangements, since my wife once deciding to roll over might launch Clarissa off her knees like a catapult, whereas even in the deepest sleep, I would crank my feet up against my rear end and slide them back down the other side of the cat so as not to disturb her. I became Clarissa's Sleep Number Bed.

My wife was a superb cat psychologist. Once when Clarissa had dodged up the disappearing stairway to the attic, making us fearful that she might tumble down into the insulation between the walls, Anna quickly remembered what piqued Clarissa's curiosity most—visitors. Anna crept to the front door and opened it quietly and rang the front doorbell, and sure enough, down the attic stairs marched Clarissa to fulfill her duties as official greeter and majordomo of the household.

To keep Clarissa in the yard, we developed an arrangement for harnessing her on a long lead. At first she was wild with distaste for being so confined, until I got out the camera to photograph her in her regalia. Finding that she was modeling the harness, suddenly it became not only all right but a point of vanity, and she settled in with it, even hunting voles on the end of her tether.

Clarissa was a distinguished elderly cat, living to 16 ½, her once-plump body grown spare, her skin a little loose, and her golden eyes larger than ever. I discussed with the vet about how to choreograph her departure gently, knowing when the right time had come, and not letting her pride take punishment. She went out in style, with a grand procession around the property and all her favorite places. And I bore up pretty well, until she was gone, at which point I summoned a fellow cat lover and descended into a grand, agonizing wake. Clarissa's little box of ashes sat on a chest in the living room for years, topped with various cat toys, before she was sprinkled fondly over her hunting ground, to join all those voles.

—Tom Hawkins, Raleigh


click to enlarge The author with Danny Boy (left); Rocky
  • The author with Danny Boy (left); Rocky
Rocky the raccoon

A speeding car on a dark night in Chapel Hill hits a pregnant raccoon crossing the road, and the driver doesn't even turn to look. But this all-too typical scene had a very unusual ending: The car behind the killer was driven by a renowned UNC doctor who not only stopped but attempted to help the mother raccoon. Although she died minutes later, the doctor performed a caesarean section and delivered her healthy babies so they would have a chance. Thus was Rocky's miraculous entrance into the world.

I obtained Rocky from the doctor when he was about 6 weeks old. He was still a baby, needing a lot of care and frequent bottle feedings. I also had a puppy that was not much older, Danny Boy, and I raised the hound and raccoon together. Rather than predator and prey, they became brothers. Their affection for each other was endearing, and they played like kittens. The little raccoon was extremely intelligent, learning quickly to hold his own bottle and to use a litter box. (In the wild, raccoons do their business on top of logs or rocks to mark territory, so using the litter box was not normal behavior.) I loved the little twertle sound Rocky made and the way he gently touched my face with his sensitive paws that felt like hands. His beautiful, long, dense coat was soft and odor-free. Both Rocky and Danny Boy slept in the bed with me and followed me everywhere. I also had a pet monkey named Dweezil at the time, and the four of us made a family. We were quite a sight whenever we hung out on Franklin Street.

At that time I worked as a night watchman for the first UNC park-and-ride lot beside the Horace Williams airport. Having a night job was great because raccoons are primarily nocturnal, and I was able to take Rocky and Danny Boy to work with me. This was in the early 1970s, and you have to remember that Chapel Hill was very laid-back then. The police frequently stopped by on their rounds to check with me, and they got to know Rocky and Danny well. The pair became unofficial mascots of the UNC police department.

Soon after, I was assigned as night watchman for the UNC building at 440 West Franklin. When I arrived at work, I kept Rocky in my car until the building cleared and then brought him inside with me. To pass the long hours we would play hide and seek in the hallways. But our happy evenings all came to an end when a "big-wig" returned to the building late one night to get some papers he had forgotten and came face-to-face with a raccoon scampering down the hall. Rather than being charmed, he was alarmed. I was told to leave Rocky at home, and that meant caging him. Both of us knew it couldn't go on that way.

My girlfriend, Louise, lived at Hobbs Mill along Terrell's Creek in Chatham County, and I left Rocky with her so he could roam free. He hung around the house for about a month, sleeping high up in the fork of a tree at night. He was now fully grown, and the night came when I looked and looked but couldn't find my Rocky. He must certainly have discovered others of his own kind and moved on. He is now just a fond memory, another thread in the fabric of my life.

—William Patterson, Chapel Hill


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My talking bird

One day I was playing outside in my yard when I heard my mother calling me. She said, "Michael, come in—dinner." So I ran inside. But there was no dinner ready. My mom said she didn't call me. So then I went outside playing again. A minute later she called me again: "MICHAEL, COME ON, DINNER!!!!"

Again I ran inside, but this time my mom was looking at me funny. Later we realized it wasn't my mom calling at all. It was my African Grey Parrot, Bingo, in exactly my mom's voice!!! I had been tricked by a bird!!! But I am still smarter than Bingo is, my mom says!

—Michael Friedman, age 7

See Michael's handwritten story (PDF, 143 KB)


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Rudy the Brave

"Rudy the Cutie," "Rudy Patootie," "Rudy the Beauty" ... one of the best things about my little cat Rudy is how her name rhymes so easily with endearments I can sing to her. But one nickname Rudy deserves comes from her character, not wordplay. During our four years together, she has also earned the title "Rudy the Brave."

When I first saw her, she was scrawny and underfed, she had ear mites, and her fur was flat and uneven. She showed up at my neighbor Gail's door in the fall, just a few months after I had "put down" (a sterile phrase for what felt like a horrific act) my 18-year-old cat, Junior.

Gail, who later became Rudy's godmother, said the kitten appeared on her porch, looked up at her through the screen door and began meowing, seeming to demand, "Well, are you going to feed me or not?"

We decided she must have come from the nearby rough neighborhood separated from ours by a 12-foot chain-link fence. It is a place where most people don't have enough money to feed or care for themselves, much less any pets.

"No food? No love? No flea medicine?" we imagined the kitten saying, "I'm outta here." We joked that she had packed a miniature tramp's bundle on the end of a stick, balanced it over her shoulder and taken off, leaving everything she knew behind her—in search of a better world. Our fantasy that Rudy's pluck and determination brought her to a better life instantly became part of her narrative.

Sometime during the first week Rudy was with me, we were sleeping upstairs when we were awakened by a deafening clatter echoing up from the darkness below. Before I could even get my bearings, I was surprised to see Rudy leap off the bed, skitter to the door and disappear down the stairs. By the time I made it to the kitchen to discover the fallen broom that had smacked into the linoleum, she was sniffing its handle over, then tapping it with her front paw as if to make certain it was now dead.

This was the first of many times I've seen Rudy rush with excitement toward something frightening. For a creature so small she is unusually fearless, and her bold behavior delights me. I'd thought of my previous unflappable cat Junior as a sort of feline Buddha and often felt that he had come into my life to teach me about calm. Rudy however, seems to have come to me to demonstrate passionate courage.

Of late there has been a sudden overpopulation of cats in my neighborhood and Rudy, though bigger than she used to be, is outsized and out-brawned by a couple of them. Recently I discovered she'd been bitten, and the location of the wound suggested she may have been fleeing when injured. Nevertheless, she remains "Rudy the Brave" in my mind.

Hey, I said she was brave—not stupid!

—Jenny Lewis


The First Wives Club

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  • Marie

After a year of fostering kittens for Independent Animal Rescue, I decided I was ready to take in a cat, and so began my summer with the First Wives Club. Marie, Brenna, and Goldie all came to me pregnant or with tiny babies&mdashh;left in a bad spot by a wily tom cat. My experiences with these three lovely ladies gave me some insight into the life that female cats can expect if they are not spayed.

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  • Brenna

The instant I met Marie I realized this was going to be a whole new experience, and one that was full of puzzles. The form that came with Marie from the shelter said "owner surrender." The puzzles started when Marie purred the entire ride home in the car. The instant we got home, Marie started weaving in and out of my legs, still purring. I gave her some food and she ignored it, preferring love to food. How could an owner surrender this sweet girl?

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  • Goldie

Next came Brenna, who came to me from a farm whose cat population had gotten out of control. Brenna had two of her own babies in tow, and she adopted two more just like they were her own. All four grew into strong kittens that got into heaps of trouble—er, fun—in my house. What is it about mama cats that makes them so affectionate with humans and unrelated babies? When Brenna's emerald green eyes peer into mine with trust and love, I wonder how the farmer could bear to let her go. As Brenna and I watched her kittens find new homes, I wondered how anyone could resist this sweet-natured mama. Brenna settled deeper into my heart than any of her kittens ever did.

Goldie's story is heartbreaking. When I brought Goldie home, she was underweight at only seven pounds, she had seven newborn babies, and she had caught an upper respiratory infection at the shelter. Why would Mother Nature give a malnourished cat seven babies? Why didn't Goldie's previous owners feed her better? How could they bear to part with her in this fragile condition? Under these circumstances, Goldie's poor babies never had a chance. It took all the care the vet and I could give her just to save Goldie's life. But now, just a few weeks later, Goldie is headed for a happy ending. She is eating like a horse, returning to her former beautiful self, and regularly enjoys a cuddle with me or a romp around the house with one of the other first wives.

As I was writing this story, Marie found her new family. That's one question answered. Indeed, I'm not the only one who can see that my First Wives are truly fabulous. Perhaps you will ensure another happy ending by adopting Brenna, Goldie, or one of the many other First Wives in foster care. Check them out at www.animalrescue.net.

—Christina Burch, Chapel Hill


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I'm So Glad I've Found You
(Silly Dawg, Trixey the Kid)

On a recent hike with my dog Trixey, a spotted deer darted across our path and gracefully leaped the steeply banked brook that paralleled our route. Just behind the bounding Bambi was my happy, carefree mutt. When my tri-colored daredevil attempted to vault the creek, she thumped into the mud with such a thud that a bizarre pulse of sound erupted from deep within her. Undeterred, Trixey continued up the wooded hill in pursuit of the fleeing fawn. Hooves eluded paws that morning, but Trixey didn't care. Even if Trixey were fast enough, she would never harm her white-tailed playmate—Trixey just loves being a dawg.

Trixey and I have been together for nearly four years. When I got her, I was still wallowing in the I'll-never-get-another-dog phase that often follows the painful loss of a loyal pooch. Fate brought Trixey and me together. I just happened to notice an Animal Protection Society ad in a newspaper, and I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was ready for a new pup. That very night, I went to the APS website and viewed the canine photographs. When I saw the image of Trixey, it was instant magic. Presto! The next day, I visited the dog destined to become my partner. Even though the genetically mingled mutt apparently disliked men (had she been abused?), Trixey took to me from the get-go. So, I adopted her.

Trixey usually goes to work with me. She explores but generally stays within a reasonable range. However, one day my girl disappeared for hours, and my mind began racing: where is she? what happened to my baby? As the thickening dusk began intensifying my fears, Trixey reappeared with a wild look in her wide eyes. I asked where she had been, but she just tilted her squarish head and dangled her spoonish tongue. I thought nothing more of things, and we drove home. Later, a check of my voicemail revealed that a Good Samaritan had found Trixey on a distant trail, had taken my "lost" dog to his home, and had called the number on Trixey's jangling tag. My wandering wascal was confined in a yard bordered by an 8-foot-tall wrought iron fence. The neighborly citizen claimed there was no evidence of Trixey digging her way out, and no possibility of her climbing the unclimbable barrier. I know how Trixey managed the feat of escaping, and I know how Trixey found her way back: it was magic. Fate is magic.

On the day I went to the animal shelter, I brought along a date—a first date. In the end, not only did I locate my ideal canine companion, but I also got to know the woman I would later marry. In fact, my wife and I recently celebrated our third wedding anniversary.

Two soul mates discovered in one day ... fate is magic.

Presto!

—Frank E. Guenzel, Pittsboro


Shelter from the storm

Hi folks!

Some of you may remember me saying today how the storm hit really close to my house last night and the thunder blew open our front door.

Well, I had a surprise waiting for me when I got home ...

I got out of my car, grabbed the mail and looked through it to see someone's missing dog poster ...

I opened my door, sat down my books and began my daily routine of obsessing over things to do ...

I walked over to my coffee table to set down the mail, and casually glanced around the room; everything was in place, the TV was off, the room was fairly clean (for us anyway), the cats were conspicuously absent, the fish tanks were humming away, and the black and white pitbull/ hound mix was sitting terrified in the corner ...

WHAT THE ... ?

I jumped back, nearly killed myself on the coffee table, and probably made the dog want to soil my carpet!

He was the exact match of the dog in the missing animal poster. His family lost him three days ago, and he had been adopted from an animal shelter after an abused past. When his Dad got there to pick him up, he went from huddled in the corner shaking to wagging like he'd shake the house down.

It was wonderful seeing him reunited with his family. The fellow offered me a reward but I couldn't take it. I still remember the terror of my cat being lost for a month when I was young.

What really strikes me as funny is that this poor dog had sat there huddled in the corner most of last night and all of this morning unnoticed while Barbara and I got dressed, kissed our goodbyes and shuffle-stepped our lazy-butt and sleepy-eyed selves out the door to work and school. We didn't notice a thing!

And by the way, for anyone wondering, the cats are fine, all present and accounted for!

—An email by Stephen Benson Farrell, submitted by Beth Massey


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Chicken stare-down

Since getting my first chickens this spring, I have not really been surprised to learn that chicken-keeping has become a popular backyard pastime. Not only do chickens produce something useful (eggs, for you true urbanites), a claim few other pets can make, they are incredibly comical.

Just watching one of them walk across their little chicken-yard, thrusting its head forward with each step, somehow reminds me of John Cleese making his entry into the lobby of Fawlty Towers. The way they peck energetically at every bite as if penetrating an invisible barrier when they're really just ingesting a small bit of milled grain, the way they tilt their beaks into the air and ripple their amazingly long necks with every sip of water, they way they half-run half-fly for five or six feet in a near panic and then stop and look around as if nothing happened, all these habits and more make for endless hours of entertaining poultry observation. They are almost never silent but make a surprising range of sounds including but certainly not limited to clucking, peeping, trilling, gurgling, and squawking. Of course, most of these sounds are intelligible only to other chickens, if that, but occasionally I have been sure I knew what my chickens were trying to tell me.

One day I decided to hand feed a few pieces of table scraps through the chicken wire rather than just throwing them on the ground of the coop. My little girls quickly consumed all the ends and rejects from the sugar snap peas I was fixing for dinner, so I cut up an apple core into chicken-bite-sized pieces and fed them that. When they still raised their lower eyelids and blinked at me expectantly, I decided to try the leftover salt-free crackers. Humans clearly prefer crackers with salt, but I thought these crackers would be perfect for my chickens, who are not supposed to have any extra salt in their diets. So I held out a piece of admittedly stale cracker and was met with icy stares and indignant squawking. I tried to reason with them, that the peas and apples were all gone, that this was all I had. But the longer I held out that piece of cracker, the louder the squawking got.

Finally one of them snatched the cracker from my hand, spat it out onto the ground, and fixed me with the most intimidating stare any chicken has ever managed. I was sure they were telling me they wanted apples, not crackers, but what could I do? Being severely reprimanded by a chicken is a humbling experience, but one a chicken-keeper must brave. And, of course, the chickens won the argument. The crackers went into the compost, and the chickens get every scrap of apple core, bruised banana, and (their current favorite) fresh corn that passes through our house.

—Jackie Stonehuerner


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She's not that kind of cat

Cats are playful, agile creatures. Light on their feet, they often astound their owners with their ability to reach great heights. Sally is not that kind of cat.

A refugee from the bottom of the pack, she walked out of the cat carrier and into my life already a mature and generously sized cat. With no other pets to chase or be chased by, she became a couch potato without a backward glance. Because of her lack of activity and my overzealous feeding during our first year together, she is now just over 18 pounds. Three feet is about as high as she jumps.

She has a string and feathers hanging from a stick. When I swing it for her, she jumps one or twice then lies down, waiting for it to come into paw range. Occasionally I change a cat nap to a cat walk when I find her in my way. I dislodge her with a toe nudge and follow her as she vainly tries to ditch me by staying ahead of me, faster and faster until she escapes under the bed.

Cats as a whole are curious animals. They keep tabs on their territory and investigate visitors. Except, when Sally hears a knock on the door, she runs and hides until the coast is clear from friend, foe, or repairman alike. Eventually, after some eavesdropping to determine the visitor is not a potential pet sitter, she will come out to meet the company, approaching cautiously as any smart cat knows to do. That is, unless the guest list includes children.

Some adult cats like children, some don't. Sally doesn't. They represent loud noise, which she is opposed to. Unfortunately, the children who visit want to play with her, and I have to explain patiently while Sally hides under the bed, "I'm sorry dear. She's not that kind of cat."

Domesticated cats are often found curled in the laps of their humans. Laps hold no appeal for Sally. She stays close to me, next to me, or beside me, but never on me. Some cats are like furry nurses, hovering nearby, offering warmth and comfort when their humans are sick or sad. Sally edges away from me if I sneeze too much, and she leaves the room completely if I cry too loudly over some real or televised event.

Sally has a soft, silky coat. Her furry face is beautiful and sweet, her eyes expressive and changeable so that sometimes she looks like a big kitten, and other times she looks dangerous and mysterious. She understands English and speaks with a lisp. She tells me when her food bowl is empty or she wants attention, and she reminds me that the freshest drinking water in the house comes from my cup. She keeps me company during the night.

So, in the end, Sally is just exactly the right kind of cat.

—JeanMarie Olivieri, Durham


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The further exploits of Rakie-the-Bird,
or, Winged victory in Durham

Last year Rakie-the-Bird moved to Durham, not by preference but compelled to follow his human and canine flock. With much grumbling and a newly acquired vocabulary of Colombian swear words, he grudgingly adapted. (Hernando supplied the vocabulary when he installed our bamboo floor.)

To ease Rakie's discomfort, I allowed him to grow his primary wing feathers out so he could practice flight patterns in his new environment. Needless to say, this pleased him (although he would rather maintain his stance that everything I subject him to "could have killed me!"). His reaction to even his favorite activities, most of which involve snatching portions of whatever I eat or reducing things to shreds, can be summed up in "Go on!"—dramatically stated in my husband's voice.

In the parrot world, some experts (usually those who regard macaws as the ultimate bird) characterize African Greys as "flying bricks." Not so! Rakie-the-Bird exercises hairpin turns, death spirals and needle-threading maneuvers through bathroom doors worthy of a Red Bull aviator. He typically finishes his performance with the grace and precision of an aircraft carrier pilot landing on the sloped deck of my shoulder.

Being that this is Rakie-the-Bird, after all, flying is not just for flying's sake. In his parrot mind, flying has become a means to an end—namely, ridding himself of Jim, my husband, his chief rival in the flock. On any given evening, you might find Rakie and me sitting in the living room—he on his simulated tree bird stand, me in my comfy chair—and my husband at his laptop in the adjoining dining room. Without warning, Rakie will spring into the air, fly to my husband's shoulder and deliver a sharp (but not bloodletting) pinch to his arm. Of course the drama this creates is infinitely more satisfying than Rakie's actual thoughts of doing harm. So my husband, if rattled by the experience, is safe.

Alas, Rakie's plans to drive Jim from the flock will be short-lived. Jim and I will be going on a well-deserved holiday in August. And to give his temporary live-in attendant a fighting chance of survival for the week we are gone, Rakie-the-Bird will be having his primaries clipped. But don't tell him, or I will never get him in his bird carrier for a visit to his Moriarty, Dr. Burkett.

I have no doubts he will adapt and revert to walking everywhere in search of naked toes and more drama.

—Cathy McCarthy, Durham


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The miracle dog

I have a dog named Delilah that one of the vets at the clinic where I work affectionately calls "The Miracle Dog." Animal control brought her to us on Halloween after witnessing her being hit by a car. She had bounced off the side of the car and slammed into the curb. When I first saw her, she was a matted mess that could barely move. Her hair was ridiculously long, as were her nails. In short, she looked as though she had been fending for herself for quite a while.

We get a lot of animals brought in by animal control, but for some reason, this little dog grabbed my attention. Whenever I put my fingers near her cage, she really looked like she wanted to come to me, and she would struggle to lick my hand. I spoke to the veterinarian in charge of her case and was told that her back legs were severely fractured, and her pelvis was essentially just barely hanging on to her spine. I was also told she was going to be euthanized.

I was very unsettled by this and asked if there was anything at all that could be done. The doctor hesitantly told me there was a surgery that could possibly help her, but it was $1,500. Another vet and I tried in vain to think up ways to quickly raise the money: bake sales, car washes, anything. Finally I just started to beg. I called every rescue around and pleaded for money for this little girl to no avail, until I contacted the Carolina Poodle Rescue in South Carolina. They contacted me, right when we had lost hope and had decided we were going to have to put her to sleep after all. As soon as I picked up the phone, a women's voice came on the line desperately urging me to stop the euthanasia. She assured me that no matter what it took, they would get the money Delilah (who we were calling Violet at the time) so desperately needed.

The money was raised and Delilah's life secured, except that she never had the surgery. Over time it was found she had essentially healed herself. While she will never be able to jump up on the couch with a single bound or catch a Frisbee in midair, she can run around the house, steal toys from her 82-pound "brother" (a greyhound named Sampson), and intimidate dogs twice her size. She is the most loving, affectionate creature I've ever seen, and even though she is just a half-broken toy poodle, she is the strongest "person" I've ever met.

—Jessica Robbins

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  • "Everyone needs a reason, and she was mine."

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