In early September, 2000, my daughter Nikki came home one evening while I was watching TV, carrying a cardboard box. “Look what I found!” I eyed the box, knowing what she’d probably found. More than once she’d brought in a baby rabbit or other prey caught and damaged by our mighty hunter cat, Spot. I wasn’t much interested in nursing another casualty back to health, especially since my record of success wasn’t better than fifty percent.

But when she reached into the box, she brought out a tiny furball of an orange-and-white kitten no more than six weeks old. He grabbed my heart that very instant. I jumped up to take him. “Oh, my God!” The little guy was starved nearly to death, only skin and bones under the long fur. He had eye infections, skin infections, fleas, worms, diarrhea, just everything bad that can happen to a kitten had happened to him. I held him and he was mine. I called to Dale, “Hey, come see what followed Nikki home from Smyrna!” Dale came into the room, took one look at him, and said, “His name is Silas.”

We fed him, though he couldn’t eat much without it going straight out the other end. But when he’d had enough, I took him back to the living room, settled onto the couch to watch TV some more, with Silas wrapped in a towel to keep him from pooping on me, and he started purring. Just as loud as you please, though he was a very sick kitty.

That was always how he was. If he was in my lap, he was purring. Or even nearby, when he couldn’t be in my lap, he just purred up a storm every time.

I took him to the vet the next day, where he was medicated and cleaned up. He rode home on the passenger seat of the Altima, stretched out full-length on his belly, purring, and I swear he had a big smile on his face. Silas thought he was a dog. He was as affectionate as one, and as he grew older he became as clingy as one.

When he was little, he was always either running, or sleeping. Never in-between. At first we weren’t sure if he was going to get along with our Border collie, Ziggy, but when I saw Ziggy chase Silas the length of the house, and went to rescue the kitten only to find him chasing the dog back the other way, I knew Silas would be all right.

One day when he was still little but had grown some, he was playing mouse hockey as usual. Hiding beneath the TV stand in the office, he decided to pounce on his toy but hadn’t realized he was now bigger than he used to be. He no longer fit in the space beneath the bottom shelf of the stand. I heard a “clonk” and saw two little legs sticking out from under the shelf, still trying to reach the toy mouse though his head was too large to go under. Of course, he meant to do that.

Silas was an indoor cat, but he liked to rush the door and escape whenever he could. He would graze on the lawn, and chase away the white male cat that presumed to enter Silas’s yard. One of his favorite things was to roll around on the cement gutter drain in the back yard. Another favorite thing was to have burrs and things combed out of his coat.

Early on, Spot was his second mommy. But when she died he was only ten months old and he took it hard. It was a few years before he would have another attachment, and that was me.

Silas was my favorite of all our animals. He had to be. He required it. He needed constant reassurance that he was the favorite. He had to be fed separately, and got special food. He rather needed special food, for he had a sensitive tummy and would barf up most foods. He was the hairball king of Middle Tennessee, and for years there was hardly a day that he wasn’t coughing up something. He was susceptible to infection, and learned to take pills without complaint. It was plain he’d made the connection between pills and feeling better, and he never once gave me guff about medication.

For a while he slept on the bed. He got in the habit while Dale was on the road for several weeks. When it was bedtime, he presented himself and claimed his spot on Dale’s side, and I got used to waking up with Silas draped over me or lying on top of me. But when Dale returned, and it was bedtime, Silas came in and stopped cold when he saw Dale in his spot. The look on his face was like, “Uh…don’t you, like, have a tour to go on, or something?”

The shower mystified him. Every night he would come running when the water started, and sit outside the curtain, trying to see inside. He’d poke a paw in, and one time came all the way in. After that he limited himself to just playing with the edge of the curtain. Then, when I was finished and the water turned off, he’d run inside and drink off the floor. I can’t imagine why, but every night he had to have his shower water.

Silas was afraid of the television. He didn’t like anything on a screen, but he did eventually make peace with the computer monitor. I think he did that because it was the only way to hang out with me. The last year or so, I couldn’t sit at the computer without him climbing onto my lap, even if I was working with the laptop in the bedroom. Whenever I came home from a business trip, he always ran to greet me, then lay in my arms so I’d know how much he missed me.

Always purring at full bore. Even the night he died, barely able to breathe, he spent some hours lying on my bed, purring away. I petted him as much as I could stay awake, wishing morning would come so I could take him to the vet. I had no idea he wouldn’t make it.

If Nikki hadn’t brought that kitten home, it’s certain he wouldn’t have lived more than another day or two. Nine years is not a long life for a cat, and for that I’m horribly sorry. But I’m so thankful for the years we did have with him. I thank God for sending me a tiny orange-and-white furball named Silas.

Dog-Shaped Hole

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been AWOL, and I apologize. I expect you all found other things to amuse, and I haven’t been much fun in any case. On the 31st I had oral surgery, and it went well, thank you. Then four days later my dog died.

You know, this blog was not intended to be a litany of people and pets I’ve lost. Honest. No, really. I swear it. When I migrated my website, I fully expected to have more worthwhile things to say than “my dog died.” But let me tell you about Max. He was the best dog ever.

In June of 2010, we found ourselves dogless, and it had only been seven months since I’d lost my very favorite cat, Silas. My husband knew I wanted another Border collie, and thought he might meet me at the airport on my return from a trip to New York and present me with a puppy, but thought better of it and let me pick out the puppy myself. So we found a breeder up the road in Beth Page, and went to look.

The place was clean, the dogs seemed happy, and there were several puppies to choose from. All the unusual-colored ones were spoken for, but I was happy to take a black-and-white rough coat. I picked up one of those, and he settled into my arms while I looked at the other puppies. We talked about rough coat vs. smooth coat, eye color, and other sundries. I wanted a rough coat, and thought I might like one with blue eyes, but at five weeks old it was too early to tell eye color. We looked at the parents. The father was a smallish, red, rough coat with erect ears. We were told he was an agility competitor, and his parents had both been imported from Scotland and Ireland. I liked that very much. Mom was quite large for a Border collie. She was floppy-eared and so shaggy she almost looked like an English Sheep Dog. Her people were working cattle dogs from Kentucky.

The puppy in my arms fell asleep, and when it came time to choose, I saw no reason to put him down. So we bought him and named him Max, then left him there to grow up for another week.

The following Saturday I went to pick him up after he’d had his shots, etc., and the breeder greeted me with, “I have good news. It looks like he’s going to have one blue eye.” One blue? I thought that was a little weird. But then later he ended up with one blue and one blue/brown merle, which I found unutterably cool.

At six weeks old, Max was still very young to be leaving home. Eight weeks is the recommended age. But I had the time and energy to focus on him. I would sit with him on the carpet, and he would play for about ten minutes, then fall asleep in my lap for five. Play for ten, sleep for five.

He was the first puppy I’d ever had who was specifically my dog, and with my husband on the road there was nobody else around to influence him. I bought several books on dog training (I can do anything if I have the instructions), and began readying him for the obedience class I planned to take, which would be a learning experience for both of us. At eight weeks I started showing him the concept of “fetch.” Mostly I would take his favorite toy, toss it in front of him, then praise and pet him when he picked it up. It was maybe a couple of weeks later that he caught on that the objective was for him to bring it to me, and from then on he was a fetching fool. A Border collie with a job is a happy puppy.

Some months later we signed up for an obedience class. He already knew how to sit, but hadn’t yet grasped coming on command. He learned it in no time flat. Every week the instructor was at a loss to fill the time because Max would pick up the day’s lesson in about five minutes, then go, “Okay, what else ya got?” I decided I liked having a dog who was smarter than me.

Even for a Border collie, Max was high energy and smarter than average. We have a broadcast-style (no wire) invisible fence we’d bought for our first Border collie, Ziggy. The instructions say to give the dog a couple of days to get used to the perimeter. Ziggy, being of a breed known for intelligence, learned it in a couple of hours. Max, at about a year old, learned it in five minutes. Which is also about how long it took him to learn to catch a Frisbee (aka Slobber Disk.)

As I said earlier, Max was a fetching fool. Anyone who came to our back door was immediately presented with Max’s honeycomb ball. Like a bridge troll, he expected the ball to be thrown several times before he would allow that person to pass. And no matter how many throws he got, he always went, “Piker!” Often when I walked down the driveway to get the mail, that ball would go rolling past me to the street. I’d turn around and find Max standing at the top, waiting for me to throw it for him. The neighbors all loved playing fetch with Max, which I encouraged because I could never keep up with him.

On August 4, two weeks ago, Max died. The vet showed me the x-ray, which revealed something that looked like a bone in his colon, and a shadow that looked like a massive infection. Since everyone in my family knows not to give bones to a dog, I can only guess he got it out of the garbage. In any case, he passed only a few minutes after I got him to the vet.

I’ll get another puppy, probably in a year or two. Meanwhile I’m working with my daughter’s dog, a Mountain Cur named Cooper. He’s not a stupid dog, but compared to Max he seems badly retarded. I’m so spoiled by Max.

Best. Dog Ever.