Category Archives: Pets

Old Writing: Part 10::Untitled

I wrote this October 1966. I am not sure what grade I was in. Probably fourth.

I am a ten-year-old girl. My name is Dona Patrick. I live at 240 Heine Street, Elgin, Illinois. My brother’s name is Kevin. He is three years old. My mother’s name is Pat, but I call her Mom. My father’s name is Al but I call him Dad. I don’t know if I am pretty, but my dad says so.

When I got my cat, it was 5 months old. When I got my dog, he was eight months old. I was ten when my cat was born. I was six or seven when my brother was born. My aunt was married and I was the junior bridesmaid. My mom was a bridesmaid. So was my aunt. The bride’s girlfriend was the maid-of-honor. My brother was the ring bearer. Now I have a new uncle and I might have a new cousin. I hope it’s a girl. But if it is a boy, it’s his business.

My aunt and uncle never had kids.


Old Writing: Part 9::Puff?

I wrote this on November 3, 1970. I was in 8th grade and 14 years old. I got an A+/B for the paper. The teacher wrote at the end:

“Yes, there are times when tears are impossible, we just hurt so much.”


“Dona, you have told this beautifully, for you have made me feel as if I knew Puff and shared your hurt in having to give Puff away. Thanks for sharing it so well. By the way, you have a very interesting writing style. Keep it up.”

My take on this is: it is forced and feels stilted. It is too formal in parts, yet too informal in others. I do not consider this one of my better old writings. And why the question mark in the title?


My love for cats is very great. But my father is just the opposite, he hates cats. So I have had only one cat in my life. (I have a five-month-old kitten at the moment but she acts so much like a person I think of her as a sister). This cat — a white half Persian, male. Mother Persian, father unknown. Born in a box in a breezeway by the side of a garage. He was my “birthday cat” as I called him, but every cat or pet must have a name so I had to find one. I tried every name I could think of: Prince, Whitey, Snowball, Pumpkin, etc. I finally settled on Puff. Everyone laughed. I said I didn’t care because Puff had been my favorite story character in Dick, Jane, and Sally. Also, my favorite song was “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Sometimes I made up “real” names such as “Prince Puff Patrick” (PPP). Yes, Puff was my cat and I loved him.

One and a half years after I received Puff, my kitten had grown into a cat. A large, long, slim and beautiful cat. He was all white except for a long black or gray streak down his back from when my friend and I accidentally left Puff in the charcoal burrner overnight. I thought that Puff didn’t love me anymore for he had always faithfully returned home after a day outside.

Another time I thought I had lost Puff was when he was caught between the screen door and inside backdoor. Around midnight my father heard a strange noise coming from the back door. He must have thought that a burglar was trying to get into the house for he went and opened it and was surprised to see a white streak running up the steps and under the table.

Finally, the sad part of this gleeful lifetime must be told for I have put it off long enough. Although Puff and I had happy times together, there were still some bad ones. For Puff was getting to be a nuisance. He would get hold of a piece of wool or a sock or any material and eat a big hole in the middle. Puff also, like any other cat, had a desire to catch and eat birds and rabbits.

So my mother suggested that we take Puff to Wisconsin for my grandparents’ house to catch mice. Naturally, I didn’t want to give up “my little cat.” After weeks of pondering about what to do with Puff, we finally decided on giving him to my Aunt and Uncle to take to a farm. By that time I had started to dislike Puff, or so I thought, for the cat would make my father angry, so angry he would get angry with me and that made me angry. The cat would sit in the middle of the living room and pull his hair out. Also, the cat was getting mean, very mean. He even made a sort of growling noise in his throat when he ate. This noise was not purring, he never purred, not even when he was a little kitten.

Well, the day came when my parents asked my Aunt and Uncle to come and take my cat to his destination. My mother tried to tell me that Puff would be happier at the farm, but I really didn’t care about anything at all anymore. My cat was leaving me. I handed my cat to my Aunt and I think she could see a tear in my eye. I gave Puff one last kiss and after they left I went into my room. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t cry. I was beyond crying.

The next day we received a call from my Aunt and Uncle saying that about halfway [to the farm] Puff jumped out the window, which was down about 6 inches. He didn’t get run over, but he ran into a cornfield. This was the last time anyone in my family saw my cat, Puff.

Now that I have heard of Pica disease in cats, I am pretty sure Puff’s habit of eating fabric, pulling out his hair and his meanness came from an underlying issue that we didn’t consider.

Several years after Puff ran off into the cornfield my father did some appliance repair for someone not too far from the place where Puff disappeared. The family had a large, white cat who apparently walked out of a cornfield and into their lives years before my father did work there. He believed it was Puff. I hope it was.

My cousin Jeff, my brother Kevin, my cousin Pam and Puff. Jeff always opened his mouth like that when the cat was in the room.
Kevin, Puff and Jock. Puff is dirty because he spent the night in an outdoor grill. Oops.


Probably the best gift I ever gave anyone was the Christmas I gave my brother a puppy. He’d recently lost his dog, Franz, and somehow Dean and I found out about a litter of puppies that were being given away in Elgin. Dean and I picked out a female, brought it to my apartment for a few days, then presented it to Kevin on Christmas Day.

I think he liked her.

Dog with a bow
The best gift ever
Tanner biting Kevin's fingers
Sharp puppy teeth

Kevin named her Tanner and she grew up to be a wonderful companion. Unfortunately, however, she only lived about 18 months. Our next door neighbor misused weed killer near the fence that separated our properties and it eventually killed Tanner as well as his own dog.

Photos of people I don’t know #2 — a cat on a fence post

Photo of a cat sitting on a fence post.

Not a person, but I don’t know the cat in this photo so it counts. This was also in the bag of photos from Aunt Corrine.

Even 1915, the year this postcard photo was sent, people took photos of their cats.

The sender wrote this on the back:

From: 117 Hinsdale Pl.
Elgin, Ill.

To: Mrs. W. C. Youngs, Elgin, Ill. R.F.D #2

Dear Mrs. Youngs,

This is a rather funny picture, but I thought you might like one. It is “Nellie” if you can’t tell otherwise. How are you all? This is dandy weather.

With Best Wishes,
Irene Nelson.


Spoiling the Cat

No, as far as I know that is not a euphemism.

HalloweenI am spoiling our cat. She is elderly, mostly deaf and going blind. She’s got a constant runny nose that was finally diagnosed as asthma a few years ago. We recently had a bad scare  and thought she was dying as we helplessly watched.

Long story short — an emergency vet visit brought up the probability of cancer and an emergency animal hospital visit said no cancer, but she has pancreatitis.

Apparently a cat with pancreatitis will eat, but the food he or she eats is not absorbed well. It can be a spell of pancreatitis or chronic. It can lead to diabetes. The vet said to feed her whatever she wanted to eat. Hence the spoiling.

She began turning her nose up to the Science Diet canned food for mature cats, so I bought Royal Canin because she liked the sample the vet gave us. I also gave her some low-sodium tuna in water — the kind people eat — and she liked that. We also give her the skin off the salmon we cook because we don’t like the skin and she loves it. It seems to make her chipper.

The other day she began turning her nose up to the Royal Canin food and I suggested to Dean that I buy fish for her and cook it and freeze it. He shook his head and said that at some point she would only eat caviar from the rarest of sturgeons in a country that does not trade with the U.S.

Okay, he really didn’t say that but I bet he wishes he had.

I did buy some inexpensive frozen fish and will cook it for her — but she seems okay with the Royal Canin again. Dean says she’s got me trained. I think he’s right.

How I learned that Cokie Roberts lives nearby

So, on Monday afternoon I got a phone call. The ID on the phone display read:


I didn’t answer, but later was curious and listened to the message. Notice that the message did not say “This is a message from your neighbor Cokie”. However, I made a note to be on the lookout for a scared looking black lab if and when I was out and about.

Katie the Missing Lab belonging to Cokie Roberts
Katie -- photo courtesy

That evening just before I left for Alexandria (to teach a class on document accessibility the next morning) I checked the news on my phone. I have a “Bethesda, Maryland” section on Google News and noticed that the Baltimore Sun had an article about Cokie Roberts and her lost dog, Katie. I was a little amused that a newspaper like the Baltimore Sun ran an article about a lost dog. Then I was kind of excited to learn that Ms Roberts lives within a few miles of me. The article (and the message) mentioned Bradley Boulevard which is very close to me as well as Walt Whitman High School (not the one from Room 222) which is where my children went  to school.

I now wonder if perhaps I have passed her in the grocery store or cut her off while driving on Wilson Lane. Truth be told, I would not recognize her. She’d have to accidentally put her groceries in my cart and then launch into a monologue about the benefits of avocados. (I know she is on some TV news program now, but I’ve never really watched it.)

By this morning the news about Katie the dog was on at least 10 media sites including the Washington Post and Huffington Post.

While I sincerely hope that Katie is quickly and safely returned to Cokie (I can call her that, she’s my neighbor and Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs is a mouthful) I do find it amusing that it has made such news around here.

UPDATE: I am sad to report that Katie was hit by a car and killed near our local middle school.

Our Three Cats

Halloween and Joe
Halloween -- asleep -- and Joe (caught him in action)

I’ve been meaning to write about the new [temporary] addition to our household, but I always seem to be scooping poop or filling water or food bowls or breaking up cat fights and don’t have time to blog about it.

So, you may know that we have two “mature” cats (I hate to say elderly), Joe and Halloween. Joe and Halloween were littermates and we brought them home from Dean’s brother’s farm in  1996. I keep saying that these are the last cats we’ll have because even though cats are not hard to take care of — they do take some effort. Plus I can never have flowers in the house because the cats think flowers are a yummy treat.

Sometime, late last spring, Clare called Dean to ask if we could cat-sit her roommate’s cat, Annabelle. Dean referred her to me. I wanted to say yes, but Dean cautioned me to word it more like, “we’ll be the last resort”, which I did. Clare and her roommate interpreted it as “yes” and they went on with their last few weeks at college, confident that the problem of Annabelle’s summer residence was solved. (Clare’s roommate is spending the summer in New Orleans and her mother is renting her room to a woman who, apparently, is allergic to cats).

Annabelle -- Just look at that face. Does she look like a "little bitch" to you?

Secretly I was excited that we’d be cat-sitting. Annabell is a calico and I’m partial to calicoes. I was worried about how we’d deal with the food and litter box issues, but figured if they didn’t get along at all Annabelle would be the “attic cat”.

Well, Joe, Halloween and Annabelle don’t love each other. Joe and Halloween are curious and might actually like Annabelle, but Annabelle doesn’t like Joe and Halloween at all. Annabelle can be in the same room as Joe and Halloween are without hissing, but if they come within 2 feet of her she hisses and swipes at them.  I think this has made them a little sad.

We’ve nicknamed her “the little bitch”. She’s very cute. And very cuddly if it is on her terms. And she’s very tidy. In fact, since she started using the communal litter boxes (we now have 3 in the basement and 1 in the attic) she covers up the other cats’ messes (they never did learn to cover their poop).

I’ve tried to not become attached to her because she’ll most likely be gone come September — but that is really hard to do. I think that our own cats are getting a good deal — we’re overcompensating on the cuddles they get because of the guilt we feel for giving Annabelle cuddles. (Ok, I’ll stop now — I’b beginning to scare myself)

I think I’d make a terrible foster mother. I’d want to keep all the kids.

Joe’s Best Friend

We have two cats, Joe and Halloween. Halloween is aggressively friendly (read needy), has a very large personality and has thumbs so she tends to be talked about more. Joe, on the other hand, is what I call a pillow cat. He lays around like a decorative pillow (he’s colored like a Holstein cow — so he’d fit in a room with a ranch theme quite well) and he loves to sleep on pillows. He doesn’t do much else but eat, complain if his food dish is only half full and use the litter box (or anything shaped like a box, depending on his mood — just ask Diane).

Joe's Best Friend
Joe's Best Friend

However Joe does have one personality quirk. When he was very young, perhaps still a kitten, he became attached to a small plastic creature that came with a game that one of the kids got for a gift. It is a 2-inch-tall  turquoise dragon(?) with a round ball in its belly that clicks when you push it. I think it was used as the spinner or dice in a game, but since the rest of the game is now gone, cannot be certain.

Joe and his Best Friend
Joe and his Best Friend

It has a tuft of hair on the top of its head and Joe picks it up by that tuft, much like a mother cat would pick up its kitten (or like a cat might pick up a mouse) and walks from room to room with it. He also knocks it around the hardwood floors very noisily at 3 in the morning. If we find the toy and click the belly-ball, Joe usually comes quickly (for Joe — running is not his style) to check out the noise. I think he knows what we have, because nothing else but food brings him to us that quickly.

Sometimes the toy is lost for months at a time — usually under furniture and when we get around to dusting under or vacuuming behind the furniture we find it and stop what we are doing to click the belly-ball for Joe. Then he plays with it for a few days until it gets lost again.

Last night I woke up when I rolled over on something solid and realized it was  Joe’s favorite toy. He must have found it somewhere and brought it to me in bed. I hid it under the pillow so he would not decide to play with it when I wanted to sleep. He’s been playing with it this morning, though — it was on the kitchen floor a few minutes ago.

So Joe, despite his unassuming demeanor, does have at least one quirky quality — one just has to find it among the dust bunnies.


I’m not a dog person. I don’t dislike dogs, I just prefer cats. Well, there are some dogs I dislike. I don’t like dalmatians because every dalmatian I’ve ever encountered has bared its teeth at me. I’m afraid of dobermans. My Uncle Don raised Dobermans and one bit me when I was 3. I don’t really remember it, but I was told about it enough to make me wary of them. I also don’t like pit bulls purely because of their reputation. I’ve heard too many stories about people being maimed or pets being killed by pit bulls that, even though — until recently — I wouldn’t have known a pit bull if one was attacking me, I didn’t like them.

The not-very-scary pit bull, PD
The not-very-scary pit bull, PD

So when my Aunt Ginny gave me instructions on what to do when I arrived at her house and it involved being friendly to a pit bull, I was more than a little worried. She said that the dog that showed up pregnant on their doorstep and subsequently gave birth under the neighbor’s playhouse was really very friendly though and I should have nothing to worry about.

When I did arrive at my aunt and uncle’s house in Northeastern Mississippi I thought that no one was home. I saw the dog almost as soon as I got out of the car and talked to it as friendly as I could. “Hi there dog. How are you? I understand you are a friendly pit bull, right? Don’t bite my leg, ok?” Then I saw my uncle and was relieved. I’d spilled a nearly full box of Annie’s Goldfish crackers on the floor of the passenger’s side of the car and my uncle said it was ok to give it to the dog. She was friendly — and liked to be petted. Each time I went outside she was right there, ready for some attention.

Ever since reading Lali’s post about puppy-sitting her friend’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and remembering when our neighbor’s dog had puppies when I was a child and how much fun it was to be surrounded by several tiny biting beings with breath that smelled of coffee grounds I wanted to hang around some puppies too. I knew I had a chance to do so the weekend I was in Mississippi. The first two days I was there I was too busy to suggest a visit to the puppies. I considered walking over myself on Saturday evening, but didn’t want to be mistaken for a trespasser in case the neighbor or her son were at the house. I did spend some time outside on Saturday evening, looking at the water, watching birds and petting the dog (whose name I’d been told was PD — for “Pregnant Dog”). She seemed to not want me to go into the house — she seemed to want some company and when I did try to head towards the house she pushed me away from it. I thought maybe she was pushing me towards her puppies, but didn’t really think that was possible (although I had recently finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which was rife with stories about Very Intelligent Dogs to whom pushing a human to check on puppies would be a piece of cake) so I waited until the next morning.

On Sunday morning my uncle received a phone call from the neighbor whose playhouse the PD had chosen to give birth under. The neighbor was spending a while with her ailing mother, so was unable to check on the dogs. Her son was stopping by occasionally to check on the puppies and when he was there last saw that the puppies were gone. The neighbor wanted to know if Uncle Jack would check to see if PD had moved them or if they were really gone. I was a little worried — having been looking forward to seeing the puppies. Uncle Jack grabbed a flashlight and we walked over, accompanied by PD and, sure enough, the puppies were not under the playhouse. We looked around a little more, wondering what could have happened to them (I suspected coyotes) but we didn’t see any blood that would indicate that there had been foul play. Then we saw that there was a small shed that I’d mistaken for an outhouse that had a gnome sized hole cut out of the bottom of the door. We walked to it, Uncle Jack shone the flashlight through the opening and saw movement. Then a small parade of brown and black puppies trotted out to greet us.

Delighted, I dropped to the ground to get closer to the puppies. All but one climbed on my lap and nipped at my clothes and shoes. PD chose to become part of the chaos and joined in on the fun. She would not stay still to nurse the puppies, even though they seemed to want some breakfast. Then, since most of her puppies were in my lap, she decided that she wanted to be there too. So I sat there, cross-legged  in the Mississippi dust with a full-grown pit bull on my lap while she nursed four of her five 4-and-a-half-week-old puppies. Oh to have gotten a photo of that! It was certainly a moment to remember. (And I actually thought about Lali and her Cavalier experience as I sat there)

After a few moments, just about when I thought my ankles couldn’t stand the pain of being pressed into the hard ground PD got up and went back to my aunt and uncle’s house. The puppies still wanted to play a little, but eventually they went back into the shed with their less curious sibling.

I went back one more time, this time on my own, to get some photos of the puppies. I tried to get a video, but operating a camera and being a climbing toy for 5 puppies is a little difficult. If these guys had been old enough to leave their mother, I might have been tempted to take one home with me. They were really that adorable.

[Update: PD was euthanized on October 14th for complications due to heartworm & scabies. May she rest in peace.]

[svgallery name=”puppies”]

And two cats in the yard (house, actually)

We have two cats, Joe and Halloween. They were litter mates, born at what we called “the kitty farm” outside Elgin, Illinois. The farm was (and still is) Dean’s brother’s farm and used to be crawling with cats, many of whom were polydactyl. There are no cats left there now, thanks to a busy road and coyotes. Joe and Halloween may be the lone surviving cats from the kitty farm.

Clare was 6 and Andrew was 4 the year we decided to let Clare pick out a cat from the farm. Carol, Dean’s brother’s wife, pointed out a black and white cat that she said was really friendly, which was unusual since these cats didn’t interact with people very often. She was right about the black and white one — it was friendly and liked to be held. There was also a black cat in the same litter that caught my eye. I had a black cat as a teenager and young adult and loved her. I pointed out the black one to Clare and she ran and picked it up. It, too, was friendly — and curious — and polydactyl.

A note about the polydactyl cats on the farm — a cat with one extra toe is unique and cute. A cat with two and three extra toes is kind of freakish. Some of these cats seemed to have trouble walking with all their extra digits. Inbreeding at play.

At some point we decided to let both kids pick out a kitten to take home (the more the merrier?). Andrew chose the black and white one (a male) and Clare chose the black one (a female). We had one cat at home already, a 13 year old calico that only liked me. When we brought the kittens into the house, we tried everything the books said to introduce the kittens to the older cat. I suppose it worked, but she let them know who was the boss cat of our house.

While Velcro (the older cat) was alive — even when she was ailing, she was the alpha cat — there was no mistake. Both kittens stayed away from her, after their first few slaps.

An over exposed photo of Joe
An over exposed photo of Joe

After Velcro died it was not clear who was alpha cat for a while, but it seemed to be Halloween. Then the tables turned, for some reason, and Joe seemed more dominant. Halloween showed her grief of losing her dominance by licking the fur off her belly and legs. That’s the way things were for many years. Joe ate first while Halloween waited for him to finish. Joe got the comfy chairs and slept on my pillow. He’d groom Halloween if he felt like it, but he’d also bite off the whiskers that grew above her eyes. (the vet thought it was one of the kids cutting her whiskers off, but we once saw Joe doing it).

Clare and the Alpha Cat

This past month, however, there has been a power shift. Halloween has been the one to sleep on my pillow, hissing at Joe if he got too near. Joe now sleeps at my feet — where Halloween used to sleep. Halloween eats first and has been found sleeping in the places Joe used to sleep. Halloween’s fur has grown in on her belly — I never see her licking and licking and licking herself like she used to.

I think that Halloween has become the alpha cat in the house. About time!