Saturday, August 28, 2010

Part Four--"Puppy Up"

The big, manly dog’s knack for finding himself in compromising situations didn’t end with the Halloween horror bowl. The day before Thanksgiving Day, Luke and Cindy, decided to visit relatives. Already late, they packed up the car, threw the luggage in the back of the SUV, called Malcolm and Murphy to jump in, and sped off. Pedal tromped, Luke sped down the country road when, suddenly, a road crewman waving an orange flag appeared before them.
“STOP!” Cindy shrieked.
Luke slammed on the brakes, and the SUV lurched to a grinding halt. The stop wasn’t bad enough to set off any airbags, but the jolt did displace the contents of the SUV, including the people, dogs, and luggage. Everyone, including the dogs, flew forward. One bag in the wayback whipped over the last row of seats, flew past the dogs, who had sunk their nails into the leather upholstery, and hit the back of the front seats, spilling its guts around the dogs’ feet.
Luke pulled over to the side of the road to see how the boys were when he started to howl with laughter. Cindy turned around, and she, too, began to laugh.
Pink and blue Velcro hair curlers hung haphazardly all over Malcolm’s fur. In the near car-wreck, Cindy’s cosmetics case had flown to the front and blown apart, curlers sailing everywhere. One was clinging to Malcolm’s left ear, and others hung twisted in his hair--on his shoulders, legs, and sides. During the cyclonic disaster inside the SUV, at least twenty spoolies and other curlers had found refuge in Malcolm’s long white fur.
The look on Malcolm’s face was pure surprise mixed with a tad of indignity. The thick hair on his head was standing straight up, and when he bit at a velco curler clinging to his front leg, he winced as it pulled his fur. He bit more at the curler, his ears cocked in disbelief, his forehead wrinkled, but it refused to budge. He looked flabbergasted.
Murphy’s expression was equally disarming, but he wouldn’t dare laugh at Malcolm. After Luke had freed all Malcolm’s curlers, he started back on the road, Malcolm unusually quiet the whole way.

In May of 2004, Malcolm was diagnosed with bone cancer. Luke was devastated to immobility, but Malcolm’s struggle and bravery in his fight against the disease brought Luke to a new understanding of life, a kind of spirituality he would have never predicted for himself.
Luke followed the recommendations of Malcolm’s veterinary oncologist. Shortly after receiving the horrible news, Malcolm had his right front leg amputated and finished a series of chemotherapy treatments. Malcolm responded well to both the surgery and the chemotherapy. In exactly two weeks Malcolm healed from the surgery and adapted well to his disability, which he didn’t regard as a disability at all. And life on the ranchito continued as usual.
One morning when Luke was on the front porch reading the Wall Street Journal, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. It was Malcolm running across the street after a squirrel. To this day the image of the giant dog standing on his back legs with his one leg on the tree is burned into Luke’s memory. Malcolm, as always, proved Luke’s initial devastation and depression finally gave way to action. Luke decided to put his hi-tech and bio-tech consulting business on hold in order to spend time with Malcolm. What was important, however, was the spirit of the moment with his dog—enjoying the rest of Malcolm’s time. Life itself, beating and throbbing inside his dog and inside himself, mattered most.
Luke spent the next six months hiking and camping with Malcolm and Murphy, but he also spent time researching cancer, its causes, and its characteristics. Having been a pre-med student back in college, he had the smarts and the background to find information that might save his beloved dog. He devoted himself to researching cancer.
Luke changed in other ways, too. He admits he became more dog-like. He observed his best friend fighting the cancer with bravery only animals seem to have mastered. Perhaps, knowing they are dying, they have instincts telling them death as just another stage of life. Because Malcolm still cherished his simple needs like digging holes, and treeing squirrels, Luke came to value more simple pleasures as well. Being with his dog family and allowing Malcolm his pure pleasures was all that mattered to Luke.
Recognizing the courage with which Malcolm faced his disease made Luke embrace Malcolm’s spirit in all aspects. He called it “puppying up”—facing a challenge head-on. To “puppy up” meant to be unafraid in adversity and, regardless of what other people think, never let anything slow you down. Embrace life with fearlessness, embrace that which is truly important, simple, and pure. In meeting the challenge of Malcolm’s impending death, Luke knew he could be as stoic as his ailing dog. He and his dog would live Malcolm’s final months as all animals always live--in the purity of the moment.
“I’m going to be brave through all this,” Luke promised Malcolm one evening before bedtime. He drew the edge of the blanket around the dog beside his sofa. “Whatever time we have left, we’re going to spend together, and we’re going to play, and hike, and live each day at a time.” And Malcolm turned toward him and smiled his grand smile.
And for the next year and a half they did just that—playing, wrestling, sleeping, giving each the other’s presence and comfort.
In Malcolm’s final month when the cancer had spread to his lungs and his death was imminent, Luke made his dog-son a promise: “I’m going to live the rest of my life for you, Baby. I’m going to live it as you have: with courage and happy simplicity. And, no matter what happens, I’m making another promise to you. I’m going to tackle this cancer bastard head on.” His voice shook. “I’ll fight this thing inside you, Malcolm. I’m not going to let it beat us. I don’t know what it is I’ll do yet, but, when the time comes I’ll know. I won’t let you down, My Man.”
Malcolm died January 11, 2006.

Malcolm’s Memorial
Luke has carried on Malcolm’s tradition of “puppying up” against one of the world’s worst enemies: cancer.
On March 16, 2008, Luke, wearing a few of Malcolm’s ashes in a necklace around his neck, began the fight against canine cancer by walking, with six year old Murphy and one and a half-year-old Hudson, his two Great Pyrenees, on a 2,400 mile journey from Austin, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts. The funds raised from sponsors and businesses as well as individual donations supported the Animal Cancer Foundation, an organization researching the causes of cancer in dogs and other companion animals. An off-shoot of the study will be research comparing canine cancer to people cancer.
Luke’s journey began amid a throng of volunteers, supporters, well-wishers, and TV and radio coverage. Wishing the boys and Luke good luck, animal lovers lined the Austin streets, their dogs by their sides. Those along the street of embarkation celebrated with music, carnival food, and the free-spiritedness such a challenge births. The crowd knew in their collective heart that what was about to happen was one of the most worthy, unselfish, bravest gestures of all time: a man and his two dogs were heading into the wilderness to fight the devil.
Loaded with 25 pounds of gear and water, Murphy waited as Luke hoisted his own pack onto his back. Other necessary gear had been sent ahead along his walking route by his brothers, friends and volunteers to insure the dogs’ safety as well as Luke’s. Their equipment included a tent, packs for dogs and man, sleeping bag, hiking clothes and rain gear, dog booties, reflectors and collar lights for the dogs and much more.
Though the Big Dog, as Luke refers to himself, and his dogs carried their own energy food; health and nutritional support was driven ahead daily to stopping points along their walking route. Dropped off at predetermined sites, these necessaries included a camp stove with fuel, cooking utensils, water filters and purification tablets, plastic bags, matches, and more. The “boys” kitchen items contained collapsible bowls, dehydrated dog food, and treats. Items such as a flashlight, light sticks, sunglasses, and duct tape were only a few of the other general items they had taken along with personal and dog hygiene products: toilet paper, toothbrush, grooming kit, basic medicines, and foot powder. Finally, for emergencies, Luke had packed first aid kits for the dogs and himself: pepper spray, animal deterrent, and contact information. Among some of the most important items, however, were the GPS, computer, weather radio, and solar battery recharger.
Luke anticipated meeting some hazards like feral dog packs and crossing bridges without a walking ledge, but those dangers didn’t detract from his determination to walk the entire route. Neither did a few brushes with violent weather, including a tornado. The road from Cameron, TX to Tyler was paved with difficulties: no cell phone coverage and few towns or houses from which he could re-supply his water bottles.
At night, when they were too tired to take another step, they either camped in a grassy patch along the road or accepted offers to sleep at supporters’ homes. At times they were walking in solitude, with only an occasional blackbird cawing from a telephone pole; at other times through the towns, they had children, anxious to pet the grand Great Pyrenees, following them.
Luke’s and Murphy’s and Hudson’s journey from Austin to Boston ended June 19, 2010 amid a throng of well-wishers and supporters. This author, along with over a hundred friends who had followed Luke’s journey through his website,, helped Luke complete the last two-mile-walk into Boston. What Luke found inspiring was that, during the trip, complete strangers walked for miles alongside him, thanking him for his efforts on behalf of their pet dog or cat who had died of cancer or of a family member whose life it claimed. Veterinarians, as well as veterinary specialists and researchers in the field of animal oncology met Luke along the way, shared their research and insights, and vowed to support efforts to help eradicate cancer in pets. And wherever Luke was able, he spoke about canine cancer so that people became, not only more aware of it, but more ignited against the disease.
Many people and organizations have made donations to Luke’s fight, to his journey where each day, when he wasn’t accompanied by other people, he was speaking, in his heart, to Malcolm. No matter the time of day or night, Malcolm’s spirit was present with the threesome, walking right alongside them, urging them to “puppy up.” He kept reminding them that they weren’t alone, that millions of animals who have died from cancer were walking right behind them, in front of them, and to the side of them.
Not for a moment did they walk alone.

Readers may contribute to pet cancer research by donating through Luke’s website,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Part Three--"Puppy Up"

Of all their activities Malcolm loved camping the best. Setting out into the outdoors with backpacks and a cooler of beer, water, sandwiches, and dog food, was the ultimate good time. Malcolm loved getting down and dirty camp side, rolling in the mud alongside the river, trouncing along the river’s edge in search of mouth-sized rocks, sleeping in the bed of pine-needles under a spruce, and drying his mud-caked fur to an odiferous ripeness. Hiking in the outdoors, treeing squirrels, and watching the chipmunks and other critters of the woods freed Luke’s spirit as well as Malcolm’s. Nightime was special: in the woods beneath the stars, man and dog were one.
But they wouldn’t be one for very long because one day Luke brought home a puppy who looked just like Malcolm. “This is Murphy, Malcolm.” Malcolm, at three years old, lay next to the couch, watching, analyzing the pup, falling over his own feet as he galloped through the living room. The puppy’s frenetic activity embarrassed Malcolm, especially when he went charging into Luke’s arms, slobbering him with big kisses. Murphy would need some lessons from Malcolm as to how to foster the proper Pyrenees sense of cool and detachment—that is, if he ever wanted to earn a man’s respect.
After several months Malcolm and Murphy became good friends. Every so often, though, Malcolm had to remind the pup with a nip to his rump that he, Malcolm, was the king of the patch. When Luke brought home dog toys, Murphy began jujmping, circling, and whining until Luke gave him the present. Then, no sooner did Murphy have it in his mouth than Malcolm got up, sauntered over, and snatched the toy from him. Malcolm didn’t really want the toy; he just wanted to show Murphy that if he wanted it, he could have it. It was a macho thing.
Murphy wasn’t Malcolm’s only animal friend. One autumn evening a rat terrier Luke named Flea showed up on their doorstep. Luke offered the little ratty-looking dog a home, and Malcolm accepted his company with aplomb. Flea immediately became enamored with Malcolm’s thick furry coat, sidling next to Malcolm and burying his bald face in Malcolm’s luxurious fur. Malcolm tried to discourage the ratty mutt’s snuggling, but Flea seemed not to understand canine gestures. Malcolm soon found it easier to put up with Flea than try, without success, to dismiss him. The newborn chick, Bob, was even harder for Malcolm to tolerate. Born sickly, Luke brought him into the house where the chartreuse chick decided to take up residence in Malcolm’s fur. No chick in the world had as fluffy and as warm a nest as Bob did.
By the time Bob graduated to roosterhood, Murphy had grown almost as large as Malcolm. Still, Murphy, with much instruction from Malcolm, had adopted only a fraction of his brother’s aloofness. He continued to drool and whine whenever Luke entered the room.
As Murphy grew, he became the perfect partner for Malcolm’s rough-housing. When Malcolm and Murphy play-wrestled in the living room, the entire house shook.
“Hey, take it easy, you guys,” Luke yelled from the kitchen as the vibrations from the dog’s wrestling match rattled the windows. Luke called in a motherly voice, “Somebody’s gonna get hu-u-urt. Next thing ya know, someone’s gonna be crying. And we all know who that will be.” On cue, Murphy yipped.
Murphy had the last laugh on Malcolm one Halloween. Mark had brought home a robotic candy bowl. From the back of a bilious green bowl loomed a skeletal arm that, when the bowl was touched, pounced on the person’s hand. Luke thought it would be fun to see how his Big Baby would react to the candy bowl, so he filled it with Malcolm’s favorite biscuits.
“Come here, Poopy Face,” Luke called.
Malcolm, at six years old, and being the dog-king of Castorville hoisted himself up to inspect the candy dish. Luke snickered. “Here you go, Baby. Daddy has some tasty treats for you. Go ahead. Help yourself.”
Malcolm looked up at Luke, smiled grandly himself, and then dipped his muzzle into the dish.
All hundred and ten pounds of fur-covered muscle and guts known as Malcolm the Great, Malcolm the Fearless, Malcolm the Willful, leaped straight into the air. He came down on all fours, too, like a cat, then whipped around to see what had smacked him on the head.
Luke and Mark were howling, holding their bellies tight. “Oh, GOD! Too much!” Malcolm stared at the horrid boney arm sprung back into position above the bowl of biscuits. Then, Malcolm strode back to his corner and lay down, a look of disgust on his face.
“Oh, he’s so pissed!” Luke laughed. “Look at him—if looks could kill. Trick or treat, Malcolm. Malcolm got the trick!” he sang. Then Luke took a biscuit from the bowl, the mad hand slapping Luke’s wrist, and he offered one to Malcolm. “Go ahead, take it, Malcolm. It was only a trick.” Refusing food, even if it came from a manic toy, was not Malcolm’s style, so he gobbled it up with little fuss.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Part Two--"Puppy Up"

In several weeks Malcolm and Luke became inseparable, except for the long hours when Luke was working. On weekends, he took Malcolm with him to work where the pup sat on the concrete balcony of the office and contemplated the world beyond. Luke watched Malcolm from his desk and marveled at the animal’s patience, his diligence, how he looked and analyzed his surroundings like some kind of wise man or sage—a philosopher king, of sorts.
“Let’s go, Malcolm Big Baby!” Luke called. It was time to go home. Malcolm bounced back into the office--the day of contemplation over and an evening of walking just beginning. Malcolm jumped into the car, and Luke put the top down on the convertible. Malcolm loved riding in his dad’s sports car. He sat upright in the passenger’s seat, sniffing the wind, his ears slicked back against his head. Just then over radio began playing Neil Diamond’s song, “Sweet Caroline”.
Luke grabbed an imaginary microphone and began singing, leaning into Malcolm, who turned toward him, grinning. “Where it began, . . . ” Luke crooned like Sinatra. He swung the wheel with his right hand and pointed his fist with the invisible microphone back to his mouth and continued to sing. They sped down the highway, minutes from home. When the chorus started, Luke smiled like a teenager in love and leaned in toward Malcolm again, one eye on the road, the other meeting Malcolm’s curious stare. The wind strained Malcolm’s lips, a laughing mouth. Luke bellowed above the sound of the radio, “Sweet Mal-colm. Good times never seemed so good. I’ve been inclined, To believe they never would, Oh, no, no.”
Luke stopped the car in front of their house and continued to sing into Malcolm’s face, “But now I look at the night, And it don’t seem so lonely, We fill it up with only two. And when I hurt, Hurtin’ runs off my shoulders, How can I hurt when I’m with you.” He switched off the auxiliary, climbed out, singing “Sweet Caroline’s”chorus a cappella. He opened the door for Malcolm, and the two ran to the house.
In a short time Malcolm had become Luke’s soul-mate, his son. It wasn’t long before all that “man-talk” Luke warned Malcolm about that first day turned to mush. “Sugar booger, Sweety Petey, ” Luke cooed in Malcolm’s face right before bedtime. “Is my little bitty big baby sleepy? Does Malcolm Big Baby want to sleep in daddy’s nice warm beddy tonight?”
And Luke’s stern lecture about not giving snacks and table scraps went down the same drain as his distaste for girlie language. Buying only the best for his Malcolm Big Baby, Luke brought home boxes of organic, pet health-food treats and the best, most appetizing dog food money could buy.
One morning Mark happened to walk into the kitchen just as Luke was feeding Malcolm. “Come here, Sugar Booger--my big lovey-dovey, scoopy-poopy, puppy-wuppy. Daddy has your tasty dinner. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, Son. You’re thinking, ‘Oh, Daddy, please hurry. It takes too long to chew it. Please, just hurry and put it right in my belly now. Oh, Daddy, please hurry and put in my big, big belly!’”
“Like—well, that’s totally so uncool, Luke,” Mark said, his arms crossed.
Luke whipped around. “Uh-h-h, . . . .”
“Yeah, you’re really pathetic, man. You sound like a total girl.” He snickered. “All that lovey-dovey shit and daddy stuff. I don’t know what happened to my macho brother, but he’s gone!”
Luke smiled sheepishly and shirked his shoulders. “I can’t help it. He got into my brain like some kind of neural parasite—like a cranial worm. I’m all screwed up now, and it’s all his fault. I’m in lo-o-o-ove with my boy,” Luke sang. He paused and laughed. “I’ve never had a dog like him. He’s a walkin’ oxymoron. He’s so simple—loves his walks, loves digging holes, loves treeing squirrels, yet he’s adventurous and fearless, too. Last week when Cindy and I took him to the beach, he jumped into the waves and started swimming in the ocean--just like that! And he’d never seen the ocean before. The dog is brave; he’ll try anything. He’s extreme.”

When Luke wasn’t working, Malcolm was his constant companion, and for the next year the two enjoyed the same routine: long walks into the prairie every evening, Malcolm luxuriating in the breeze that rippled his fur like stroking fingers. On their journeys into the brush, Luke loved watching the growing Malcolm sniff out a mole. Digging furiously, Malcolm raced to find the tiny rodent, and he didn’t stop until he had uprooted it. And he was hell on squirrels and groundhogs, running after any that had foolishly left too much ground between it and its escape tree or hole.
Yet, just as fearless and ferocious as he was faced with a woodland creature, so was he just as fearful of the broom from which he ran terrified, skidding away and raking claw marks into the hardwood floors. So, too, it was with the vacuum cleaner, which, thanks to Luke’s manliness, he didn’t see that often. But when the dust bunnies started hopping across the living room floor, not even Luke’s machismo could resist them. Out came the long silver “bastard on wheels” as Malacom’s dad called it--the thing hell bent on sucking a big white dog into oblivion.

Months flew by and Malcolm grew like a Texan cornstalk—lengthening, widening, and getting taller overnight. And he and Luke became closer than ever, though Luke was disappointed that his big hairy brother didn’t care for snuggling.
“Come on, Malcolm Big Baby,” Luke coaxed. He patted the bed where he lay. “Come on up here. Jump up and come to beddy with daddy.” But Malcolm didn’t want to share a bed with anyone, preferring to sleep downstairs, beside the sofa.
So, Luke began sleeping on the sofa.
Pulling the blanket up around his neck, Luke found a way to feel as though Malcolm was sleeping with him. He stretched the blanket over the side of the couch so that only a sliver of it hung on the floor. Then, Luke called Malcolm, and Malcolm lay down, one paw touching the edge of the blanket. Voila! Malcolm was sleeping with Luke.
One evening Malcolm and Luke were watching CSI.
“Hey, my Big Baby,” Luke said, running his fingers through Malcolm’s thick fur.
Malcolm looked up from the side of the couch. “He’s just so irresistible,” Luke thought to himself. “And he’s all mine.” He smiled inside. Then Luke slid off the sofa and lay beside Malcolm as gunshots sounded from the television. Luke squidged himself into Malcolm’s space, and for perhaps five minutes Malcolm tolerated Luke’s nose snuggling in his ear. But when Luke started whispering sappy stuff in Malcolm’s ear, Malcolm got up and walked over to the Lazy Boy where he lay down.
Luke frowned. He said, “Okay, I get it, Malcolm. Just a bit much for your taste, huh?”
Malcolm had been living with Luke for over two years, yet he was still enthralled by his dog’s majesty, His Great White Presence, as he called him. Something as inconsequential as watching Malcolm watch the outside world still thrilled him. The dog, Luke told his co-workers, looked as though he was studying the outdoors: the critters, the bugs, the sage brush, the prairie wildflowers. He reminded Luke of the great Buddha, sitting and taking everything in, sitting for hours watching and contemplating. “I’m telling you,” he said to Gary, one of the bio-tech engineers, “it’s as if Malcolm’s thinking to himself, ‘Well, there’s a tree. Yup, there goes a car. Uh-huh, a squirrel. Here comes another car. Everything’s in order here.’”
Luke found Malcolm equally amazing at dinnertime as he slurped his food like a man—hearty and lusty—packing it into his mouth like a contestant at a food-eating competition. His unbridled enthusiasm for his dinner, his passionate appetite, his attacking the bowl awed Luke. He felt such contentment experiencing Malcolm living in the moment of food.
Malcolm’s needs were multi-fold: intense yet simple: he lived in the moment, the present, the occurring. Though his greatest pleasure was spending time with Luke, he found joy in other activities, too: digging a hole, sneaking over the fence, taking a walk, eating dinner, riding in the car, and sleeping. All these simple, everyday acts Malcolm lavished in, pouring his heart and soul into the chase or the food. Even his bedtime was punctuated with long, deep-sleeping snores.
From the beginning Luke was impressed by Malcolm’s masculinity. While Luke cooed “Daddy this” and “Malcolm Big Baby” in Malcolm’s face, Malcolm tried not to disappoint, retaining his cool, not slavering kisses all over Luke’s face nor crawling into Luke’s bed He even peed like a man.
The Machiss-piss occurred every morning. After Luke awakened Malcolm from his deep sleep, the first thing on the agenda was to relieve their bladders, so out to the backyard they both went, out of sight of the neighbors. While at their urinal tree, Luke glanced down at his man-dog and marveled at Malcolm’s masculine pose—not lifting a leg as other male dogs did, but standing on all fours, his legs spread widely. Then the full stream of pee came, large and full. Luke was proud, though a bit intimidated.
The morning pee soon became a family ritual.
Then there was Malcolm’s superman pose. One evening after Luke had had an unusually long day at work, he came downstairs to find Malcolm stretched out facing the wall with one front leg extended and braced against the wall. Luke laughed, but the dog didn’t move. “Hey, Superman!” Luke yelled. But only Malcolm’s ears moved—nothing else. His long leg stood straight out, like the Superman of the 1950’s television series, his one arm outstretched into a fist, his cape flapping in the wind.
When he wasn’t playing superman, Super Malcolm loved accompanying Luke on his golf outings. He rode alongside Luke in the golf cart, and then he watched and waited for Luke to swing at the ball, never barking or fussing while Luke took his backswing. He seemed to know that hitting a ball with a stick was very serious business, almost as serious as taking a pee.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Puppy Up--Part One

This excerpt is part one of four parts. For the next three days I will post here the continuing chapter I had written on Luke Robinson's dog, Malcolm. This chapter is from my enthralling manuscript, THE CELEBERATED PET: HOW AMERICANS MEMORIALIZE THEIR ANIMAL FRIENDS. Thank you for enjoying this chapter, and I would appreciate your all signing on as followers and adding comments. Thanks a lot. Now, here begins Malcolm's story. Thanks, Luke--you are tops.

“Puppy Up”

Species: canine—Great Pyrenees

Name: Malcolm

Born: October 31, 1997

Died: January 11, 2006

Human companion: Luke Robinson

“First and foremost, we go over the rules.”
Luke plopped the roly-poly snow-white puppy on the sofa. The Great Pyrenees sat upright on the cushions, his big paws balancing his body. He grinned, his long tongue hanging from the corner of his mouth, and sat at attention.
“I’m a man,” Luke said. He bent over, hands on hips, and stared into the puppy’s round eyes. “I do things a man’s way.” Immediately the pup lay down, his chin on his paws. He looked the man in the eye. His expression said, “Okay, I’ve got the point. You’ve got a macho issue going on here, but—hey--whatever. This looks like a pretty nice joint, and I’d like to stay.”
The six-foot, chisele-faced management consultant for hi-tech and bio-tech firms lived and worked by codes of organization and self-discipline, though his personality could be as laid back as a tugboat pilot’s. The businesses for which he consulted depended on his attention to detail; the scientists demanded precision and meticulous analysis of research and data. So, too, the pup would have to learn to live by house rules, and that meant men’s rules.
Luke hitched up his jeans and pulled up a chair. The pup sat up, his huge paws balancing his chubby body, and he opened his mouth in a wide yawn.
“So, that’s what you think, huh? Not taking this lecture too seriously? Anyway, as I told you, I’m a man.” The dog grinned, his long tongue falling out of his mouth then rolling up and around his pink, leathery lips. “Don’t expect me to fuss over you as a girl would. I repeat,” he said, a finger in the dog’s face, “This is man’s territory, and I’m not going to talk to you in baby talk, fuss over you, or treat you like a sissy.”
The pup smiled.
“As long as we understand each other, we’ll get along fine. I’ll show you the routine around here, and then we’ll go for a walk,” Luke said showing him the shiny red halter and lead. “Then we’ll come back and have some dinner. But don’t expect food from the table, and there will be no begging.
“You’ll only get dog food. I won’t give you a whole lot of special treats or anything—they’re not good for you. I buy organic dog food, and you’re going to eat that, even if you don’t like it at first.
“As for my bachelor pad, here—well, I like organization, and I expect you to be a good dog. If you’re a good dog and listen, we’ll be buddies, and you’ll have a nice home here.”
He took the puppy off the sofa, patted him on the head, kicked off his boat shoes, and went into the kitchen. Minutes later he walked back into the living room. He stopped dead. Shards of leather lay scattered around the living room. In the middle of the mess lay the puppy, bits of leather shoe lace protruding from his mouth.
“What are you doing!” Luke yelled, running for the toe section of one of the shoes. He held the shoe remnant to his chest. “These cost me a hundred bucks! The pup grinned, the heel of the shoe cupped between his front legs. “A hundred frickin’ dollars.” He flopped onto the couch, the mangled shoe dangling from his hand.

Luke’s job consulting with scientists and hi-tech businesses occupied most of his time, including weekends, but it allowed him a fairly affluent lifestyle, the kind most bachelors could appreciate: a fancy car, a house filled with modern leather furniture, plasma TV’s, and a surround-sound home theatre. Though he could only spend time with his new pup evenings, he hired a pet sitter to care for him during the day so that he wouldn’t be lonely, so that he had his meals on time, and so that he had regular exercise and some human companionship. And he told the sitter to keep the pup from devouring his leather Lazy Boy.
Luke lived with his brother in Castorville, Texas, in the Alsace-Lorraine district of San Antonio. He and Mark shared a ranchito of three acres complete with ducks, chickens, a couple of horses, and some sheep. Though the backyard was fenced in so that during the day the pup couldn’t wander into dangerous territory where ranchers and farmers guarded their livestock with guns, the land beyond stretched into long horse pastures, fields of soybeans, and flat prairie. Luke made it a habit to walk his pup every evening as the sun began to set, without fear of traffic and without dread of running out of space. In Texas a person and his dog could walk forever.
Every afternoon the pup took up his post by the front gate and waited for Luke. For hours the little fellow sat, passersby stopping to pat his head and talk. He watched as all the day’s workers scuttled home, hurrying along the sidewalk, speeding past in cars and trucks. With every hour the number of pedestrians dwindled until, finally, no more passed. Dusk fell, but the pup kept his vigil behind the front gate, never tiring, but only becoming more excited, knowing his reward was imminent: his dad would be taking him for a walk.
As dusk bathed the puppy in shadow, the pet sitter set his dinner in the grass, and he ate ravenously, as most puppies do. Then he sat back down, his face and ears turned toward the direction from which he knew Luke would be coming. Suddenly, his ears pricked. He heard that lovely sound, the quiet purring of his dad’s car.
“Hey, pup!” Luke called. He pulled into the driveway. “I’ll be right there.” He ran into the house to change into hiking boots. The pup galloped to the kitchen door. In minutes Luke flew from the house and attached the lead to the pup’s harness. All the while the puppy sat like a stoic. He was shivering with anticipation but contained his enthusiasm as a man’s dog should.
When they arrived at the river 45 minutes later, Luke stopped and squatted beside his puppy. “Okay, Bud. I know I’ve taken a long time to come up with just the right name for you, but a name is very important. I wasn’t going to make that decision rashly. I had to feel you out in order to choose the one that fits you best. I’ve thought long and hard about this, and Mark and I have come to a conclusion. Your name is going to be Malcolm—of Macbeth fame. What do you think?” The pup smiled, his tongue falling from his mouth, then curling around his lips. “You’re my dog. You deserve a royal name. And something manly, too. So, it’s Malcolm.”
Malcolm stared into Luke’s eyes and smiled, his lips stretched across his face.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Brer Balliet

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby have nothing on me. This past weekend proved it when Wendy, our Cornish rex cat, decided to take a hike, and I tried rescuing her, Indian Jones-style, from a briar-patch that dwarfed that in Uncle Remus' tale.
At one o'clock on Sunday, the clouds began misting, so when I went to gather our family of cats playing outside, I couldn’t find Wendy. As usual, I got the Pet Locator and headed out on the golf cart to the end of the woods. I pulled out the arms of the receiver and pointed the device toward Wendy's favorite haunts: a circle of rocks and brush co-habitated by ground hogs and the occasional skunk, and the base of a PPL electrical tower brimming with poison ivy and thorny bushes. But the tracker revealed nothing: no beep, not even a faint tone indicating she was nearby.
I climbed back into the cart and headed onto the horse path Edgar had mowed through the three-foot-high alfalfa. When I breached the highest point in the hundred-something acre field, I stopped the cart, got out, pointed the tracker, switched it to "on," and swept it slowly in front of me. A teeny, tiny, almost imperceptible beep sounded. Wendy was another quarter mile away--probably in the distant treeline.
So, I pressed the pedal to the floor and raced off down the path, bumping and gyrating through the yard-high alfalfa until I reached the mowed wheat field. Then I sped across another tree line and soared along the edge of the sheared wheat stalks where I stopped and took another sighting. The beeping was getting louder: I was on Wendy’s trail. At the next treeline the locator went crazy, "Beep! Beep! Beep!" Wendy was close by.
Annoyed that she had wandered a half mile through thick, rain-soaked alfalfa, I spun the golf cart around, hitting a rock the size of a Frisbee. Then, taking my foot off the pedal, I jumped from the machine and headed toward the treeline. I had to hurry—the rain was coming faster.
"Wendy!" I yelled.
"Reow!" a cat voice shouted back.
"Come here right--now!"
"Re-yow!" she said, which I interpreted as "No way, Jose!"
I looked at the thicket from where her voice came. Many years ago Edgar and I had discovered this gulch during a hike. A dirt road dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth century ran through it joining the village of Kreidersville to the road leading to Dead-Man's Curve. Back then the gravel path had only been visited by Conestoga wagons and men on horseback surrounded by the lush beauty of nature. But in our more modern, dismissive times a farmer had carelessly bull-dozed the old oaks lining either side of it to make the fields more accessible. In this expansive gully lay probably fifty full-grown, rotting trees, toppled one atop another, through which brambles, briars, and poison ivy thrived. And Wendy was in the thick of it. I turned on the locator again. The beeping was becoming fainter, which meant that Wendy was probably on the move deep within the gulch. Perhaps, if I was lucky, she was heading toward home.
I jumped back into the cart, slammed the pedal to the floor, and hunched over the wheel expecting the cart to lurch forward. The motor squealed, but the cart stood still. Oh, shit! I thought. Why wasn’t it moving? Was it the rock I hit? Edgar would kill me if I wrecked the golf cart again. It had only been a month since I blew up the engine—to the tune of $600. He’d flip if I had broken it again. Much as I rocked the cart back and forth and pressed the pedal so hard I thought my foot would go through the floor, the cart wouldn’t budge.
Cursing a purple streak, I patted my pants for my cell phone, but I knew full well I had let it back home. And there was no question that I needed Edgar’s help—both to catch Wendy and to drag the cart back home. There was no other option: I'd have to walk all the way back home—an up-hill walk the entire way. With no time to lose, the shortest distance home would take me through the saturated alfalfa fields. Though the thought of getting soaked to the skin didn’t appeal, I headed, determined, into the sea of grass and towards our patch of woods.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, I got back—out of breath, but home. My good leather riding shoes squished, their edges bubbling and hissing with each step, as I walked into the living room. I was soaked—from my shoes to my riding tights to my short-sleeved polo shirt. And the rain had flattened my hair to a slick around my head. I was exhausted, but mostly pissed.
“Ya gotta help me,” I said as Edgar stared at me google-eyed, his feet propped up on the hassock, the TV blaring, "Ya gotta help me. You’re not gonna believe it, but I trashed the golf cart again.”
A frown erupted on his face. I ignored it: I had bigger problems.
“It's sitting a half mile away in the straw field below the alfalfa. I swear I didn’t do anything to it but hit a rock or something.”
The frown deepened.
“Anyway, Wendy's in the gulch and won't come to me. And I'm going to get her today if it's the last thing I do."
He rolled his eyes, turned off the set, and got up, shaking his head. "You and your cats! Why don't you just let her come back when she's ready?"
I said, "I’m afraid she might get lost in the alfalfa; you know she’s not real bright, and she hates rain and walking through wet stuff. So, she may not even come back today. And I certainly don't want her out there in that horrible gully overnight. A coy dog or something could get her."
Edgar reluctantly put on his shoes, grabbed a pair of gloves, and we headed toward the tractor. He hoisted the chains into the back of our Kabota, a farm-size tractor, and though it only seats one person inside the enclosed cab, I climbed in beside him. While Edgar scooted to the farthest edge of the seat, I managed to settle one buttock on the rest, supporting most of my weight with my left foot.
Out of the barn we went and into the rain, which had turned into a torrent. We ground down the side of the woods (going much slower than I would have liked), out the path through the alfalfa, and into the cut wheat field. Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity when one is bouncing on one butt cheek around the inside of a tractor. We finally arrived at the defunct golf cart, which Edgar began to work on while I located Wendy once again.
“Wendy!” I called. “Come here, girl,” I called in my most sickening sweet voice. “Psst, psst, psst,” I said. “Kitty, kitty, kitty.”
“Re-Yow!” she sang. She was still in the thicket of downed trees, briars, and poison ivy.
"I'm going in!" I shouted to Edgar. And into the briar patch I dove with no more protection than my soaked riding tights and T-shirt. Angry that my cat was deliberately ignoring me, I grabbed the first thorn branch. The pricks dug into my fingers, and I yelled—a prelude of the nightmare to come.
Leaving the tracker behind, I stooped under the first bramble, the thorns erect at sight of tender human flesh. With the delicateness of a ballerina, I picked a branch between my thumb and index finger and lifted it up and away while I scooted underneath, mindful of my foot placement. The weeds and bushes beneath my feet were so twisted and tangled and thick that I couldn’t see the ground—mat-traps.
I called to Wendy, and again she answered in her uncannily loud voice. "Come on,Wendy," I said in a cloying tone. "Come to Mommy. Mommy doesn’t want to crawl after you through this briar patch. If you don’t come out of there, you’ll be sorry."
"Reow!" she yelled, her equivalent of "F--- you!"
Like a rebellious adolescent child finding herself on an unsupervised teenage adventure, Wendy was expressing her independence and her disregard for her human companion. Why had she fled to this God-forsaken place? She had no reason to leave home; we had had no disagreement that morning. I could only conclude that she came here—because it was there. Adventure had lured her to this place.
It began to pour. I was scared. If I didn’t catch her, she could get lost in the alfalfa fields. Worse yet--caught here overnight would be scary for her because vile things crawled from their holes at dusk—all to devour small, skinny, unstreet-wise felines. The very thought made me cringe.
I hunched down, pushed a viney, heavy-breathing thorny bush from my face, and stepped farther into the brambles.
"Wen-n-n-ndy!" I sang.
She meowed but sounded farther away—deeper into the gulch.
"Please don't make me come after you,” I begged. Despite the sweetness in my voice, I was getting angrier and more worried by the minute. She wasn't coming to me; in fact, she was walking away, instead of toward me.
Avoiding the briars was no big deal for a lithe, skinny cat, but a full-size human found the gulch virtually impenetrable. A cat could maneuver easily underneath the thorny thicket, but I was a Brobdingnagian in this world. I needed a machete, and even that wouldn't help all that much. I scrunched down, pushed aside another load of spiked branches and ropey, gnarly vines: I felt like a worker in the Panama Canal. I sighed heavily, stepped onto the first rotted tree and assumed a hunchback's stance.
"Damn it!" I reasoned erroneously, "If she can navigate in this mess of brambles, so can I. I can be just as stubborn as she." I plunged into the vines and thorns that had grown up around, through, and over the rotted trees that lay atop one another like Pic-Up-Stix. As I whisked away thorny branches, they seemed to become evil-animated like the plants in Alice in Wonderland. I imagined them licking their lurid green lips as this human bait passed by.
The only way I could get close to Wendy was to travel up atop the mats and vines. Thick with poison ivy and other noxious weeds, the Pennsylvania woodland quickly encased me as I stepped from one rotting tree to another. The footing was precarious as everything was rain-slippery, and I had to not only keep an eye on Wendy but I had to guard my face and arms from the maze of thorns and stickers as well as watch my footing. In another ten minutes of crawling through this cavern of brambles and brush, I found myself on a shelf of green: the ground beckoned from fifteen feet below. All along I could feel pricks tugging at my pants. Some pierced the material, and I yelped and pulled away only to become snagged by something on the other side of me. I was becoming angrier with each stab, with each plant-injection. Curses flew, but these brambles were entities without ears.
Suddenly a thorn snagged the pants around my ankle; it wasn’t letting go. There was no choice but to reach down and unhook myself. When I half-stood, my hair snagged on prickly vines overhead. I flailed at the brambles that locked onto my shirt, and my efforts to break free entangled my arms in another maze of thorns. Hopelessly caught, like a spider in a web, I balanced precariously, like a high-wire artist, suspended on a pile of rotted trees, surrounded to within an inch of my head and torso by stickers and briars—all many feet above the ground. If I slipped on the slimy logs, I would fall into a patch of briars and literally be skinned alive in the process. And only a lumber crew would be able to extricate the skeleton for proper burial. Between calling for Wendy, I listened for and returned calls from Edgar, who must have already chained the golf cart to the tractor. The gully was cave-like: dark and with an acrid odor of weeds. I couldn’t see Edgar through the brush, but every now and then I could glimpse Wendy’s white neck as she scampered ahead of me.
“I’m going to head her off,” Edgar yelled. I saw a piece of his yellow shirt and tried to direct him ahead of the cat.
“She’s heading north!” I shouted.
The brambles not only snuffed out sunlight, they muffled noise as well. Though I appreciated Edgar’s help, I knew that he would never enter the bramble-head as I had, and that bespoke his degree of sense and intelligence that far out-stripped my stubbornness. For me, this experience had morphed from protective maternal concern and duty to a competition and game of control. I would overcome; I would rise to the challenge.
Just then another flash of white skittered past. Wendy had reached the bottom of the gully. Again I pleaded with her to come to me, but she looked up then disappeared in the opposite direction, letting me alone, teetering on the log-mat above.
I was furious, In vain I tried to follow, but after 45 minutes caught in this maze of sword-vegetation, brambles poking and pulling my hair and shirt, grazing, snagging the sensitive skin on my forearms, I became so angry that I lost all sense of caring about my cat. I looked down at the arms: blood ran in two places on my left arm, and my right hand ran red, too. My good riding shirt had pulls in the material and pieces of thorn sticking from it. I had no other choice but to abandon my cause and my cat. Suspended above the gully atop the weed-encased logs, and with swirling spike-vines reaching at me from all levels, I looked around for an escape route. I had become absolutely caught in the jungle-maze of spikes and things. Droplets of rain dribbled down my eyes, and poison ivy vines swirled around my face.
What in the world was I going to do? Edgar was too far away on the other side and the outside of the gully.
I was on my own. Nearly bent double, I turned slowly around, looking for a way out. Then I saw a hole, of sorts. The brambles through its center were thinner, less dense; it was my only route out. Carefully, and prying thorns that teased my hair, snatched at my skin, my shirt, my pants, I stepped down on a mat of vine-logs. I hoped the trees beneath wouldn’t snap under my weight. I was in survival mode. So angry at my cat and so afraid of falling, I crawled over the briar patch, pushing the vines away from my face with my forearms, despite the pricks to my skin.
Finally, I made it to the bottom, but, then, I had to crawl up the thirty-foot steep sides that were mud-slick and hung over with more vines and poison ivy. But I had no choice: I had to go. So, up I went, clinging to small trees and branches and pulling my aching, bloody body up the mud-wall. At last I reached the edge of the treeline and the open alfalfa field. And then I started to cry. My arms ran with rain-blood; my hands bled, too. Though I had been caught in the worst natural setting Pennsylvania could muster, I felt as though I had just survived a week’s-long fight through a Central American rainforest.
Ironically, my emotional state had been hurt more: my cat, who I loved and cared for, expressed her complete disregard for me. I was both incensed and hurt. I stood at the edge of the gulch and sobbed.
In minutes Edgar was at my side. “Come on, let’s go. If she won’t come to you, she can just stay here.”
“DAMN HER!” I yelled between tears. “I don’t care if she rots out here with the trees. If she doesn’t appreciate me and our home, she can stay out here forever. I’m done with her!”
I limped back to the golf cart chained to the tractor. Edgar started the tractor, and I got into the cart to steer. As the rain drove hard through the sides and open windscreen, I sat hunched over, skin searing from thorn-stabs, heart aching from rejection.
We were home by three o’clock. I showered, noting the pieces of thorn and leaves swirling down the drain. I washed the blood off my arms and hands. Then, I put on something dry and turned on the TV while the rain continued to fall.
At 4:30 I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“I’m going back down,” I announced.
“What? You’re nuts! I thought you were going to let her rot out there?”
“I’m not going for her sake. I’m going for mine: I want to be able to sleep tonight. If I don’t have her back home, I’ll lie awake worrying all night. I’m doing this for myself.”
This time, however, I went better equipped. I grabbed a long-sleeved jacket, the tracker, a can of Fancy Feast cat food, a hat, and heavy gloves. Out the door I went to the barn where I started up the tractor.
In fifteen minutes I was back at the gully of hell. I called for Wendy.
“Re-ow-ow-ow!” she cried. Her pleas sounded a bit more frantic, more desperate—and well she should have been. Her voice was also coming from a slightly different direction.
I put on the jacket, gloves, hat, and had the cat food in my pocket. Into the thicket I plunged, though the brambles in the treeline were not near so thick as in the gulch of toppled trees. Still, poison ivy whisked past my face as I followed Wendy’s calls.
At the angle where the treeline met the gully, someone’s property abutted. Whoever owned this area stored a trailer for hauling stuff at the very back—up against the treeline. It sounded as though Wendy was underneath the trailer.
I came out on the other side of the treeline and knelt next to the trailer. There she was, circling, stepping high with attitude. She was talking to me—obviously glad to have my company, I thought smugly.
“Hey, girl. Wanna come home now?” I said.
“Re-ow!” she said, combing the grass with her feet. She circled, looked at me, meowed some more, but she wasn’t getting close enough to be caught. Still playing games.
I summoned my sweetest voice. “Come to Mommy, Wendy. You must be hungry by now.”
Then I flicked open the tin lid of the Fancy Feast. Her head swiveled at the sound, but still maintained her ground.
“Here you go, Wendy. Some goody to eat.” And I placed a lump of the meat in the grass in front of me.
Immediately she came over and began to eat. With that, I plunked my hand over her neck, scuffing her. She screamed, and I laughed the hearty laugh of a pirate. “So, you thought you’d get the better of me, huh? Well, you didn’t because you don’t have much of a brain. HAR-HAR!”
Then I lifted her up and under my armpit, grabbed the can, and raced back to the tractor. I stepped inside with her still pinned beneath my arm, and then let her go on the floor. The tractor started with a roar, and we began the journey home. The rain pattered the windshield as I drove us up the alfalfa-filled hill.
The whole way home Wendy yelled over the sounds of the tractor. So, I just turned up the radio. Though I offered her the rest of the can of cat food, she would have none of it. I talked to her to try to calm her, but she wasn’t listening. She was probably scared of the lurching tractor, but she was probably more peeved that I had won the struggle between Woman vs. Cat. I don’t know which one was causing her to curse and complain in cat language, but I didn’t care--I had her, and she was going home where she was safe.
Most important: for Brer Balliet sleep tonight would never feel so good.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Good-Bye, Patrick

On August 12th, 2010, Patrick Steven PJ Landis, feline son of Terri and Steven Landis, died unexpectedly at the age of sixteen. This blog is written in tribute to this good cat--one purr-fect feline representative.

Brought home as a rescue only a month before Steve and Terri's wedding day, Patrick, a black and white kitten, beguiled, not only every human he met at the Landis' home, but also any other rescue cat brought to live alongside him.
Known as the "care-giver" in their family of felines, Patrick nurtured each new kitten, welcoming him or her into the only caring home they had ever known. Terri says, "Some of my other rescues had been abused, kicked around, and neglected, but Patrick took them under his paw. We called Patrick 'the greeter.'" From Terri's story, I could envision Patrick licking the new cat--stroking him or her along the ears with long, even tongue-massages until the nervous newcomer melted into a slavering lump of calm. Terri remarked that Patrick was unlike most cats: never threatening to others that may have been perceived him as competition. Instead, he cuddled alongside and freshened their coats to a silky sheen. "He was everyone's friend," Terri said.

I asked her whose cat he was. Terri replied, "He was our cat--he wasn't mine; he wasn't Steve's--he was Ours. Before Patrick came to live with is, Steve didn't like cats. But like any new husband out to impress, he let me have Patrick--an odd sort of marriage present. Only a few months after we had him, Steve--the cat-hater--suggested that perhaps Patrick needed another cat to keep him company. Patrick had transformed Steve into a cat afficionado. It didn't take long for Terri and Steve to offer Patrick a buddy. Because Patrick was such a good ambassador to the office of felinity, the Landises rescued many other needy cats.

So, when I spoke with Terri today, I learned many unique things about their much-missed cat named Patrick. I know him well after our conversation, and I recognize his generousness in many of my own cats as well, especially our Kenny Mayonnaise. Cats are all wonderful animals in each's special way, but Patrick exuded an extraordinary degree of acceptance-- indulgence--for which most of this species are not credited. His amiable and caring nature has rubbed off, after all these years, on the remaining Landis cats. He has nurtured them into mini-likenesses of himself.

Patrick Steven PJ Landis is gone but will not be easily forgotten. Certainly the Landises will never forget their friend and family member whose second middle name explains his specialness. "PJ" stands for "Pride and Joy."

You live on, Patrick--in our memories, in your feline brothers and sisters reflecting your tolerance.

Patrick--the good good cat.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kenny Junior

The other day when Edgar arrived at the veterinary clinic, he found a rather large cardboard box in front of the door. He got out of his truck, pried open the lid, and there sat a kitten. Beside the kitten was a dish filled with dry cat food as well as a bowl of water. And in the other corner was a capped bottle of water, just in case the kitten needed more--though I doubt he'd have been able to figure out how to unscrew the cap and pour it out. I guess the bottle was meant for the well-meaning souls at our clinic to give our adoptee more fluids when he became dry.
Anyway, our vet staff hauled the kitten and its box into the clinic and proceeded to medicate him for a snotty nose and fleas. He was given Fancy Feast and more water from his bottle and then put in a proper kennel in an area of the clinic where he could be entertained by the other clinic cats and where he could watch the goings-on of veterinary work. Later that day Edgar came home and told me someone had dropped off a kitten at the clinic. I was, of course, ecstatic even though the last thing I needed was to care for another animal, but I was a sucker for kittens. This one, Edgar said, was the color of Kenny--that beigey sort of color--like sand. "Buff" would be the proper term.
"Like Kenny?" I said, eager to meet our new addition.
"Yeah, just like Kenny," he said. "The girls have named him Felix."
"Yeah, well, " he admitted.
"He's now named "Kenny Junior," I announced. "This weekend when he's over his cold, I'll bring him up to our place so that he can meet the kittens we rescued from the Philly kill shelter. He's about the same age as they are. He needs someone to play with."
So, that weekend I brought little Kenny Junior up to our farm. He turned out to be a social butterfly, flying right over to one of the other kittens, and going nose-to-nose with him. At dinnertime, he ran over and pushed himself into the middle feline melee that forms when I put wet cat food on their plates. He was gobbling the food right alongside the others.
It's been a week since he has been here. One would never know, other than he is not black or gray, that he wasn't a brother to the four shelter kittens. They play and run over the hay bales as though they had never played before. And maybe he hadn't.
As I write this, I'm also contemplating the best middle name for Kenny Junior because "Junior" just doesn't cut it. I need to find something especially appropriate for his personality, and since he is flying around the place like a little rocket, I'm kind of thinking of a condiment that's spicey. Now old Kenny's middle name is "Mayonnaise," so what might I call kitten Kenny?
Let's see . . .. How 'bout "Kenny Adobo?" Naw, no music in that middle name. I have to be able to sing it, yell it. "Kenny Horseradish Balliet? Kenny Mustard Balliet? Kenny Cayenne Balliet? Kenny Jalapeno Balliet?"
I've got it!!!
"Kenny CHIPOTLE Balliet!"

Kenny Mayonnaise Balliet

Many years ago when I was showing our plantation walking horses, Kenny, my cat, was my biggest supporter and riding critic. I'd come home after a day of teaching my eager high school students, quickly change into jeans, and head out to the barn to put in my daily training regimen in preparation for the up-coming weekend show.
Fancy and I would go through our practice paces, she flicking up her hooves in an almost perfect running walk, her head nodding with each step. The concentration coming from both of us was intense: if we had a good couple of laps around the ring, we could quit early. Ultimately, the goal was to get it right early on, not make mistakes that took a lot of correcting and, therefore, more effort and time. So, Fancy and I practiced turns, circles, stops, backing, and, most of all, squeezing out the largest overstride she could muster. Our workouts together were demanding for us both, but, if they went well, they were gratifying, too.
During these practice sessions I had only one admirer looking on: my teenaged kitten, Kenny. Every day after school when I headed out to the ring with Fancy saddled up beside me, he followed us from the barn. Then, he staked a look-out atop one of the fence posts. There he sat for as long as it took us to go through our riding routine: doing serpentines, large circles, cantering on the correct lead and coming to a dead stop, even executing a cross-canter, which a judge sometimes asked a rider to do. Whatever we did and however long we did it, Kenny watched, completely mesmerized. He sat on a fence post, no doubt evaluating, acting the part of the judge himself. I always wondered if he approved our efforts to perform the best running walk.
When Fancy and I rounded the curve past Kenny, he didn't shrink away, afraid we were going to run him over. No, he sat upright, his eyes drilling us and our exhibition. I secretly hoped he was liking what he saw because if he didn't, then it was likely the judge at that weekend's show wouldn't like what he saw either. Blasting past my attentive cat, I yelled from the saddle, "Hey, Kenny! Hey, Kenny! How're we doin'? Are we getting a foot and a half overstride?" Overstride was the length that the horse's back foot overstrode the mark made by the front foot while striding forward. A long overstride won a rider and horse major points at a show. But Kenny never said anything--just stared and evaluated our ride with silence. Evidently whatever he saw he was keeping to himself. I was performing for my cat, who, after watching us daily for all these months, had certainly developed a critical and discerning eye for good horsemanship. Another lap past my cat perched atop his post, and I hollared out, "Is this better, Kenny? It feels better! I really feel her rear end coming up under me." And Kenny sat stalwart on his post--no comment. But he was judging all the while.
When Fancy and I pulled into the center of the ring as we would do at a regular horse show, Kenny got off his fence post and came over--uncannily much like the judges do at the end of a class. But Kenny didn't have a paper and writing utensil in his paws. "What do you think, Ken-Man? Think we'll win this weekend? I think Fancy is doing an outstanding job, don't you?" And Kenny stood on the ground next to us, looked up, and meowed, which I interpreted as a resounding, "Yes!"
I got off Fancy, dropped the reins and reached down for Kenny, who, after I finished every ride, was accustomed to hopping into my arms for the walk back to the barn. Fancy walked freely beside me while Kenny draped himself along the length of my lower left arm, his chest cupped in my hand, his head facing away from me but in the direction we were walking, and his back legs draped over the side. In that quirky way he rode my arm back to the barn.
Kenny is very old now with some evidence that his kidneys aren't working real well. He's also losing his hair for some reason. But he's happy here on the farm and is living out his last years in comfort. Over the years he acquired many nicknames: "Kenny Man," which turned into a sing-songy, "Kenny May-an," which ultimately turned into a "Kenny May-o-nnaise." Yep, "Mayonnaise" was Kenny's middle name. Kenny still comes out to the riding ring to watch me, though Fancy died of old age last October and had been retired from riding for probably ten years before that. But Kenny still observes my equestrian skills on Bo and Lola. He's too large for me to carry him along my arm now, so he grudgingly walks back to the barn on his own.
Though he's not a youngster anymore, he's still my feline riding buddy, and I hope to enjoy his company a while longer as he sits ringside with those big cat eyes turned to slits--critiquing our ride, as ever.