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When a Dog Loves a Cat

ESSAY

For thousands of years, man’s best friend has been the dog. But what happens when dog’s best friend is a cat?

Growing up in the Midwest, I tended to the usual menagerie of pets-gone-wrong—goldfish left in the sun, gerbils trapped in heating vents, and hamsters lost in the grass. I proved to be a complete failure at pet ownership, yet my parents rewarded me with a dog. Go figure.

One snowy night in December, a muffled meow emanated from our front porch. Mom cracked open the storm door, and a subzero blast of icy wind pushed her backward. She held the door open with her hip, glanced down and spied a tiny mixed tabby cat with faint brown and black stripes covering her body. The cat scratched at the door and tilted her head as if to say, “Please, may I come in?”

Our 6-month-old mixed-breed puppy, Tippy, named for his black fur and white paws, released a high-pitched bark and turned in circles just inside the front door.

“Shhhh, be quiet,” I said to Tippy, patting his head.

“Poor thing,” said my mother, a sucker for homeless pets. “Must be freezing.”

“If you let her in, she’ll never leave,” I said, with teenage authority.

By this time, Tippy had worked himself into a foaming frenzy and shoved his face through my mother’s legs to get a better look at the cat outside.

Giving in, my mother opened the door a bit more. Wasting no time, that tabby cat strutted into the living room, and pounced on our reclining chair. It commandeered a comfy place on the headrest and stared down at us, as if to say, “Now what are you going to do about it?”

“Why don’t you make yourself at home?” I said to the cat.

From that moment on, Tippy and Ms. Kitty—her new name—napped together on the recliner, the cat balanced on the headrest and the dog curled up in a ball on the chair’s cushion.

Those two became the best of friends. Whenever Tippy nudged Ms. Kitty with his nose and whipped his tail like a propeller, it signaled that playtime was on! They would tear out of the room, and Ms. Kitty would jump over Tippy’s back. She would taunt him then skid under the bed, out of reach. Ms. Kitty was the one to decide when the fun was over by dive-bombing back to her spot on the chair.

The neighbors were aware of our pets’ antics. Many times, they would holler from over the fence as they barbecued, “Bring out the dog and cat!” they said, wanting a dinner show.

Let the games begin! And they did. Upon hearing their request, we would fling open the door, just like the parting of curtains at a Ringling Brothers circus. The crowd cheered as Tippy pursued Ms. Kitty, the two dashing helter-skelter throughout the backyard. Next, Ms. Kitty would roll into a ball and freeze in place, letting Tippy drag her around by the scruff of her neck. Then Tippy would toss Ms. Kitty like a baton across the lawn. Believe it or not, Ms. Kitty loved this and would race back to Tippy for a second act.

For the finale, Ms. Kitty would leapfrog over Tippy, just like famed gymnast Nadia Comaneci did in the Olympics. Back and forth Ms. Kitty flew, placing her front paws on Tippy’s back as if he were a pommel horse. When Ms. Kitty did her amazing dismount, the crowd hollered, “Do it again! Do it again!”

A few months later, I noticed Ms. Kitty moving at a slower pace. She refused to budge from her perch on the recliner, even when Tippy did his best to egg her on.

“Mom, does she look a little fat?” I asked, bending closer to examine the cat.

“Yes. Ms. Kitty is soon to be a Misses,” replied Mom.

One morning, Tippy howled at the top of the basement steps, begging us to follow him downstairs. Ms. Kitty was nestled in a cardboard box on top of the washing machine, surrounded by her four kittens, ranging in color from solid orange to striped gray. From that point forward, Tippy took up dog patrol at the base of the washing machine, overprotective of his pal and her kittens. If our friends leaned in too close, Tippy would let out a low growl—“Look, but don’t touch.”

After we found new owners for the kittens, Ms. Kitty disappeared. Tippy waited for her at the front door for weeks, but she never returned. Ms. Kitty left us the same way she came into our life, suddenly and with aplomb.

Stacey Gustafson is a Pleasanton humorist and author who wrote about her daughter’s experience with Stanley, a cock-a-chon she helped earn therapy dog chops, for Bay Woof in “A Therapy Dog Makes a Difference” in July.

Main article photo by: courtesy Stacey Gustafson