Dogs and Cats
He hated cats. Sly, cruel bird-killers. No conscience, no respect for hierarchy. So feminine in their feline ways.
They both preferred dogs, and kept dogs too. She had no particular love for cats, but insisted upon cats anyway, in knowledge of his hatred. He, in turn, insisted upon no cats in the house.
So the cats lived outside, tattered cardboard boxes with filthy blankets in the garage their only shelter from the elements. Young, old, sick or healthy, pregnant or nursing, the cats remained outside.
The first two cats, tiny black and white kittens, a brother and sister from a local farm, disappeared. They must have wandered off and got lost, as did the third. But the fat black tom and the waiflike, nervous tortoiseshell stuck around, and so did the pretty tortoiseshell-and-white from the skittish one’s first litter.
The daughter was my favourite, always purring, offering affection, licking my hands with her rough tongue. I was sad to be told at 19 that the cat had become unwell, gone to the vet and been put to sleep because it wasn’t worth treating her illness at her age.
The cats were second-class pets, yes, but they got the better deal.
They both loved dogs. So eager to please, aware of right and wrong, responsive to discipline and authority. Good quality dogs with pedigrees, respectable Labradors who could be dragged to heel with a choke chain and whacked with a stick with no risk of retaliation when they stepped out of line, dogs who knew their place and who would crouch, whining and wagging in abject submission at a hint of their superiors’ anger.
Fawning in fear was taken as an admission of moral responsibility and guilt. ‘Look, he knows he’s done wrong,’ she would crow as she bore down on the cowering dog with her rolled-up newspaper to beat him for messing the floor after a ten hour day in the unheated conservatory. And the children cowered too, terrified for the dog and themselves, the punishment serving equally as a lesson to them that their mother could indeed see any action as deliberate, culpable, and deserving of violence regardless of context. And their father would cheerfully brag about the times he broke a stick over the dog’s back as an example of how he was such a good and moral person that disobedience enraged him.
When I missed half a day of school by hiding in the loo crying over my beloved dog’s epilepsy, scared to have seen her fitting, they had her put down . And then replaced her a fortnight later with a bouncy healthy replica.
Gratitude was mandatory, unauthorised grieving too terrifying to contemplate. Because they loved the dogs, and they loved us kids even more.