There is much divisiveness in this world of ours: guns, masks, politics, women’s health, foreign invasion and the list continues. However, there is one more that ought to be on the list, even if last. Mentioning it will hopefully bring a grin to your face. The question is: Are you a dog or a cat person? Until a few years back I thought I was a cat person. Then, not abandoning my feline affinity, I became a dog person. Let me explain.
Right after World War II, my family had moved to Cambria Heights in Queens, New York City. Within a block from home was Public School-147. I had just walked home from my first-grade class and found a black cat sitting by the front door. It stayed with us for a few days until an older boy came knocking on our door. He was looking for his pet cat. The friendly cat was his.
My older sister by seven years and I were so disappointed. I cried; she wanted a pet cat. A few days later, my father, Walter, a high school teacher in Manhattan, brought home a kitten. My younger brother, Norman, my sister, Bobbie, and I were so happy. My sister named the cat Butch. He turned out to be more Bobbie’s pet. Butch was a typical-looking male alley-cat who spent much time outdoors. In early evenings Bobbie would call out and whistle for him to come home. Butch would come running from down the block. My mother grimaced when Butch rubbed against her leg in the kitchen just before feeding time. Mom was not a cat person.
Prior to the advent of real cat litter, my dad would drive us to Rockaway Beach to fill some buckets with beach sand. This would be the cat litter. My job was to scoop the lumpy sand from Butch’s box and replace it from the buckets stored in the basement furnace room.
During that time, we had a next-door neighbor with a Germanic surname who my dad thought of as antisemitic. This was just after World War II, and we were among the few Jews in the neighborhood. These neighbors had two children, an older boy and a younger sister about the same age as me and my brother Norman. We shared a common driveway with them, and the boy would caution me not to cross the mid-line. They had two miniature Dobermans that would menacingly bark at the sight of me and my family. This did not instill in me a love of dogs.
At around three years, Butch suddenly became sick. He would lay around the house and not eat. One morning before school, Butch tried to walk upstairs from the basement and died. Dad took him in the car and left for the day. We didn’t find this out until later that day. Dad was convinced the neighbor poisoned Butch because the cat walked on his lawn, and his dogs would go crazy. That was the end of having a pet for a long time. This was around 1950, and I was 9 years old.
It was 1965 New Year’s Eve and I recently graduated from Denver University. I had rented a small, one-bedroom house in the industrial suburbs of Denver. I had a date but no plans for the evening. I mentioned wanting a pet cat. So, we looked in the daily newspaper classifieds at pets for sale. I called one ad and went to their home for a kitten. It was the last of the litter, a male Siamese, with blue crossed eyes, cute. On the way home we stopped at a store for, this time, real cat litter and some canned cat food. I took my date home around midnight. The next morning, I left early for Colorado Springs to watch the annual Pikes Peak motorcycle hill climb. When I came home that afternoon, the kitten was frightened and refused to come from hiding behind the refrigerator. We soon reconciled and I gave him the name Sammy. I wanted to use the initials P.S.D., as in Phi Sigma Delta, but never came up with a P or a D. So, Sammy it was.
Within a few months, I packed my minimal belongings in my green camp trunk and took it to the United Airlines freight office at the airport. We were on our way to Los Angeles and my airline job at LAX. I had a little red Volvo P1800 sport car. Into it went a few items, including a favorite dismantled chair and Sammy the cat. We made it to Los Angeles and rented an over-the-garage one-bedroom studio from my mother’s cousins. Sammy and I lived there for a couple years and then moved to a larger apartment a few blocks away in the Hollywood area. Sammy took to the new environment and continued to enjoy the outdoors and knew his home. It was there, in 1972, that I met a bright, educated, attractive young woman. Six months later she became my wife and she brought along her two cats. Now there were three beasts. Less than a year went by when we were driving with our three cats, on our way to Richmond, Virginia. We both graduated with masters degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, and we decided to move back to the West Coast. We opted for Seattle and my new faculty appointment.
With a small camping trailer behind us and our Audi, we were enroute to Seattle, adventuring across the plains of Canada. Somewhere along a westward Canadian route, we stopped overnight at a campground on a large open field of dry grass. We let the cats out of the camper as usual the next morning, but for some reason Sammy decided to run across the field and disappeared in the woods. We were packed and ready to continue the trek but no Sammy. We waited for quite some time. Sadly, I decided that was the end of Sammy and me. As we were about to leave, we saw Sammy running across the field, and he leapt into the camper. I was so relieved and on we went.
The five of us settled into Seattle. In 1978, we moved from a rented house in Capital Hill. We bought a nice comfortable house a short distance in the Portage Bay neighborhood. We all blossomed and welcomed our first-born son and a couple years later, our daughter. Our three cats thrived, but Sammy the cat was getting old. He slowed down, didn’t run around much, ate less, lost weight, I knew it was getting close to the end of our 12-year relationship. I built a small coffin for him. Some months later I came home from work and learned he died. I put Sammy into his wood coffin. My wife called a few of the neighbor children to be at the funeral. He was buried in the back yard next to the garage. Sammy was the first and only pet of my own. We lived together for 12 years in six different homes, traversing North America twice. I was so saddened by Sammy’s departure. The next day I couldn’t go to work. It was the end of a memorable bond. Occasionally, looking through my small box of stuff, I look at his pet tags with the name and address of “Sammy the Cat.”
Years later in August of 2007, I remarried. She was a dog person, allergic to cats. She and her now grown two kids raised a standard black poodle they adored. Pictures of the dog were on the walls. Sadly, the dog died before his time after he was hit by a car in the street in front of the house in Denny-Blaine.
We had a friend in Madrona, an attorney, diagnosed with a terminal cancer. He was failing fast and asked if we would take his 1-year-old dog to be our own. Knowing I never had a dog, my wife conferred with me, and I said yes. If it wouldn’t work out, there was another Seattle couple that agreed to take the dog. The dog’s name was Mickey. He was a big, black standard poodle weighing about 70 pounds. We picked up the dog, his doghouse, his sleeping pad, food dish and water bowl, harness, leash, poop bags, toys and other necessities. This was not a cat.
The first night here, I put Mickey in the basement. Not a good choice. He whimpered for hours until we brought him upstairs. That was his last time with separate sleeping arrangements. The rest of his years his sleeping quarters were in the spare bedroom. Mickey was well on the way to being trained. First, he would stop at the curb before crossing. He knew putting on his harness meant going for a walk. I don’t know how, but he was a fast learner, a visual force that people would ask about. Within months, he learned reluctantly to jump through a hoop, to shake, sit, speak, lie down, wait for an OK to eat a snack, time for bed and more. The only thing he wouldn’t do is to return a thrown ball. Don’t know why. We had a dog walker for many years. Mickey-the-Dog, as I called him, would wait at the door, harnessed and ready to go. Carl, the dog walker, said Mickey assumed leadership of the seven or more leashed dogs.
Mickey had long legs. He was big and easily jumped into the back of our car. He was so gentle with guests, grandchildren, neighbors. He was a fixture in the neighborhood. I learned to be dog appreciative, especially of full-bred poodles. I took him everywhere. He became my buddy.
Mickey had a haircut and trim every few months, ran around at various King County and Seattle dog parks and had regular Madison Park vet checkups. I came to learn that larger dogs have shorter life spans. After about 11 years Mickey began to slow down, didn’t have the same vigor or appetite. He no longer jumped up to greet someone or when a car parked in front. We took him to the veterinarian and learned the sad news that Mickey had a wide-spread cancer and would soon die. After we brought him home, a hard decision was made. We would have him “put down” to prevent his suffering. A couple days later, this time we helped Mickey into the car. We three walked slowly into the vet office. She was waiting for us. Mickey was lifted onto a table. Lying down, he was injected. Looking at us, he closed his eyes and quickly was gone to dog heaven. We were so sad, and the vet staff were so kind. We took home his harness and dog tags.
I am now in my 81st year. It’s been about 75 years from first having a pet named Butch, then Sammy and then Mickey. In retrospect, I feel honored to have three pets, an alley cat, a Siamese cat and a French poodle. I doubt there will be another four-legged pet in this household but am glad to have had the experience and do welcome occasional pet sitting for our daughters.
So, am I a cat or dog person? I am neutral but love and admire both species. They are unique and are worthwhile family members. See you again someday my friends, Butch, Sammy and Mickey-the-Dog.
Ned Porges is a 50-year resident of Seattle and has a doctorate from the University of Washington. He is a retired professor and real estate broker/investor, living in Denny-Blaine.