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A future for Shuchi

Backlit by the afternoon sun, she makes her way past the living room windows, nose-bumping along from chair to table to sofa. I see her beauty, her energy, her joy, but I wonder if she has a future.

Breeders of these dogs, Shetland sheepdogs, know the risk and yet they take the gamble. Mating a pair of blue merles to produce blue merle puppies is iffy: The statistics predict that 20 percent of the pups—there are six—will be either deaf, or deaf and blind. Mother Nature dealt Shuchi (which rhymes with "Hootchie-Kootchie") one good card, a beautiful white coat, but she was born both deaf and blind. In a society that places a premium on perfectly manicured lawns and such, I worried about her prospects for adoption.

Shuchi actually had an owner and a home once, but the fellow died in his 30s, and Shuchi was sent to Triangle Sheltie Rescue, where she lived with Deb, a "foster mom" down our street. When Deb took her vacations, Shuchi came to stay with my wife and me and our own sheltie, Sullivan.

Questioning whether I should feel sad about the fact of her lacking faculties, I re-read Inman's discussion with the blind peanut-vendor in Cold Mountain. Likewise blind from birth, the vendor preferred his lot over the possibility that he might have "been given a glimpse of the world and then lost it." For Shuchi, I decided that she didn't know what she'd never had, I loved her all the more for what was wanting, and left it at that.

At Deb's, Shuchi waited out a spring that slowly became summer. Her photo and description languished on the rescue's adopt-me site. No one phoned. Summer's heat subsided and autumn arrived. Shuchi's eighth month at Deb's edged toward a ninth.

Then Deb called us: A woman had phoned from Down East. Lots of good questions about Shuchi, lots of enthusiasm. Caroline lived at the coast with her two young daughters, her husband was on military duty in Florida, and she was looking, she said, "for a special dog." Yes, I could understand the "special" part, but I wondered why.

Next, a visit from Caroline; then one day when I happened to be at Deb's, a second visit which included the two young girls, the older one born with her right arm ending just below the elbow. The three of them were excited and things moved quickly. Caroline's home was inspected by the rescue to ensure the dog's safety and comfort. The adoption fee was paid, papers were signed, a pick-up day arranged. I bent over and gave Shuchi a final back-scratch. "Sootch, I think your future has finally arrived. It just took its time getting here."

Out in my driveway a week later, I turned around at the sound of a car going by. A blue mini-van with smiling mom at the wheel, two girls giggling, a big white blur in the back. So long, Sootch. Sorry to see ya go, but I'm glad ya finally made it.

—Bill Kirk, Chapel Hill

Wilbur: house rabbit extraordinaire

Whiskers atwitch. Satiny gray fur. Ears up. The prettiest, sweetest rabbit I ever did see.*

Until you crouch down to pet her, and she tentatively comes close ... closer ... then spurns your outstretched hand, runs behind you, and gently—but distinctly—bites your butt. And then scampers off as you howl, happily tossing her ears in delight and joyfully twisting mid-air.

I have a sticker on my fridge that features a rabbit with the saying "cute but kind of evil." Truer words were never spoken.

Wilbur has many entirely endearing qualities, beginning with biting posteriors and continuing with her love of champagne, her stealth abilities to steal fruit (most often as you're eating it), and leaping over the couch with a single bound from an absolute standstill. She's been known to melt hearts by presenting a slightly uptilted nose for petting. Her greatest compliment to her people is a vigorous rearranging of your pants leg. When finished, she steps back and studies her work. When it's just so, she hops off.

Her not-so-endearing qualities include a steadfast determination to rid the warren of roots (otherwise known as the TV cable), biting the hand that feeds too slowly, and her desire to subjugate by any means necessary all other resident quadrupeds. She can be a dervish of a rabbit, grunting and boxing and lunging, when she's displeased.

A charmer. The alpha-est of all rabbits. Personality plus.

Wilbur came to me as rabbits should not: a Christmas present from a pet store. She spent much of her first days hiding beneath the Christmas tree and exploring behind or underneath everything, uncertain of it all. She mostly spurned my affections, and nearly refused to return to her cage. Eventually, she would spend much of her time lounging pin-up girl style in front of the air conditioner unit, or on the windowsill behind the blinds. A true diva.

Once she got a companion, the two of them enjoyed running Bunny 500 laps around the living room and embarking on wild adventures to the screened-in porch. Her husbun died a few years ago, and although offered, she hasn't wanted a new mate. She is content with an occasional grooming-by-human and passing and sometimes friendly contact with her trio of rabbit neighbors. Mostly, I think, she just likes to survey her domain and ensure phone books are properly shredded. And monitor that things under my bed are where they should be.

My favorite picture of Wilbur is a somewhat out of focus close-up of her nose, because she could not bear the unknowns: what was I doing and why, and what is this thing you're pointing at me? But that's her, popping up unexpectedly, exploring confidently.

*Not actually said about Wilbur, or by me. But it's a great quote. (Thanks to B.M.)

—Jana Shannon, Durham

Good Karma

Once Paul and I were engaged, we discussed getting a dog. He felt the dog should live in the house, be part of the family. I felt a dog was a beast that should stay outside. I grew up on a farm. My father bred and trained beagles for sport. We had a kennel that housed multiple dogs, and every summer I helped raise a litter of beagle puppies. While I loved the puppies, I was never allowed to misunderstand them as "pets." After my summer training, they were sold and forgotten. Not allowed in the house, they stayed in outdoor kennels that reeked. They were an entertainment, not family.

The first time I visited Paul's family in a suburb, I was fascinated by the two Labradors that were allowed to drool, lay, fart and tumble about the house. After Paul brought up the dog discussion again, I was adamant, no dog in the house. But it is funny how life and love changes what you always thought.

After ordering at a bar one day, we noticed it was taking a while for any bartender to return. Outside we found the bar's wait staff bent, peering under the frame of a parked SUV. We saw the cowering puppy and the bits of steak they were using to try to lure her out. The bartender told me that she had seen a man park his car in the street, pop his trunk, remove the puppy, throw it into the street, and drive off. While she was telling the story, I looked at my husband. His heart was absolutely broken. His eyes were screaming at me "Puppy! Puppy!" and I knew we were getting a dog. He named her Karma. I named her Jean. Karma Jean.

The first week with Karma Jean, Paul left on a business trip. I called him crying. "She peed on the floor. I think the house smells like dog. And the cat hasn't been out from under the bed." He said we could take her to a shelter, but I already knew that was impossible. I loved her.

That first year she destroyed my cell phone, chewed up Paul's jump drive (it had three years of work on it). She ate a chocolate bar; we had to make her drink hydrogen peroxide. She then threw up a chocolate fondue fountain in the bathtub, but I had never been more relieved.

On the other hand, I have never been more in shape; if I don't take her running every day she destroys something. I have never felt happier; she lies at my feet while I read a book. I have never felt safer; she barks at everyone that steps on the porch. I have never felt so much love as a family. I have never felt so wrong about something as my previous held belief that dogs should stay outside. Whenever Paul mocks my past adamancy, and he asks what caused the change, I reply, "Good Karma."

—Corrie Robertson, Durham

Dennis (left) and Monk
  • Dennis (left) and Monk
Yin and yang

My cats, brothers from the same litter, model living in love and living in fear every day.

Dennis lives in fear. He hides when a new toy is introduced. He runs away from bugs and demonstrates his hunting prowess only on predictable prey like dry cat food, which he skitters across the floor to attack. He cries to be picked up instead of just jumping up into a lap that has never said no to him.

His brother, Monk, is an adventurer. He watches a situation unfold and makes reasonable risks in his explorations. He purrs when in a new situation. He may not be as at ease as he is acting, but he is willing to make friends if possible.

Not surprisingly, Dennis has more difficulties negotiating life. Things don't work out for him. He's scared much of the time, and his fears inhibit his actions. Monk, on the other hand, interacts with the world optimistically. If things go badly, he has defensive and evasive skills, but more often things go well, and he has won the hearts of devoted dog lovers for his friendly ways.

One day, Dennis did not come in when it rained. He showed up several hours later, his long white fur muddy and bedraggled. The way he was holding his body, I knew he was miserable being this filthy, and it would take him hours to clean himself. I wrapped him in a towel and began drying his fur. I noticed his hindquarters were particularly soggy, brown and knotted, as if the back end of him fell into the creek on his way home. Once he was drier, I began the delicate task of clipping out the knots in his fur.

As I was finding ways to keep him relaxed while I shaved his hindquarters, I realized this was a much bigger task than I first thought. I was going to have to bathe him. I hadn't bathed a cat in 15 years, when the cat I had at the time climbed up my arm and tore a hole in me and my T-shirt in his effort to get away from the bath. I looked at Dennis and wondered why I was considering doing something I knew wouldn't end well.

I made a warm bath in the kitchen sink. I had plenty of towels on hand. I picked Dennis up and slowly lowered him into the water. I swished his fur. The water got brown instantly. I swished some more.

I am not sure how I had managed to get this far into the bath without Dennis using his claws. When I picked him up to see how much more needed to be done, his back end had shrunk three sizes as the wet fur clung to his wiry hind legs. I looked up into his face. He was perfectly still, his eyes three times larger than usual, pooling with fear and resignation as he surrendered to me.

At that moment, I was undone witnessing his trust. I have learned a lot about ways of being by observing my cats.

—Diana Griffith, Carrboro

Rainy day Rottie

Like many parents I "inherited" my last dog when my son needed to move into an apartment that didn't allow pets. What was supposed to be a temporary arrangement until he could find a more suitable place quickly became permanent, and I had eight wonderful years before losing "my" dog to bone cancer.

Named Rothko in honor of my son's artistic inspiration, the black and tan Rottweiler was not a dog I would have selected for myself. He had been rescued on the streets of Kansas City when he was about 3 months old. Unlike most Rottweilers, Rothko still had his tail, an appendage that communicated his feelings in a way no docked stub ever could. When he came to live with me he was a year old and weighed about 85 pounds; he eventually grew to about 130 pounds (helped in part by his fondness for Bojangles' fries). I'd never had a dog that big—or one that needed a brisk walk twice a day. But we quickly fell into a routine, and soon our daily morning and evening walks through the neighborhood and into the nearby park were something we both looked forward to regardless of weather.

Rothko had one quirk, however: If he needed to go out and it was raining, he refused to go unless I actually went outside with him. All I could figure was that deep in his brain was a memory of living outside and on the streets in the rain—and it was clear he wasn't going to let that happen again. Usually I didn't mind. But early one night in the fall of 1999, Hurricane Floyd was dumping buckets of rain onto North Carolina when Rothko decided he needed to go out. Knowing if I let him out then, I'd have to take him out again before bedtime and, not looking forward to getting sopping wet twice more (we'd already taken a short walk in the pouring rain earlier that evening), I ignored his signals. He would stand up, look at me, move toward the front door, and then when I didn't get up off the couch he would return to his spot, settle down with a sigh and look mournful.

This went on for 15-20 minutes, when suddenly Rothko darted toward the back of the house, ran back to the living room, stared at me as if willing me to follow, and took off for the back of the house again. He then repeated the behavior. Intrigued, I followed him to see what had gotten him so excited. I found him in the bathroom where my rain slicker was hung over the showerhead, dripping into the tub. He looked at me, looked at the slicker, looked back at me, looked again at the slicker and emitted one short, impatient bark.

Impressed, I got the message. Reluctantly I donned the slicker and we ventured forth into the storm where he happily relieved himself, then bounded inside to be toweled dry.

—Pat Daggett, Durham

Sumo (left) with girlfriend Joey
  • Sumo (left) with girlfriend Joey

"I'm here to pick up Sumo," I inform the veterinary technician as I write out a check for an amount that rivals my monthly car payment. A cat is meowing plaintively in the back room, and I'm surprised to hear the wailing emerge from Sumo's kennel as the technician carries it to the front. My Siamese companion, Sumo, is weaving back in the forth in the kennel, his crossed eyes large and hazy from the anesthesia after his first dental cleaning.

"Hey buddy! Oh, you're OK." I comfort him for a few minutes during the car ride home, but then his concerned meows start to sadden me. I fall silent, and my mind pulls out the hurt that I've tucked aside for a few minutes. How could my sweetheart give up on our relationship and move away? What does the future hold now that my dreams of having my own family seem to be dashed, and why do I dread it? The more imposing specter of my father's recent death tugs down on the corners of my dread.

My roommate's cat crouches and hisses fearfully at Sumo when I carry him into the house, so I carefully bring him into my bedroom and let him out of the kennel. He is drunken and clumsy, tripping on every object he encounters in my room. I sink down to the floor and lean against my bed to watch him adjust to his home after a traumatic visit to the vet. After bumping into the wall and tripping a few steps, he turns and awkwardly rubs up against my legs, quietly purring.

After being stuffed into a box this morning, abandoned at a scary-smelling place with barking dogs, being poked by needles and awakening to strange smells, sounds and sights, Sumo is still happy with me. I'm floored as he continues moving about the room, attempting to open the closet door, teetering on his hind legs while he kneads his paws on the corner of my boxspring. He stretches up to look out the window, and when I pick him up to show him the outdoors, he settles into my arms and eagerly looks out at the birds. Even though he has every reason to be upset with me, he is totally forgiving and loving. Rather than dwelling on his discomfort and fear of the unknown, he is reveling in his good fortune for a house to roam in, arms to nestle into, and a window to look through at the world outside.

Simple appreciation and happiness. My poor mood evaporates, and I thank my faithful cat for pointing out the obvious.

—C. Perrin, Cary


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