If animals could speak, the dog would be a a blundering outspoken fellow, but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much. — Mark Twain
How my Boston Terrier, Fritz, came to lose his eye is a story that began, with a hat tip to Snoopy, on a “dark and stormy night.” The players in the drama about to unfold were, for all intents and purposes, extremely well-mannered, sentient creatures, more disposed by nature to being cuddly than curmudgeonly. But therein lies the moral to the story — looks can be deceiving. And actions speak louder than purrs.
One winter day, dodging the drip-drip of rain leaking through the roof, I, basket in hand, badgered by whorls of damp catch-your-death-of-cold air, made my way through the garage to the laundry room, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a small smoky-furred feline, soggy and shivering, sitting atop the dryer. The slender little vagabond stood up, greeting me with a soft mew followed by a fusillade of alarming sneezes. Naturally, by way of introduction, I extended my fingers and she, with impeccable manners, reciprocated with amiable nuzzles.
Extracting a fresh towel hot from the dryer, I proceeded to give the kitty a good rubdown, which elicited purrs. And more sneezes. I swaddled her and picked her up to take her into the house, where she could weather the storm. First, though, I needed to introduce her to Fritz, my recently rescued 3-year-old Boston Terrier, who was snuffling furiously behind the kitchen door. Sensing danger, the cat began to squirm, nervously kneading my shirt with her claws.
Though Fritz proved an apt pupil in obedience class, he, like most terriers, exhibited on occasion a marked tendency to forget his lessons and revert to the free-spirited schoolboy he was at heart. Since he refused to heed my commands to “Sit!,” I realized this was one such occasion. His delinquent behavior did not augur well for the kumbaya relationship I had so naively envisioned. Unfortunately, it was also a portent of things to come.
The kitty — I called her Oprah — did weather the storm. She stayed on, taking up residence in the garage, her home on the top shelf of the utility cabinet doubling as a fortress. From this vantage point, she could survey her domain and scout for the presence of Fritz who, supremely territorial, regarded her as an invader rather than a fellow emigré.
Having given up on effecting a feline-canine détente, I resolved, instead, to ensure a separate peace by keeping the two apart. There was just one problem. In order to access the side yard to do his business, Fritz needed to enter the garage. Although he had only to traverse a few feet, the distance between the kitchen and the garden door, he would detour, huffing and puffing the length and breadth of the garage, hellbent on a reconnaissance mission to flush Oprah from her aerie.
I had to play Customs official, checking the yard and garden prior to approving Fritz’s travel visa. Of course, Murphy’s Law, flying as it does in the face of diligence and vigilance, humbled me almost at once. Despite my precautions, it was destined that the two would cross paths. I witnessed Fritz’s blunt charges and admired how Oprah, blessed with lightning reflexes, slalomed gracefully around him, out of sight in a blur of speed.
Oprah usually beached herself on the patio table and was content to prowl the garden for snails, which she batted about like balls. She could also tirelessly vocalize her need for human companionship. However, I failed to make the connection between her broken-record caterwauls and Fritz’s sudden call-of-nature gavotte.
One day, months after Oprah had established permanent residency, I was in the garage petting her. Having just been fed, she treated my knuckles to a kitty spa treatment, dermabrasion via sandpaper tongue. So involved were we that we were both shocked when Fritz, jaws snapping, sprang up on his hind legs to register his displeasure. Oprah hissed and slashed out at him. A nanosecond later Fritz, instantly chastened, collapsed, whimpering at my feet. Heart drumming, knees weak, mouth dry, I bent down for a closer examination: Fritz’s right eye, protruding from its socket, was the color and consistency of an overripe, suppurating blister.
Oprah did a hit-and-run while I removed Fritz, shivering stoically, from the crime scene, swaddled him in a blanket, and flushed his eye with saline. If my adrenaline could have fueled the taxi ride to the vet it would have qualified as a “beam-me-up” moment. Instead, it seemed to take forever.
Fluorescein stain revealed a corneal tear, and painkillers and antibiotics were prescribed. “Fritz is a sweet dog,” the vet annotated on the discharge sheet, adding the proviso, “Avoid Wrath of Cat.”
Fritz’s eye grew progressively more inflamed due to increased ocular pressure caused by the buildup of vitreous fluid behind it. It festered, turning a lurid yellow. Fifteen days later, on my sixth visit to the vet, I finally countered: “None of the drugs have worked. No more of this wait-and-see stuff. Fritz is suffering. Can’t YOU see?” I resisted the urge to shout. “Take the eye out. Today, if possible; tomorrow at the latest. This is the endgame.” My decision wasn’t emotional; it was wholly practical, the only sane and humane solution. I’m only sorry I waited so long.
The vet grudgingly conceded to remove Fritz’s eye, a surgical procedure called nucleation. “Appearance-wise, it will look as if he’s winking,,” she added. Exasperated, I shot back, “But dogs don’t wink!” She replied with a condescending smile, “Well, then, blinking.” Fritz had his eye removed the following day.
For Fritz, having only one eye proved to be neither an impediment nor serious handicap. Though initially he did collide with shrubs and hydrants, fall off curbs, and take corners too sharply, scraping an ear and banging his nose, he quickly learned to avoid obstacles — except Oprah.
Fortunately live-and-let-live Oprah, unlike her canine persecutor, was content to let bygones be bygones. She is neither a fighter nor an instigator, but a self- preservationist. And though there have been several internecine kerfuffles since then, none have amounted to high drama. Or trauma. For my part, I’ve come to accept contretemps as part of the realpolitik of living with a cat and a dog. I love my lil’ hooligans.
All three of us have been together for nine years now. A bit longer in the tooth, Fritz can’t see beyond his front paws, while I can see just beyond the tip of my nose. But between us we have two eyes –- Fritz, his left; I, my right. He’s my guardian and I am his. Oprah is no longer a flashpoint for Fritz, and though the lion does not lay down with the lamb, our living arrangement is as close to the Peaceable Kingdom as I could have ever hoped.
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