In 1998, I adopted my first two cats, Bruce and Huey, from an animal shelter in upstate New York. Brothers, they’d been rescued from a hoarder who kept some 40 felines. Bruce,the black-and-white tuxedo cat,has beenMr. Personality from day one; his brother Hueyis somewhat more mysterious, as befits his solid-black coat. But both brothershavealways been the most affectionate non-canine companions you could hope to have.
Early on Sunday morning, I awoke to find Bruce dead – he’d apparently suffered a heart attacksome time Saturday night. He was nearly 20 years old.
So, why am I eulogizing Bruce here? Because that cat was a Dogster. He taught me a great deal about dogs, and how best to handle them: with equal parts skill and humor.
Exhibit A: One day, my former spouse neglected to close and latcha criticalgate inour house – the steel one I’d had custom-made to separate the cats from the dogs. My late, greatdog Sam was the main reason to keep thatgate tightly shut; he was never a cat lover. Or rather, he was such a cat loverthathe could just eat them all right up.
Sam saw his opening and he took it, coming face-to-face with his quarry: Bruce the cat. But Bruce didn’t run or hide or otherwise give chase; instead, he languidly flipped over on his back, purring and revealing his snow-whitebelly to the big, slavering dog, who proceeded to shake with confusion, his jaws agape.
Sam looked likea Stepford wife who’d been unplugged. Time stopped, and those few moments gave me a chance to remove Sam and close the gate. I’ve always been impressed at Bruce’s action – bybeing confident and showing trust,he was able to stopthat big dog in his tracks.
Many years later, I adopted another sweet pit bull named Lazarus. This one loves cats the right way, the way felines have come to expect- he worships them. When Lazarus first arrived at my animal house, his heart was infested with worms. To keep him calm, per doctor’s orders, I installed him with my cats.Laz and Bruce became best friends, and could frequently be found snoozing together on the sofa.
When I was invited to be part of the PBS “Nature”documentary “Why We Love Cats and Dogs,” Itraveled to the studio with my feline-canine duo.Bruce – ever the model of grace under pressure – settled right in and remained calm throughout the entire shoot; Laz, on the other hand, neatlylived up to his nickname, “Lazzmtazz,” by wiggling around like a spotlight-hogging madman.
I know that Bruce is enjoying a celestialall-he-can-eat sushi buffet right now. He’sleft behind the stiff, old body thatI gingerlywrapped upfor his final trip to the vet, where he was declared DOA. But he’s also left behind some heavy hearts.
His protege, my little tuxedo female Ninotchka -the much-younger Gigi to Bruce’s Gaston, picturedwith himin this painting by my artist Mom, Martha Szabo-obviously missesher gentleman frienda lot. Shecried loudly and interfered vigorouslyas I tried to remove him.
I know how she feels.