Dogs and Cats

When our Sheltie, Bernie, died in 2009, Mary and I were crushed. Say whatever you want about animals not measuring up to the status of fellow humans—losing a beloved pet that has been an integral part of your family for 15 years hurts just like losing a human loved one.

He was the only dog I’ve ever had. When he was gone, it left a void in our household. Of course, life goes on.

Mary and I discussed getting another dog numerous times. The verdict was always, “we’re too busy,” and “a dog is like having a child.” The premise being—you can’t come and go as you please. Still, I missed having a pet around the house, especially as the amount of time I spent working at home increased.

A cat was never an option, or so I thought. I’m not sure why. We’d had cats when Mark was small and we even had a couple of energetic and enjoyable cats when we moved out to the country from Lisbon Falls in 1989. They were outdoor cats, coming and going as cats are want to do—until they disappeared—likely devoured by a wild animal in the dark. With Bernie’s arrival, we became a dog household.

When you live out in the woods and there are fields nearby, you are also in the midst of mouse country. One July evening this summer, I was up in my office writing and listening to baseball on the radio when I heard Mary scream. I went downstairs to find a mouse climbing the screen slider between the living room and our outdoor deck. We had a mouse in the house!

I managed to subdue the critter only to have another one show up in our kitchen this fall. Traps and other so-called mouse-control devices didn’t address the problem. Mary is pretty laid back and easygoing—except when it comes to mice living in the pantry. They had to go!

One morning I said to Mary, “you know the best way to get rid of a mouse, don’t you?” She looked at me, a question mark written on her face. “A cat,” I said, answering my own question.

It wasn’t long before she came home with a video of a beautiful chartreuse kitten residing at the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook. This kitten was a dead ringer for perhaps the best cat we’d ever owned, Shauna, who disappeared after we’d moved out to Durham.

Lucy perched on her cat house, watching the birds.

Lucy perched on her cat house, watching the birds.

After years of considering myself a “dog person,” I never thought I’d want another cat roaming around the house. The little kitten in the video sure was cute, though. And she also knew how to play to the camera, too.

Lucy took up residence with us in early October. When she first came home, she was skittish and seemed like she’d never warm to Mary and me. Of course, some cats take time. Now, it’s rare not to have Lucy following me around, or wanting to jump in my lap in the afternoon when I’m working. More often than not, she’ll curl up in a little ball and fall asleep while I’m writing or doing other work.

Making herself at home, in front of the fire.

Making herself at home, in front of the fire.

Maybe being a cat person isn’t such a bad idea after all? Research seems to bear out that cats (and pets in general) are good for humans. They help reduce stress, especially with men. A mere 15 to 30 minutes of interaction with a dog or cat causes a drop in cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. It also increases serotonin in the brain, the chemical associated with well-being.

And then there’s this.

Adnan Qureshi, a professor of neurosurgery and neurology at the University of Minnesota, followed 4,500 people. In 2008, he announced that those owning a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from a heart attack than those without a Lucy in their lives. Quereshi indicated that owning a dog didn’t offer the same protection, although the statistical reasons lacked explanation.

There are those who think 21st century Americans have become obsessed with their pets. That may be true, but writers like Katherine C. Grier, who wrote Pets in America: A History, reveals that our nation’s past was filled with pets, too. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain were all pet-lovers. In fact, Twain often liked to wear a cat called Lazy “around his neck like a stole.”

Like 21st century Americans, our forebears loved their pets too. According to Grier, the pet care industry began catering to people and their pets after the Civil War. Trade catalogs and advertisements from that time indicate that, by the 1870s, an expanded array of products for the care of birds, dogs, and cats were available, from tonics to prepared foods.

If you’d told me six months ago that I’d be living with a cat, I’d have said you were “crazy.” But having a cat like Lucy around has brought some unexpected joy and companionship into my life.

Our mice have disappeared. If not for them, we wouldn’t have Miss Lucy in our lives.

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