By Darlene Cah
Eight years ago, I stopped into Food Lion to pick up some salad, veggies, and a bag of Sun Chips. I went home with two feisty kittens, still blue-eyed balls of fuzz I could fit in the palms of my hands. They had wandered over, across two parking lots from a feral colony in the bamboo behind McDonald’s to play among the potted plants at the supermarket. I caught Simon, the gray cat, easily, but Wrigley evaded capture with spitfire speed. Once home, she was a hissing, spitting, swiping creature right out of a Stephen King novel. What did I get myself into?
Today, lifting either cat would count as weight lifting, and each has turned into kneading, purring, head-butting lap cats. And when I’m trying to write, a lap cat that tries to occupy the same spot as the laptop makes for a creative challenge. I could shoo Wrigley away, but I’m a big sap, so many times she’ll sit half on the arm of my recliner and rest her front paws on my left arm as I type. Her other favorite spot is leaning against my head on the top of the chair.
Simon is more assertive and doesn’t see the laptop as an obstacle, more like a warm pillow. Unlike Wriggs, he doesn’t like to hang out for long, so I usually indulge him, and I find a way to type around his rotund self. I’ve made some interesting typos thanks to Si. Yes, the kitties slow me down. Yes, they’re demanding when I need to focus. But like those sound machines that you can dial to “ocean waves” or “spring morning,” to keep you calm, Wriggs and Si are my purr machines. Their presence soothes me and makes me smile.
I got Mr. Artie Dog from the Foothills Humane Society a year after the cats took over my house. When the human sits tapping furiously on the keyboard, Mr. Artie Dog keeps a low profile, usually curled up on his bed, snoring, twitching in a dream, or splayed upside down, one eye on me, waiting for the signal for bedtime snacks. He knows that signal well: the laptop screen goes black, and I pull the screen closed. Within seconds he’s off searching the house for his Kong, anticipating the treat that I’ll stuff inside the well-gnawed, red, rubber toy.
Lest you think, Artie is a slacker, he has a specific job. I’m a night owl. Whether working on a short story, or copy for work, when I get into a project, the clock ceases to exist. My eyes could be burning, my lids threatening to slam shut, and I’ll keep banging out words. There were some nights, especially when I was a freelancer, that I’d look up and it was past 3 a.m. That’s when Artie kicks into gear. As I’m telling myself, just one more sentence, I’ll feel the cold Kong hit my leg and hear it thud against the hardwood floor. Yes, my dog will throw his Kong at me, saying, “Hey! It’s quitting time!” He keeps me realistic and makes me laugh out loud.
And then there was the horse. Having a horse is a time-consuming labor of love; grooming, training, riding, cleaning tack, doing barn work, and much more.
But who says you can’t write on the trails, in the ring or while doling out grain and hay? Well, not literally, but ideas come at the oddest times. I no longer ride or have a horse, but one time, I was mucking my stall and a white puppy from a neighboring farm ran into the barn and plopped in the shavings. I’d never seen the dog before and after about an hour, he trotted off into the woods, and though I looked for him every day, I never saw him again. From that incident, I wrote a flash story called “White Dog.”
Well, it’s almost 2 a.m. now. Simon is curled up at the base of a scratching post, Wrigley is sleeping on the chair above my head, and a certain dog is giving me the “time’s up” look. So I’m shutting down before I get clocked by a Kong.
How do pets factor in your writing life? Share your critter tales in the comments.