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How Do We Love Thee?

By Nicholas S. Racheotes

Now look, before all you owners of surrogate children, otherwise known as the family pets, write to the editor and cost me this lucrative gig, I want it on the record: I love animals! In fact, for the first thirteen years of my life, I was convinced that I was among the primates. So often after my brothers and I had committed an outrage warranting incarceration, my father would let us have it. “I hoped for sons, but God sent me you three gorillas instead.”

What’s more, if there really is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m either coming back as my cousin’s cat or my friend’s bichon frise. Who in his right mind would turn down a life of leisure, gourmet meals, hours of being incessantly addressed in baby talk, and the run of the household? All right, maybe we could can the baby talk, but it’s just one of the side effects of being so darn cute.

On my street, you’ll find a lovely lady we call “the neighborhood watch.” Several times a day, she patrols with her impeccably well-behaved dog. How I love the feel of those two paws on my shoulders and that warm tongue licking my cheek—while the pup stands demurely by.

It’s not necessarily the pet owners or the pets themselves that merit distemper shots, but those who can’t ever refrain from offering unsolicited affection and equally unwelcome commentary on beastly merits. My adopted daughter—five feet, two inches, though she claims she’s five-three, of class and beauty—beholds the world with that inward eye known as intelligence. Invariably, when she appears in public with her French poodle guide dog in the lead, some acutely perspicacious onlooker will observe, “Wow, I’ve never seen a French poodle seeing eye dog before.” No matter how often I beg, she has far too much savoir faire to retort, “Poodle? What do you mean? They told me it was a German shepherd.”

Don’t permit your children to read the ensuing paragraph in the absence of a parent or guardian.

A college buddy of mine, during those undergraduate years of finding ourselves, found himself with that day’s girl of his dreams alone in her Cambridge apartment. All was unfolding in accordance with the protocol of youthful lust. What he mistook for the ecstatic scratches of his lady in full flight, however, turned out to be the outraged protests of her escaped hamster.

  Cat looking to left

Then there was the major celebratory family gathering when the resident Siamese cat succumbed to an irresistible attraction to one of the lady’s pantyhose. With a diving board–like flick of her clawed leg, the woman sent the offending feline soaring across the room in an almost perfectly executed two-and-a-half gainer in the tuck position before it harmlessly splashed into the opposite wall. All except the Russian judge, who was never satisfied, awarded the dive a 9.3.

I realize that Eddie Money is not the only one who hates to sleep alone, but sharing my bed with anything possessing more than two legs is not one of my pet cravings. Three-dog nights might have played well in cottages where central heating consisted of a warming pan that was filled with embers from the fireplace and rubbed along the feather mattress, but even a one-dog night is one pooch too many for this boy.

Three-dog nights might have played well in cottages where central heating consisted of a warming pan that was filled with embers from the fireplace and rubbed along the feather mattress, but even a one-dog night is one pooch too many for this boy.

On the other paw, separation anxiety is a terrible thing. Many European countries have resolved it to their—if not my—satisfaction. Imagine a posh Parisian or Viennese restaurant where diners are sophisticated enough to match the wines to the courses. In walks a well-dressed, middle-aged couple who can’t stomach the thought of abandoning little Robespierre or Fritzy to a solitary evening of high-end dog food and a screening of 101 Dalmatians. They simply must bring the canine to the eatery. Instead of doing a dog-in-the-manger act, the cur curls up under the table, out of sight and out of mind. Master and mistress get to enjoy their repast without interruption. All the while, we Americans sit and wonder why we can’t get our kids to behave this well on a long road trip. I’ve never had the guts to approach such a couple and ask if their doggy deportment school accepts seven-year-olds. Perhaps the language barrier would be insurmountable.

Granted, for the most part, the joy of animal ownership is special to the point of being therapeutic. Nonetheless, everyone knows that a brisk trade in forbidden fauna continues. The authorities can’t seem to ferret out the culprits. Those in the profession have told me that lions and tigers and bears do not exclusively populate the fevered imaginations of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. Lately, I must confess to hearing suspicious noises from the house opposite to ours. Then again, they might be nothing more than beer belches from the millennials who have been convinced by thousands of hours of advertising that suds taken internally are superior to suds you might employ to clean the bathroom.

Oh, before I forget—I was never allowed to bring my mythical boar, Alfred, to the office. However, the mere threat sufficed to dissuade my office mate from littering the facility with an Irish setter who had the intelligence of a garden hose. Alfred, meanwhile, sleeps eternally beside the truffles he so fondly dug during his productive years.

— V —

Nick Racheotes is a product of Boston public schools, Brandeis University, and Boston College, from which he holds a PhD in history. Since he retired from teaching at Framingham State University, Nick and his wife, Pat, divide their time between Boston, Cape Cod, and the Western world.

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