I am a cat person. However, I find myself sharing a house with three dogs – partly because Chris has an unfortunate reaction to cats which involves hospital visits and anaphylactic shock, rather than a warm glow of affection. This is a new experience for me: I grew up in a house where there was always a cat around, and grew to admire their independent spirit, ruthless hunting skills and ability to lick their own genitals while maintaining a dignified expression. Our last cat – named Chicle, for reasons that I don’t think anyone ever explained to him or me – was a fine hunter, with his greatest trophy being a cleanly-severed pheasant’s head, though we always suspected the presence of a butcher’s shop nearby might have had more to do with that particular success.
If cats have a short-coming, it’s falling short on the personality front, once they get past the age where balls of wool are the greatest thing in the world. There was a point in Chicle’s life where we’d play a game of throw and fetch – I’d hurl him across the room onto the sofa, and he’d come running back to the fire for more – but he grew out of that. Adult cats all do pretty much the same things, purring, curling up by the fire and acting as the pet equivalent of the average stripper, their affection being in direct proportion to their needs.
There’s no denying, however, that the TC canines have their own distinct personalities. The senior citizen is Max, who in doggie years is older than the Queen Mother, and possesses both much the same gravitas, and agility. He is the Victor Meldrew of the household, answering only to Chris in her role as alpha-dog – when I attempt to command him, he suddenly turns his back and pretends to be deaf. This is actually entirely plausible given the loudness of his bark, which belies his years, and is only surpassed by the creaking of his joints when he rises in the morning. He also snores. I confess that, for a dog, Max is pretty cool.
The other two, Cody and Cleo, are both young enough to know worse, and their major role in life appears to be to inform everyone in the world to the fact that someone is at our front door – as if the noise of the bell hadn’t already alerted us. True, occasionally, they leap into action before the person reaches that point, but these are greatly outnumbered by the times they leap into action when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian rain-forest, or some such non-event. Their failure to appreciate the difference between a gang of drug-crazed psychos bent on some home invasion and, say, the mail-lady, is somewhat unfortunate. Cody’s main attribute is a startlingly wet and cold nose – I think she must stick it in the freezer or something. Many’s the occasion on which I have been lost in thought at the computer, only to find my armpit being nuzzled by said proboscis. It’s a bit of a wake-up call, to say the least.
Cleo was an enforced gift from Chris’s ex-husband, who threatened to have her put down if we didn’t take her. Mind you, this is a man whom I have spoken to twice on the phone since getting here, and he has mistaken a 34-year old Briton for his 16-year old American son on both occasions. That tells you all you need to know about his parenting skills. I suspect Cleo may not have got off unscathed, since she doesn’t seem to have realised she no longer needs to rummage through the garbage for food. We dare not leave any form of consumable organic matter within reach and out of our sight, or its container will be shredded in a manner which leaves us wondering one thing: why the hell she didn’t do that to her previous master’s throat?
Indeed, on odd occasions, I have found her looking at me with an expression best summed-up as, “I could tear your face off”. This is Robert Downey Jr. in canine form, bringing a lot of baggage, in need of special handling, and voted “Most Likely to be Found in a Canal Tied To Bricks”. The only thing that has saved her skin so far is the fact that we can’t find a body of water big enough to drown her in all of Arizona – but we’re praying for rain…