I’ve always been a dog person at heart. I grew up with dogs. Didn’t like cats much. The farm cats we had lived out in the barn at night. A time or two a day, they’d come around to see what we might feed them. They were just a piece of bacon or two shy of being feral, if I’m honest.
They could be mean. One we had would climb you if you held onto the bowl too long when you tried to be nice and serve them.
Our dogs, on the other hand, were all so sweet and nice. One Pit Bull type named Pat was smart and loyal. Dart, a pure mutt, was quick and agile. King was a German Shepherd, so beautiful and majestic. On and on, over the decades at my parents’ house the dogs were my easy favorites.
Once we got married, my young wife and I thought it would be fun to have a Basset Hound. You haven’t lived until you’ve been the doting parents of an already grown up inbred Basset Hound.
Sadie was a love. But she was so odd and would only bark at us. Strangers could roll up and unload the whole house. She would have just stared silently at them. Let one of us come home and she would lift her head to the sky and bark like we were complete unknowns.
All we could do was laugh.
She loved a sweet Jell-O-like candy that is nationally known. These round bites are candy-coated and sell by a well-advertised name. These little treats were her favorite. We didn’t give her many. But occasionally out in the yard we would slip her one or two.
Suddenly, the sturdy little dog with the enormous ears would take off running in circles. She would pass near us in an arc, close but not close enough for us to grab her. As she neared, we would hear her make an odd sound. Rather than a bark, a squeal or even a growl, the weird sound Sadie made might best be voiced like “Wadda-Wok…. wadda-wok…wadda wok, wok, wok.”
We provided for her, including a big fancy doghouse with a front porch. We took our pictures with her at Christmas. We loved her for the portion of her adult life that we had her.
What we learned over time was that dogs need you. They need you to look after them and walk them. They need you to come home and let them out for the bathroom. They need your constant expressions of love and regular attention.
That’s been a while now. But when I got to Bubba-Doo’s recently, that’s what folks seemed to be talking about. One of the regulars had gotten a new cat and wanted to know why Winston didn’t carry a wider variety of cat foods there at the store. It got everyone to talking about their pets and telling stories.
Some of them may own horses, cattle or other livestock. But most also have in common at least one cat or a dog.
“Hey there, Pastor!” Shakira called out as I walked in the door. She’s always prone to stopping by the store after work or on weekends.
“Hey, Shakira!” I called back.
“We’re talk’n about our house animals today,” the always steady Aaron updated for my benefit.
Shakira has pets. But hers tend to land on the exotic side. Today, she brought her little teacup dog with her. But her diminutive dog wasn’t what everyone wanted to hear about. It was her new hairless cat named “Nugget” that had the place buzzing.
“Guess you won’t be spending much on pet shampoo for that thing.”
“Guess you won’t be spending much on pet shampoo for that thing,” Billy chided.
“About as much as you do, Billy!” Shakira volleyed, with her winning smile to cushion the blow. Billy’s hairline has been headed east for the last little while now. He wears hats and ball caps more often these days.
Everyone chuckled at that exchange.
This young woman is so popular here. She’s strong and confident. She grew up in the area. Her personality shrinks from no one, and her place here is established.
“What does a hairless cat do with all that found time?” Landrum asked dryly. Everyone looked at him and then got the joke all at about the same time. Since there’s no fur to clean, surely a hairless cat spends less time licking. That was the inference.
This time Shakira was doubled over, so off-guard had the humor caught her. Everyone enjoyed a good laugh and credited Landrum with an unusually sharp wit on that one.
“Pastor, are you a cat person or a dawg person?” Mickey wanted to know.
“I’m a dog person who has cats,” I answered in return.
“That’s right, you’ve had a cat or two haven’t you?” Shirley queried. “I think I’ve seen some on your Facebook, haven’t I?”
“Yep, we’ve had them alright.” I mumbled.
“But I thought you said you’re a dawg person. Then, why the cats?” Mickey followed up.
I guess it was my turn now to enter the fray. Who knows how long this conversation had been going on? They probably were waiting for someone new to stop by Bubba-Doo’s and inject some new stories or perspective to this little discussion that passed the time on a Saturday morning.
“We realized between our jobs and my unpredictable schedule, we didn’t really live a dog life.”
“Our first pet was a dog. Dogs aren’t easy, though. We realized between our jobs and my unpredictable schedule, we didn’t really live a dog life.”
“Yeah. I get that.” Winston said from over by the checkout counter. “A dog’s got to have you there regularly.”
“Cats are a different matter, though,” I offered. “They almost don’t need you.” That wasn’t strictly true, but relative to dogs, people got the picture.
I explained that my wife stayed after me for a cat when we got married. That’s what she really wanted, and I didn’t. For five full years this went on.
“Oh yeah? How did that work out?” Hector asked expectantly. He was sniffing out the trail of a good story.
I continued. “One day, I figured out how I was going to put an end to all the talk about a cat.”
There was a lot of general laughing, befitting the absurdity of what I had, in fact, actually thought would work back then.
“So, I told her, ‘‘I’ll offer you a deal: If we got a cat, I would help you with anything that went into the cat.’”
I still remember the conversation although it was roughly a quarter-century ago now. She fixed her eyes on me, waiting to hear the rest. “If we got one, anything that were to come out of the cat is your problem.”
Now, the laughter had turned to hilarity once the terms of my offer soaked in. Cats throw up a lot. Then, there’s the constant litter box duty.
My recollection is that I was so self-satisfied that day, knowing I had made the offer she would have to refuse. My wife is a bit dainty and fancy. I figured that would be the end of that.
Instead, within no more than a week she came home and announced she had picked out a kitten. The cat would be old enough to leave its litter and come to live with us in about a month.
“Then is when I learned the things can live forever,” I added.
“Oh really? How old did that cat get?” Hector was with me now.
“She was one week shy of her 20th birthday when she died,” I explained. “And she was a minor social media celebrity when she did,” I tacked on for good measure.
“Really?! How’s that?” Shirley had to know.
“She had her own daily Facebook page for the last several years of her life.”
“She had her own daily Facebook page for the last several years of her life,” I told them.
“Wait. You had a cat with its own page?!” Mickey asked incredulously. I couldn’t blame him. This was all before we had moved out here to our current town nearby. None of these folks knew us in those days.
“Yep. 264 followers from 20 countries,” I confessed.
“OK, how do you run a cat’s Facebook page? Photos and things?” Shirley was following and wanted to know.
“Photos. Stories. Lots of complaints about us. Anything that was newsworthy or that made for a good laugh,” I allowed. “But her annual Christmas light car-ride was the most popular thing we ever posted on there.”
“Your cat liked to ride in a car and look at Christmas lights?” one person murmured from back in the crowd.
“I’m not proud of it. We were ‘those people’ with her, I suppose. But yes, every year for almost 20 years we would take her out at least once a Christmas season.”
“Lucky you,” Landrum grinned.
I was this far in. I may as well bring this thing home, I guessed. I said, “She loved to stand up with her paws on the door frame and look out the window at them. The video was always in hot demand.”
“You were a dog person who had a cat that got a bit famous. So, what was it like on you when she finally died?” Stephanie asked. “Was it bad?”
“It tore both of us up. I think the vet spent more time taking care of me than she did euthanizing our cat. I was in bad shape. We both were. Those Facebook followers responding to the news with so much love is what got us through a dreadful day.”
“So, you’ve got two cats now? Good thing you aren’t allergic,” Billy sniffed.
“Oh, I’m terribly allergic,” I replied. “Cat is my number one allergy, the ENT tells me.”
“Then why’d you get two of the things?!” Hector demanded understandably.
“Man, I was going to hold out when she said we ought to get two of them this time,” I went on.
Stephanie snorted and said, “I see that didn’t go so well for you!” as she laughed out loud.
“Yeah. I really put my foot down. So, after we got the two kittens …”
“Yeah. I really put my foot down. So, after we got the two kittens …” and appropriately everyone erupted with laughter.
“… they ganged up on me and got to work immediately training me the way they wanted me. I stood no chance.” I laughed again, along with all the regulars there at the store.
“How’re they now? Are they good little pets?” Aaron wondered.
“They’re as sweet as they can be. I can’t imagine what I would be like if we had a mean cat. But I have to give all the credit to the man we got them from. He evidently socialized them well from the beginning.”
“Put me in touch with him. I’d like one of those next time.” Shirley said enthusiastically.
“Well, his name is Allan. But you’d have to live in South Georgia. We didn’t even meet him for the first time until we picked up the cats.” I recalled.
“Wait. You went and got cats from someone you didn’t even know?” Mickey asked.
“Well, in this day and age some would say we knew him. We were social media friends. We’d just never been in the same space with him.” I explained.
“How’d he get the cats?” Marleen asked as she stopped by the group.
“The way he tells it is as cute as it can be,” I said. “Allan says that one day, a cat he eventually named Molly just came walking up his driveway pregnant and carrying her suitcase. She hung out on his doorstep, and he made the mistake of feeding her. From there, she had him.”
“Did he see them born?” Shirley asked?
“No,” I waded in. “One day Molly came to the door, and she was skinny. Allan said, ‘Uh-oh. I’ve got kittens somewhere around here.’”
Turns out, he looked under his back stairs and over in his carport. Nothing.
Then he went out to his tool shed. He heard something. There in a box up on a top shelf were four newborn kittens. Allan picked up the box and took it into his house. Molly met him at the porch entrance and followed her kittens into the house, the box cradled in his arms.
“Get this, y’all. When he was younger, Allan and his unit were trapped in a foxhole in Vietnam. They lived in that ditch for several days, unable to leave because of snipers. A cat would come and go freely. They fed her and petted her,” I related. She saved quite a few guys’ mental health in some way, Allan supposes.
The way the story goes, Allan made a deal with God right then and there. “Lord, if you’ll deliver me from here alive, I’ll take care of any cat that needs me.” Over the decades, he has fostered quite a few stray animals.
To this day, Allan still has Molly and one kitten from the litter named Ed. A neighbor took another kitten. We got our two.
“Awww, that’s the sweetest story,” Stephanie said.
“Cats. Dogs. They add something to our families and homes that you just can’t beat.”
“Cats. Dogs. They add something to our families and homes that you just can’t beat,” Shirley celebrated.
You know what? They do.
What we refer to as pets just might be God’s way of filling in the cracks a little. I’m responsible for maintaining my own mind and spirit. But I can’t do this alone. My spouse fills quite a unique, invaluable role as we accompany one another as partners through a life we share.
We have friends, just like the good people who hang out at Bubba-Doo’s for example. They add such balance, spice and variety. If we didn’t stop by there and check in with the gang now and then, life would be incomplete. Importantly, the sacred community of our church life gives us fellow pilgrims with whom to worship, serve and live.
Among all that, though, is the irreplaceable and nearly unconditional love that our furry children bring to the picture. They appear glad to see us come home, and they truly do seem to care about us in some measure like we certainly love them.
I’ve noticed something. When the end of the day comes and our friends depart our home – and we shut out the rest of the world to relax — those we call our pets are still on the inside with us.
That’s why the price of loving them hurts so badly when we lose them after relatively short life spans. Far from pets, for many of us they become family. People who love cats, dogs or any other animals probably couldn’t picture life without them. For many of us, the price seems so worth it.
Charles Qualls serves as pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va. He is the author of eight books.
Articles in the Bubba-Doo’s series: