Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The zookeeper

Many people don't know this about Winnipeg, but it has a zoo.

Yes. That's right. Winnipeg. The coldest place on earth. Has a zoo. With penguins and polar bears. But also with elephants and monkeys and lions and zebras. It's a pretty awesome place.

I haven't been in decades, but man, did I ever love that zoo. Mostly because penguins and monkeys are single-handedly the funniest and most entertaining creatures on earth. But also because I used to think that the coolest job in the world was to be a zookeeper. I mean, look. You get to hug cheetahs! How awesome is that!

(My 9-year-old self didn't fully appreciate that you also have to shovel elephant shit...)

Alas, I did not grow up to be a zookeeper. Instead, I grew up to be a bureaucrat. (Although there is most certainly a joke about shoveling shit buried in this career choice somewhere...). But this past weekend, I got to fulfill my childhood dream of playing the role of zookeeper. Because I had a house full of critters.

Okay, so they weren't exactly exotic animals. And there wasn't exactly a whole bunch of them. We're talking one cat and one dog, alongside my own Beastie. But it felt like a wild kingdom in here at times. And I did have to feed them all and pick up after them and make sure that they didn't kill one another. Which is not as easy as it sounds...

Critter #1 is Princess Kitty (or PK for short). You may remember her from this heart-wrenching tale of unrequited love. This is officially her 4th visit to the Hubby-and-me-menagerie. And since Fergus LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES her, and since she LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES LOVES to lead him on, every visit is guaranteed to deliver laughs.

The difference this time is that the two of them invented a new game. The let's-chase-each-other-around-the-bedroom-sometime-between-2:00-and-4:00-a.m.-until-a-human-locks-us-out game. Here are the rules:

  • The dog, who sleeps on the floor at the foot of the bed, is alerted to the presence of the cat, who tries to sneak into the bedroom and onto the bed sometime between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning.
  • The dog leaps up and starts chasing the cat around the bedroom. 
  • The cat leaps up onto the bed, and snuggles down low in between the two humans, making sure to be extra cute so that they won't mind that she is there.
  • The dog, who wants to give the cat a goodnight kiss, stands alongside the bed and stares longingly at her. This usually involves panting and other signs of excitement, like ears dipped forward and tailless bum wagging. The latter, when done hard enough against the side of the bed, gives the impression of a 4.3-on-the-Richter-scale-level-earthquake.
  • The cat, who loves to torment the dog, decides to have some fun with this dumb creature, and approaches him alluringly. She gives him a few loving licks. And then just as the dog moves forward to reciprocate with a great big slurpy kiss, WHACK! The cat smacks him across the nose.
  • The dog, who can't read these mixed signals, tries again to plant a canine kiss on the cat's nose.
  • The cat swats at him again, only this time, with claws out, the smack lands on the human's leg, waking her up from a dream about being back stage at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
  • The human tries to ignore the cat so that she can slip back into her dream. But she is unsuccessful because the cat and the dog keep playing the "I'll let you lick me, no I won't, I'll swat you" game.
  • The human finally wakes up, grabs the cat, and carries her into the hallway. The dog naturally follows. The human shuts the bedroom door. She then has to try to go back to sleep while listening to the sound of the dog whimpering to get back into the room, interspersed with the sound of animals running up and down the stairs at breakneck speeds to continue tormenting one another.
Yeah, I may have wanted to be a zookeeper growing up, but I didn't want to work the night shift. Just sayin'...

Things got even more wild when Critter #2 showed up. Bella is an almost-two-year-old Husky-German-shepherd-mix, with a sweet and gentle disposition. But she also has a rather strong prey drive, which at least one squirrel - R.I.P. my furry friend - has learned the hard way. But just because PK is small and black and furry, and from a distance kind of looks like a squirrel, nothing bad could happen, right?


The good news is that in the end, nothing bad happened. But that was not without some significant zoo-keeping on my part. Which involved, for the most part, keeping PK and Bella separate. At first this was not too hard. PK just went and hid. In fact, she hid herself so good for a few hours that Hubby and I started to fear that she actually somehow slipped out of the house to escape the crazy mutts. When she finally did start to come out, Bella was sooooo excited that she would run up and down the stairs, sprint circles around the island, and even jump on furniture (a big doggie no-no in this house) in her attempts to corner the kitty. I didn't even really know that cats could growl until I started to hear a blackberry-vibration-like noise coming from poor PK. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little stressed about the situation.

But after about 24 hours, the two of them settled into some kind of understanding. PK would tolerate Bella getting within a few feet of her without growling, and Bella satisfied herself with keeping her distance but barking, whimpering, and play-bowing to Sadie instead of chasing her all over like a crazed monkey. Within 48 hours, they were even able to sit calmly in one another's presence. And by the time she left us, Bella wasn't even all that interested in PK anymore.

Phew. Crisis averted. I'd be a bad zookeeper if someone got hurt on my watch!

And I haven't even mentioned the Fergus-Bella dynamic yet. Which, frankly, despite knowing one another, did not start out on the right foot.

It's entirely my fault, really. I know that the Beast is one territorial little bugger when he wants to be (which is all the freaking time) and that he is, shall we say, sensitive to other creatures coming into his domain. With humans, this translates into wild barking and jumping up and down. With other dogs, this translates into an instant attempt to dominate. Which means growling, barking, lunging and attempts to pin the other dog. Which all looks very attack-like. In short, it is a decidedly unpleasant way to be greeted. Which is why, when I normally have a friend bring a dog over for a date, I ask them to meet me about a block from the house, go for a little walk with me and Fergus, and then bring the dog into the house. But Bella was coming over late on a school night, and I was tired, and I figured that they knew each other already and that it wouldn't be a big deal to cheat a little just this once, and...

Fergus attacked Bella. At least that's what it looked like. And if I were Bella's owner, I may have been sorely tempted to call my dog a psycho and beat a fast retreat. Thankfully, my friends are all familiar with my dog's sometimes beastly behaviour, and are a loving and forgiving bunch. Also thankfully, as soon as I took Bella and the Beast for a walk (which I should have done BEFORE entering the house), they remembered that they were actually best friends. From that moment on, they became inseparable - barking at each other, wrestling, playing tug, and tag-teaming the cat to give her a dose of torment for a change.

Of course, "got along great" still means that there was A LOT of zoo-keeping to be done. Particularly in the exercise department. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal - if you are already walking one, you can walk two, right? Well, not exactly. Especially not when one is bred to pull. Which is exactly what Bella did to me when the three of us went on an 8k run on Friday morning. 40+ minutes of being pulled along the Ottawa river pathway like a rag doll, being ridiculed by cyclists who passed us by, and genuinely fearing for my spinal alignment whenever a small furry animal crossed our path. I suppose that's what you get for tying a sled dog around your waist. On the upside, my time was much faster than it normally is!

But all good things, even childhood dreams, must come to an end. On Sunday night, Bella went home, and tomorrow, PK leaves us too. We will resume our normal, one-animal life. Boring, I know. And while I hope that they all come back to visit us, I now know that being a zookeeper on anything more than a temporary basis is just too exhausting for me!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to vacuum my house from top to bottom. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of our weekend menagerie.

PK didn't like Saturday vacuuming, so she hid in the wine cellar. Who can blame her? That's the first place I go when I have a bad day!!!

Playing hide-and-seek with the Beast

Found you!!!!

Taking a break from tormenting each other and looking cute for the camera.

"Hey PK! Let's blow this joint! We can make it out there on our own!"

Back from our run. I am smiling because I made it back alive and in one piece. It was dicey there for awhile.

Back from our run, standing up this time.

Up close and personal. And tongues hanging out after a good solid 15-minutes of wrestling.

Tug has always been Fergus' favourite game. But he kept getting his ass kicked by a girl. Bella is the tug-o-war champ!

PK safely perched up on the stairs, watching Dumb and Dumber wrestle down below.


I just want to sniff you. Just once. Please, please, please, please, please?!?!

More post-wrestling cuteness!

"Ummm... Could you let us in please? The cat is inside and we are outside..."

"Mwahahahaha, suckers," PK says. "You can't get me from out there!"

But Bella will try anyway!

All 3 of them in the same room, quiet, for the first time. (PK is hard to see but she is there on the couch)

And then there were only two. PK and Fergus helping Hubby get some work done.