A sad farewell to Rudy, an exceptional dog

My extended family suffered a very tough and painful loss on the very first day of 2011. Rudy, my dog-in-law golden retriever and one of the most special animals I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with, suddenly passed away.

Rudy and Sebastian

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows how much animals mean to me. I have always been a dog person, despite living with three cats. There are times when the company of animals is far preferable to the company of humans. Pets are family members, and saying goodbye to them is much tougher than anyone who is not a pet person can ever comprehend.

Now, not even one year after saying goodbye to Bidie, a dog I knew for about 13 years and lived with for one year, losing Rudy is a tough blow, and I haven’t spent anywhere near as much time around this magnificent beast as I did around Bidie.

Words or photographs can’t do justice to what made Rudy so special, but I’ll try. This dog’s eyes were more human than canine, and they displayed a level of intelligence far beyond what one would expect from a dog — even from a breed known for its intelligence. The family has another golden, Rudy’s niece, Molly, who is a fantastic dog in her own right. But when I first looked into Molly’s eyes, I saw, “Pet me! Pet me! Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!” And when I first looked into Rudy’s eyes, I saw wisdom, and I felt like his gaze was saying, “I can tell you love dogs, and I can tell the family accepts you, so I accept you.”

Am I giving Rudy too much credit? Perhaps, but as I said, his effect on people is very hard to put into words. “You had to be there,” to steal the old cliché. He was one of the most brilliant, most graceful dogs I’ve ever been around, and he looked majestic even when stealing a loaf of bread off the table, or devouring one of my nephew’s toys, or wreaking some other type of havoc.

Rudy was a truly great dog, and anyone who experienced the pleasure of his company is a little worse off without it. Molly is a sweetheart, and having her around, as well as Sebastian, the wild kitten in the picture with Rudy, will ease the pain a little. But Rudy was a rare creature, and he will be sorely missed.


The Cat Whisperer? I don’t think so

I took 8-Ball, my senior cat, to the vet this week for her twice-yearly haircut and to let the doctor run some tests. For the past few weeks, she has been embracing the concept of bizarro litter box, meaning that she has been going to the bathroom everywhere BUT the litter box.

8-Ball, post-haircut

She knows it’s wrong, because if I catch her, she runs like the grim reaper is after her. If you can’t tell by the picture of her, 8-Ball does NOT run. And when I’ve picked her up and brought her near the litter box, she screams like I’m about to drop her into a pot of boiling oil. So I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a medical issue.

At times like this, I really wish it was easier for animals and humans to communicate with each other, because I basically spent $400 to find out that 8-Ball hates Skittles. Well, duh. 8-Ball has hated Skittles from the second he entered this apartment.

The vet recommended a behavioral specialist, but the idea of throwing away money in the hopes that The Cat Whisperer will work his or her magic just doesn’t appeal to me. I just don’t see it helping. Still, I was ecstatic to find out that 8-Ball passed every medical test with flying colors and was declared to be a perfectly healthy cat, albeit a bit on the chubby side.

8-Ball went through something like this a few years ago, when she had picked three different spots in the house to urinate, none of which contained cat litter. I almost hesitate to ask for advice again, because it didn’t work out so well the first time, and the problem dissipated on its own.

Someone suggested sprinkling pepper in the areas where she was urinating. Cleaning up cat urine is a disgusting enough task, which was made far worse by having to clean up wet pepper.

Someone else suggested putting aluminum foil down, saying that cats are afraid of the crinkling sound it makes, and they won’t walk on it. 8-Ball walked right onto it, stared me dead in the eye and urinated right on it with a smirk on her face.

But, screw it: I’ll ask for advice, anyway. Note: This request is solely targeted toward cat people. Those of you who hate cats (you know who you are) have already made your ill-informed opinions quite widely known, so keep them to yourselves.

For the cat people: Has anyone had to deal with a cat who would NOT use the litter box, and what did you do about it? What worked, and what didn’t work?

My senior cat and I thank you in advance.

Farewell, Bidie

A great and truly unique dog moved on to her next life this afternoon.

Bidie wasn’t my dog — she belonged to one of my best friends — but I was, indeed, one of Bidie’s humans and, I’d like to think, pretty high on her list of favorites.



When I first met Bidie, she lived in a studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights and was almost two years old, yet still had the energy of a crazed puppy. In fact, all I knew about her was that she was black-and-white with a red tongue. The entire time I was in the apartment, she ran around full speed, launching herself off the top of furniture and occasionally licking my face while speeding by in a blur. She was like a miniature Tasmanian Devil.

Bidie “grew up” to become a Bull Mastiff in a Boston Terrier’s body — 12 pounds soaking wet, without fear of any other being, man or beast. And Bidie and I ended up being roommates for one memorable year in Hoboken. During that year, I rarely called her Bidie, opting instead for various nicknames including Scrappy-Doo, Half-a-Doggie and Bitch Ass (the last one was courtesy of her owner).

Bidie ready for her walk

Bidie ready for her walk

When Bidie’s owner was away, the dog and I would “share” my bed. However, we used Bidie’s definition of “share.” No matter where I started out, somehow, by the middle of the night, a 12-pound terrier would be spread out across 90% of a queen-sized bed, while a 250-pound human was left with barely enough of the edge to not end up on the floor. I still don’t understand how she did that. It defied the laws of physics.

Bidie also defied the laws of acoustics with her snoring. The noises that came out of this tiny critter were louder than the snores of most human beings, cattle or other large mammals.

Any thoughts I had of Bidie possibly having some fear were washed away by my one — and only — trip with her to the dog run in Hoboken.

I took care of a Welsh Terrier in Manhattan and found that when he was one-on-one with another dog, he wanted to kill it, but when he was surrounded by a bunch of dogs, he was civil, so I thought Bidie would react the same, but, in the words of her owner, “Not so much a lot.”

The second I let Bidie off the leash, she was hell-bent on a mission to eat every other dog in the dog run — not scare them, not fight them, eat them. After scooping her up and apologizing profusely to several people, I decided that the great dog-run experiment had come to an unsuccessful end. I seriously doubt we would have been welcomed back. In fact, the next few times I walked through the park, I expected to see posters of Bidie in a circle with a line through it. I can’t say I would have blamed them.

Even though I only lived with her for one year, it took me a full six months to get used to not having her around once we gave up our apartment. I would turn the key in the door of my new apartment every day expecting to hear the pitter-patter of little Bidie paws.

Bidie in her later years

Bidie in her later years

Fortunately, a couple of years down the road, we ended up living on the same block, so I still got to spend a lot of quality time with the little scrapper. Even after Bidie and her human moved about an hour away and I didn’t get to see her as much as I’d have liked, I always got an extra-special greeting, with eyes wide open, bat ears straight up in the air and tongue hanging out.

Unfortunately, part of being around pets is dealing with their shorter life spans. Bidie’s time had come. She was 16 years old. It wasn’t one of those unexpected things, like a perfectly healthy, younger pet getting hit by a car or suddenly being diagnosed with a disease. Bidie hung in there gamely for quite some time, but old age is a bastard and it had really begun to take its toll.

The 16-year-old Bidie isn’t the dog I’ll remember, though. I’ll remember the younger, scrappier little beast who terrorized every other dog she saw, monopolized beds and furniture and stole hearts.

If there’s a dog run in Heaven, I hope all of the other dogs up there are quick, or they might be in for a rude awakening.

Unemployment Nine: What I’ve learned

I’ve been unemployed for a little over three months now and, with more and more people unfortunately joining me, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in the hopes of being helpful.

• No matter how productive I’ve tried to be, there’s only so much that can be done, and this results in lots of free time. This can be good, but it can also be bad, because I’ve started to second-guess myself and wonder if there are more productive things I could be doing. When it comes down to it, you can only check the job sites so many times without driving yourself crazy. One thing that I’ve found to be very helpful: If I have a few errands to run, I’ve tried to space them out over a few days instead of doing everything Monday, then sitting around the house the rest of the week. It definitely helps to get out of the house at least once a day and do something. Staring at the PC all day isn’t good, whether it’s monster.com, Facebook Scrabble or YouTube.

• I obviously desperately want a job, but I’m worried about two habits I’ve developed that will have to disappear quickly once I’m hired. The first is waking up to feed the cats anytime between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., then going back to sleep until around 10 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. There will obviously be no option to go back to sleep once I’m working. The second is spending the majority of the day in sweatpants or flannel lounge pants. Most offices aren’t quite so tolerant of that sort of attire.

• I never realized this when I was on the other side, but hearing people complain about their jobs while I don’t have one is maddening. I don’t take it personally and I know it’s not meant in a harmful way — jobs are part of everyday life, and it’s natural for the conversation to turn to them. But, as scary as it sounds, I actually miss some of the things that used to annoy the hell out of me. And when I finally do escape this exile, I will try my best to remember to not bitch and moan about my job in front of those who haven’t escaped yet.

• Living a block-and-a-half from a Dunkin’ Donuts is dangerous. It’s not quite as dangerous as living a block-and-a-half from Wendy’s, White Castle or White Mana would be — I’d surely be pushing 400 pounds by now — but it’s dangerous.

• Facebook in general and Facebook Scrabble in particular are highly addicting. I’ve learned so many Scrabble tricks and words I never knew existed that bail you out of a tough Scrabble situation and earn you big-time points. Until I started playing Facebook Scrabble, I never knew the words xi, za or zee existed, but they’re among my favorites now, even though I don’t know what they mean, because they’ve won games for me. I may even look up their definitions and try to work them into conversations one of these days.

• Random play on iTunes may be the greatest invention of all-time. It’s definitely in the top 10. Sliced bread is overrated.

• Cats really do sleep all day. Once the novelty of having their human home during the day wore off, which took about two days, I became more of annoyance to them than company. There’s nothing like getting a phone call or e-mail, only to receive a dirty look from the cat who was roused by the sound of the phone or the PC. The other day, one of my cats buried herself under a throw blanket at around 10:30 a.m. and didn’t come out until after 5 p.m. I actually poked her once every hour just to be sure she was breathing. I am the proud owner of two lazy sacks of fur.

I’m seriously ready for this to end, now.

Marley & Me

If you love animals, especially dogs, stop what you’re doing instantly and get your hands on a copy of Marley & Me, by John Grogan.

The unforeseen glut of free time I’ve encountered lately has left me with a lot of time to read, and my girlfriend was kind enough to supplement my library stash, as I’d reached the point of rereading some of my Stephen King favorites and my currently tight budget doesn’t exactly feature room for books.

Marley & Me

Marley & Me

Despite the two rather portly examples of the feline species who share my apartment, I’ve always been a dog person. I’ve never had my own dog, largely because I just don’t feel like my schedules and living situations over the years would have been fair. But I’ve spent quite a lot of time with them and around them, and I definitely intend to be the proud owner of a canine furball at some point in my life.

For those who don’t like pets, or who don’t understand pet owners and how they feel about their animals, read Marley & Me. If, after reading this book, you don’t grasp the emotional connection between pets and their humans, you might be beyond help.

Marley & Me is the story of a newlywed couple and the yellow Lab puppy they adopted, following Marley the dog through his adulthood and old age and introducing his three human brothers and sisters into the mix.

Anyone who has ever owned a pet will relate to the stories told in this book. Animals have a unique and humorous way of getting themselves into trouble, and every pet I’ve ever been around has a little bit of Marley in him or her.

So stop reading this stupid blog and get your ass to the bookstore. Now. Git.

The cat conspiracy: the look

There is no doubt in my mind that cats are a lot smarter than any of us in the human race give them credit for. There’s also no doubt in my mind that most of them are in on a huge conspiracy.

The conspiracy revolves around “the look.” Anyone who owns a cat knows the look. The look is a randomly timed event when your cat walks up to you, nudges you to get your attention, then gives you this look that says, “I love you and appreciate everything you do for me.” It’s very potent, and it scares me.

When I say randomly timed, I mean it. The look wouldn’t have the same impact if it happened a few minutes after feeding, for example, or right after arriving at home. That’s when affection is expected.

And if you have multiple cats in a household, I am absolutely, positively convinced that they coordinate their deployment of the look. I can almost picture them huddling together and saying, “Why don’t you handle the morning look, and I’ll get him sometime around the sixth inning of the Yankee game?”

And the cats are onto something, because the damn look works. No matter how mad I may be at my two monsters, when I get the look, I forget about things they broke and shoelaces they destroyed. I forget about having to clean up hair balls, vomit and poop from the bathtub, much less the litter box. I forget about the 4:30 a.m. “I want food and attention” wake-ups.

Cats are dangerous and not to be trusted.

Pet peeve on pet names

While working from home and listening to the snores and yawns of my two cats, Trouble and 8-Ball, I had to laugh at one of my pet peeves: people who use boring, unoriginal, “human names” for their pets.

There are exceptions, naturally. If the pet bears an uncanny resemblance to a person, I can live with it. I wanted to name 8-Ball either Jemima or Oprah, but I got screamed at too much. I hate politically correct people.

Or if you’re honoring someone by naming the pet after them, I can accept that.

Sometimes an animal just looks like a certain name. I know a dog that just looks like a George, so I have no problem with his name being George.

Show dogs crack me up, though. I mean, can someone explain how they came up with Charles Winston Fox Kramer IV for a Bassett Hound?

I don’t know her personally — hell, I don’t even know her name — but a fellow Hoboken resident and the writer of a blog I enjoy reading, Across the Hudson, follows the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) theory to its most optimum. Her dog’s name? Mutt. I love it. The dog is just plain adorable, too.

It’s not that hard to come up with a fun name. Why is Trouble named Trouble? Because every time I turned around, she was causing it. Why is 8-Ball named 8-Ball? Because she’s round and black. I could have named them Constance and Felicity, but why?

They’re pets, people. Have some fun!