The Movie is Here in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.

The Movie is Here  in Thunder Bay. Don't Miss it.
Indian Horse, the movie based on the book by Richard Wagamese

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tales of Cats and Dogs by Joan Baril

Early every morning, the cat, Mickey, jumped on the dressing table and admired himself in the mirror.  Mickey was a striped tom with a big-guy hauteur, a long ringed tail and a handsome brown and grey symmetrically striped face.  Mickey began his morning routine by sitting completely still, his tail unmoving and hanging over the edge of the dresser, his chest and body erect, facing the glass straight on. After a long perusal of his facial perfections, Mickey tucked in his chin to view his wide beige chest, and straight beautifully-banded legs. Then, still sitting erect and still keeping both eyes on the mirror, he turned his head a fraction to one side and, after a long approving look, admired the other side.

Thus, every morning, for many years, the couple in the bed woke to see Mickey performing his morning rites and every morning they laughed, a pleasant way to start each day and a wonderful way to maintain a long-lasting marriage. As soon as one of them stepped out of bed, Mickey jumped down and headed for the food bowl in the corner of the kitchen, where he sat and meewed until breakfast was served.


Hobson the cat, who came along much later, could also maintain a six-mile stare. If he heard the sounds from the neighbouring house signaling that Snoopy, the husky, was being let outside into the back yard, Hobson, usually a lethargic cat, zoomed onto a table under a side window where he could look down on the dog. He then entered staring mode. It took a while for Snoopy to look up and see Hobson’s fat form and unblinking yellow eyes trained on him. The dog would shake a bit, sometimes take a run around his yard, but, in the end, he could not help himself. Returning to stand under the window, he lifted his head and barked. And barked again. And again. Hobson merely stared, rock still, eye contact made. The dog’s owner, an elderly Polish woman, flew out her back door, a rolled newspaper in hand and administered a few smacks to poor Snoopy’s flank. “You, quiet you,” she yelled as the dog cowered before her.

Muttering, she returned to the house. She never spotted Hobson in the window, a stone statue, still staring.

Snoopy cowered, defeated, chastened, head bowed. Time passed. Hobson stared. Slowly, so slowly, the dog lifted its head and locked eyes with the cat. Before he could stop himself, he barked. And barked. Again and again. The old Polish woman charged out her back door, a rolled up newspaper in her hand. Thwack, thwack. I secretly believe that Hobson was enjoying himself. This was the part he had been waiting for. He may have smiled inwardly, but outwardly, he did not move a muscle as he maintained the laser eye. “Enough,” I said, “of sadistic cat pleasures.” Ignoring his aggrieved meow, I scooped him up and removed him from the room.


When Pippen, the border collie, became tired of the two toddlers jumping on him, pulling his whiskers or grabbing his ears, he would gently shake them away and, creeping on his belly, crawl under the couch where he could rest undisturbed.  Once, early in the morning the bear came to our country house. Pippen, who had been let out, marshaled his border collie genes. As the bear stood in the field, looking around, his head swaying back and forth, Pippen crawled closer on his stomach and then, moving surprisingly fast, and to the bear’s obvious amazement, raced in and nipped the big animal’s heel. Backing up about ten feet, the collie stopped, barking a high yip yip and fixing the bear with the commanding eye of a herding dog. The bear turned, peered at the dog, obviously perplexed. Pippen, in a black and white blur, got in another nip and was out of range in a flash. The bear shook its head, completely bewildered and stared around with its tiny eyes. Spotting Pippen crawling on his belly through the grass, ready to rise for another attack, the bear lumbered away, never to return.

Like many herding dogs, Pippen chased cars, sure that he was protecting the house by keeping them away. He hunkered in the grass by the country road and since only two or three cars passed in a day, his patience was remarkable.  And his efforts were successful. After being chased and roundly barked at, the cars hurried by and the dog experienced the thrill of positive reinforcement. However, as Pippen aged, and his muzzle and whiskers turned as white as the ruff around his neck, he lost both his agility and his hearing. One sad day, a car caught him. I found him on the road when I returned home and buried him with many tears.


Penny, the tiny terrier, was my aunt’s dear companion for many years.  One day Penny forgot her arthritis and her aging heart and flew to the door in the kitchen which led to the basement. Not only was she barking hysterically, she was leaping like a crazed marionette, all four paws off the floor at once. My aunt opened the door and Penny raced down the stairs, my aunt following slowly to find her little dog leaping and barking in the middle of the basement floor. Strangely, the dog’s gaze was directed at a stack of storm windows leaning against the wall. From the shadowy recess behind the pile, a large grey shape emerged. A rat. My aunt backed up the stairs. The rat made a dash across the floor but Penny, who was not much bigger than the rodent, morphed into a streak of grey, intercepted the rat, snapped it up by the back of its neck and with a few quick shakes, turned it over and set it down, dead.


Bakunin, the yellow mutt, took on the task of greeter, slowly rising from the shade of the house when visitors came up the drive, tail like a windshield wiper, a smile on his face. He allowed many pats before wagging off to his favourite resting spot. An unusually lazy dog, he saved what energy he had for the laundry. He especially liked women’s underpants. He found them in the laundry hamper, or in the wash basket by the machine. Sometimes, he was able to leap high enough to pull his target free from the sagging clothesline. Occasionally, on an especially lucky day, he discovered a pair beside the bed. After securing the panties, Bakunin hustled away to a hiding place where he invariably ate out the crotch. From time to time, ragged, mutilated panties were found under the bed, or behind the stairs, or outside in the long grass or elsewhere around the property. They had become a strip of chewed and ragged cloth, barely recognizable as garments. Bakunin’s addiction was well known in Kaministiquia. Sometimes the pitiful remains were brought out at parties or other gatherings and the guests would laugh and chide the poor animal who took no notice but dozed on, pretending he did not know what they were talking about. The husband-owner secretly thought the dog had excellent taste. The wife-owner, who loved her dog, and who tried to keep a sharp eye on her panties, was resigned but never amused.

Sugar Magnolia

Sugar Magnolia, the pure white Persian, had disappeared. A neighbour phoned to say she had spied the cat three miles away from home, walking purposely down the middle of the country road. A few weeks later, the cat was back, pregnant belly dragging, fur coarse and matted, the result of living rough. Sugar Magnolia, had taken her destiny into her own fluffy paws and had walked four miles to the Laski place, to find the only male cat available, a brindled tom called Bobby.  A few weeks on and a rejuvenated cat, full of cream, fish and best quality cat food, produced two brown and white kittens. As far as we knew, Bobby never reciprocated Sugar’s visit. He had only to wait. The following summer Sugar made the trek again with the same results, but shortly after that, her next long distance visit ended at the vet’s.

Ruby and Pearl

Ruby and Pearl, two redolent but happy pigs, lolled on hay in a fenced off corner of the old barn, waiting. They wanted breakfast but also music. They especially liked CBC classical and each morning, after I poured a mountain of pig kibble into the trough and added other treats such as vegetable leavings or nettles or apples from the four trees in front of the house, they lifted their snouts, ears up, to watch as I turned on the radio.  Later in the day, they came to the fence and shimmied as I scratched their backs with a long stick. Although pigs will happily eat partly rotten produce, they are fastidious creatures in other ways. When the two piglets first moved in, they immediately designated one corner of their spacious pen as the bathroom.  Even though they were friendly and seemed to enjoy company, they had few visitors. My children refused to go into the barn because of the smell and few guests readily agreed to talk to the pigs. 

Ruby and Pearl spent a lot of time happily rooting up the earth floor of the old barn. As the summer eased into fall, I knew it was time. By now, both animals were fat, shaped like big sausages on stout legs. They had jowly heads and sported, at the other end, a pink tightly curled tail. I once read a hippy farming manual which claimed that pigs were clairvoyant. They can foresee their death and signal the fact by their general unhappiness and a sudden lack of curl in the tail. I took this for moonshine. However, early one October morning, before the truck came, I went to say good-bye. Ruby and Pearl looked disconsolate. Their ears lay flat to their heads and I saw, with horror, two long straight pink tails, hanging down each backside. I scratched their backs with their stick as they stood in a desultory fashion leaning against the fence. Later, with tears running down my face, I returned to the barn, switched off the CBC and carried the little radio into the house.

Over the years, so many dogs and cats: Mickey, Sugar Magnolia, Sadie, Pippen, Penny, Crystal, Sparky, Sophie Fierce Dog of the North, China, Bandit, Bakunin, Chee-chee Puss and Underfoot. Also Ruby and Pearl, a couple of pigs. All gone now but remembered at family gatherings with laughter and sighs of love.

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