“There are no mirrors in the animal world.”
What’s that mean? Well, have you ever noticed how some animals seem to have no idea of their physical capabilities? Watched in horror as a little dog attacked a much larger dog? Orwatched a big lumbering giant canine cower in front of a cat?
I lived downtown in the Quapaw Quarter Historic District for many years. I loved the 1896 house that we had restored and renovated, I loved the quirky neighbors and neighborhood. While downtown, we welcomed “Kim Dog” into our family. Kim was six week old Chinese Pug puppy when she joined our family. We gave her to Kathy, who was nine at the time. That was one of the best things I ever did as a parent, giving that little Pug to my daughter. The two were inseparable.
What a character Kim was. Pugs don’t have a lot of leg. So the larger her stomach got, the closer it came to scrapping the ground. In fact, if we let her out on a rainy day and the grass was a little long her stomach would get wet. In the cold fall and winter months that really bothered her. Her “fix” was to carefully walk a minimum distance into the grass, then raise one leg horizontal to the ground, balancing on three legs while she “did her business”. She would then race back inside with a minimum amount of contact between her and the cold grass.
For the first few years, Kim was an only dog, and I don’t think she ever understood our confusion about the order of the universe. She might not look exactly like the rest of the humans in her family, but she clearly expected the same rights as the other kids.
She had a chair at the table, where she would sit and watch intently as the fork dipped into the food and then went to our mouths. Although I never saw it, there is no doubt in my mind that Kathy fed her with a spoon when I wasn’t around.
Kim was a smart little girl, quickly learning that if she sat up on her bottom when there was food in the area and gazed soulfully into the eyes of any human in the vicinity she would usually be rewarded with a treat. Since we lived in a house with two kids, there was always food around. She got fat. Not a worry to her, she just rolled right into the sit up position and sat, tummy hanging in all of its soft and mushy glory. Actually I think it helped her balance because she could stay like that for long periods of time.
When Kat had friends over, Kim was right in the middle with the rest of the girls. I remember looking into the bedroom and seeing six little girls in a circle. Six little girls and one pug dog all engaged in putting the puzzle together.
Kim went to the office with me every day when Kat was in school. She would stroll up and down the stairs in our old building, checking to see who made it in, and who was absent. During negotiations to sell our company we held many meetings in our board room. The buyers were “Yankees” but we tried to be polite and not hold that against them. Kim didn’t care about politeness, and would sit in her chair (yes, she had a seat at the conference table) and do a little rumbling “grrrrrrrrrrrrr” when the Yankee’s talked. I wished we had listened to her, but that is a story for another time.
We had a great house, great neighbors. But there were two things missing for me. I wanted horses, and I wanted a big dog. What I really craved was to be out in the country again. So we sold the house downtown and moved out to the country.
I got my big dog. Cramer was an English Mastiff, a forty pound, ten week old puppy when I brought him home. He was so frightened from riding in the car from his home in Alma to Little Rock that he would not walk when I set him down. He just plopped there, all legs and huge feet. I stood him up, and he plopped right back down. I had to carry him inside that first night.
He got over his shyness of that first day of course, but he never showed a hint of aggressiveness in his six years on this earth. Smart and eager to please, he truly was a gently giant. At maturity he was close to two hundred pounds. We lost several lamps and dishes to his wagging tail before we got wise and put them out of tail reach. He was a bit of a klutz, and if he misjudged his distance and bumped into someone, the human would usually be the one to move. We had to be really careful when Keely was little, one swipe of his tail and she would go flying.
Kim Dog did not like Cramer at first. At all.
It was clear that she just could not believe that we would bring that big lumbering dog into her house. It was bad enough that she had to put up with Chris Cat, but a dog? Really? And we had the sheer audacity to give him toys. Toys! Toys were for Kim first and perhaps for Kathy. But not for big clumsy drooling boy dogs.
At first, I bought normal sized dog toys for Cramer. And as any mother knows, if you buy a toy for one, you buy a toy for all of the kids. But Kim never liked her toys, she wanted Cramer’s. No, that’s not right. She liked her toy just fine, she just wanted both. So she would carefully place her toy on the couch, then get Cramer’s toy. And how would she do that? Easy. She’d walk up to him as he lay on the floor, contently holding his new gopher or banana toy in his paws as he chewed on it. She would walk up, sit down, and lay the “Give Me What You Have” stare on him. It might take a few minutes, but eventually he would look up and see “The Look”. He would go right back to chewing on the toy. Then he would hear the rumbling “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”. He would glance up and get the double whammy of the “grrrrrrrr” and the “Give Me What You Have” look. And Cramer, all two hundred pounds of him, would lie down on his side with the toy in his mouth. Kim would lean over, pluck the toy from his mouth, march over to the couch and place it with the rest of the toys. Yep, it happened every time. There were occasions when I walked into the room and couldn’t even see the Pug on the couch because there were so many stuffed animals on it.
I tried getting really big dog toys for Cramer, but that didn’t work. It’s amazing how much strength and determination a twenty pound Pug has when she wants a toy up on the couch.
Clearly, Cramer could have defeated Kim in a physical battle. Twenty pounds vs Two hundred pounds, all he had to do was sit on her and it would be “Game Over”. But he never did. He always released the toy. She had him completely wrapped around her little paw.
And then there was Chris Cat. Chris was a beautiful blue and white Persian cat. He put up with dogs and people and just kind of did his cat thing. Kim would chase him at every opportunity, he would disappear into his hiding places, and float back out when he felt it was safe.
But when we moved out to the country things changed for Chris. We left the doors to the outside open a lot, and he was able to go exploring at outside. He never caught anything, but he sure enjoyed hunting. And I think the process of hunting gave him confidence, because he started to stand up to Kim a little. If he was on the couch first, he would stay there when she hopped up. In fact, he even swatted her a few times.
But the best, the absolute best times in the world for Chris, were when Kim was outside the back door and wanting in. This would occur when it was cold or rainy and we wanted the doors closed and limited tracking in of mud from the dogs. We had a French door as our back door, with panes of class from top to bottom. Kim would be outside, barking and scratching to come in. Chris would stroll up and sit, looking at her. You could hear the telepathic communication.
Chris to Kim “I’m inside. You are not.”
Kim to Chris “Let me in! Let me in! Let me in! Let me in right now!”
This conversation would go on for a while.
Then, Chris would decide to escalate the situation.
He would lay down right against the door, on his back, paws in the air. And he would bat his little feet at Kim. He would playfully paw at the glass, right at her nose level, clearly saying “I’m inside. You are not. Nanny nanny boo boo. You can’t do a thing about it”.
Kim would go berserk. The little fat Pug dog would be hopping up and down in place, barking and scratching at the door. Chris on the other side, leisurely batting at the glass.
Of course all good things have to come to an end, and eventually I had to let Kim in. As I walked to the door, I’d warn Chris. “You might want to get a head start”. He would look at me, and start strolling towards the stairs. When I opened the door, it was like the gates had opened at the horse races at Oaklawn Park. Kim would shoot through the door, paws spinning on the tile floor as she tried to get traction. And then she would be after that cat. Chris would zoom upstairs to one of his hiding places; I’m sure doing a cat giggle as Kim sped from room to room looking for him.
Cramer would just sit and watch. Bewildered.
Kim never caught Chris. But she kept trying. And Chris never tired of baiting her, even if he had to run like hell when she finally got inside. Cramer never really understood any of it.
So what’s my point? Well really, I was thinking this morning about those wonderful characters in my life, Kim, Cramer and Chris. They are all gone now. I was chuckling over their antics, the little Pug bossing around the big Mastiff. The Persian cat taunting the Pug.
They were all in a relationship “dance”. It didn’t matter what their physical attributes and abilities were, they had engrained behaviors that continued to be played out, over and over.
We humans do the same thing, don’t we? We react to a verbal or behavior stimulus in a certain way, and eventually our reaction becomes a habit. We lose sight of our unique strengths and beauty. But there are mirrors in our world. We just have to have the courage to look. And perhaps the courage to change.