суббота, 29 сентября 2012 г.

Who's Your Daddy?

By Joyce A. Laird

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~Jane Howard

Everyone has read articles, seen stories on television, or watched videos on social websites about mother animals adopting babies of another species: mother cats nursing puppies and visa versa, cat and dog mothers adopting and nursing squirrels, fox cubs, coyotes, rabbits and skunks — I once saw a story about a dog that nursed and raised an African lion cub. All are amazing. My Sparky adds a little twist to this nurturing instinct that appears to be very strong in all types of mothers... regardless of species.
From the time I rescued him, I knew my Pug-Beagle mix was a cat lover. That's why he fit right into my little family of three cats. Wherever he came from, he had obviously shared his life with cats. He wanted to be friendlier with them than they preferred, but the two old toms and one queen accepted the little dog with resigned dignity, hopping out of his reach if he got too affectionate.

I learned quickly that Sparky takes accepting cats farther than any other dog I have owned. He adores them. If it were up to him, he would take every cat he saw home with us when we go on our walks. He cries, he moans, he begs with sad eyes focused on them, then on me... for more cats. This makes him quite the dog in our neighborhood. Everyone jokes about him.

In his first year with me, one cat in particular became his best friend on our walks. She was just a simple gray-striped little tabby and she would run out to greet us from her yard as we passed by each day. She would rub against Sparky and he'd lick her, and they would tumble on her front lawn until I had to pull him away. He would follow me reluctantly.

One day, I saw the moving trucks in front of the cat's house and told Sparky, "It looks like your Miss Kitty is moving away."

Unfortunately, within a few days after the trucks left Miss Kitty appeared again. I don't know if she was abandoned or if she snuck back home after the move. The good news was that the people next door to the now vacant house said they would take her because she was so loveable.

The bad news was that they did not spay her. Within a few months, I could tell she was very, very pregnant. Sparky seemed to think the whole idea was wonderful because they still played together every time they met on our walks.

Miss Kitty had her kittens under a rosebush in a front yard driveway and was immediately disowned by her new hosts because a cat with kittens was simply too much to deal with. With her friendly attitude toward dogs, and with dogs that were definitely not like Sparky running loose in the neighborhood, I couldn't leave this little family under a rosebush two feet from the main sidewalk. I'd seen too often what happened to kittens when roving dogs found them or if they wandered into the street.

Once we had the mother and kittens safely settled in a spare bedroom, Sparky stepped in. Overwhelmed with delight, he became the surrogate father to the three kittens. He moved in with Miss Kitty and her babies, gently washing them, letting them snuggle up to him and allowing the little blind squeakers to crawl all over him. Miss Kitty could go rest by the window when she wasn't nursing her crew, safe in the knowledge that Sparky would take good care of them.

As the kittens grew, I wondered what they thought. Did they think that Sparky was some weird looking — and weird smelling — cat? Did they think that they were puppies? I couldn't imagine.

All I knew was that the little family grew up, rolling and playing together like puppies, not cats... and yet they still kept all their feline instincts and actions with the other cats in the household. I assume they thought, and still think, that they are some type of cross-species creatures.

That was three years ago and they are all still together, all safely spayed and neutered. The young tom, Ringo the Third, is taller than his daddy, Sparky. They still roll, play and chew on each other like dogs, with Ringo keeping his claws retracted. The two girls, Duchess and Friday (named Friday because she was born a day later than the other two), still sleep on top of their daddy, Sparky.

In the last three months, another throwaway rescue dog has come into our house and he seems to take it all in stride. Although he does look at Sparky with a questioning face when he sees the cats pile on top of him to sleep on the couch.

Sparky is a protective father even though the kittens are all grown. If one of the older cats picks on Miss Kitty or one of his "family," or if the new dog growls when Duchess or Friday try to jump on him, Sparky is at the ready with a bark, leap and a quick snap at the offending animal, as if to say, "Nobody messes with my kids!"

Talk about a mixed relationship. However strange, the one thing that is very clear is that they love each other. And I guess that says it all. In the end, it's always love that really counts, isn't it?
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