Katy the wonder dog tolerates a fair amount of teasing about her wimpiness. Some of it she earns. She lets the cats have the first bite at the food bowl, and they regularly bully her out of her own bed. But as the beneficiary of her undying and unfounded loyalty over the last decade, I know that, even though it sometimes smells like chicken scraps, her heart is as big as a lion’s.
Early this morning, Jim-Bob got to see Katy’s lion heart.
Yesterday morning Jim went out. He’s normally snuggled in my arms or stretched out on the bed most of the morning, so we all assumed he’d be back in five minutes (he and Princess Jane had been playing their favorite game of making us open the window every 8 minutes).
Jane went out for her morning constitutional and returned to nap on the fuzzy blue chair. The snow stopped. Katy committed to a full day nap in my office. Jim was still out.
At five the family gathered for our daily walk, agreeing to dedicate part of it to calling for the orange man.
We got nothing.
My gut started to churn. Jim is a committed homebody, I thought. Only a tangle with a fisher would keep him from responding to the sound of the food bucket opening (which he can hear through double-paned glass and 10-inch concrete walls). Even Princess Jane and Katy seemed to understand that this was not normal.
There was no sign of him after the second lap or even walking up the 900’ driveway. Katy stopped when we stopped and sniffed the forest as if she knew someone was missing. With no one to chase her, Jane stood on her hind legs to rub up against Katy’s neck.
The Big Guy and I went inside to watch TV and do some stress baking. The boys stayed out to play frisbee and call Jim. By the time I had dinner ready, we were taking turns going out to call for him. I was trying not to cry as I remembered the wolves that had visited our yard a few months ago, prompting a rigid routine of keeping the animals in at night.
We went to bed by midnight, hoping we’d hear his paws on our bedroom slider soon. Katy wandered onto her pad in our room, and Princess Jane snuggled on Katy’s pad in the office.
Katy, at ten years old, has the leaky version of what Professor Farnsworth on Futurama called “wandering bladder syndrome” and rarely makes it through the night without a potty break. If she wakes me up at 2am, I take her out on the leash and stand on the deck shivering in my nighty so she can find a spot for a tinkle. If she wakes up at 4am, I’ll open the sliders, she’ll do her business, investigate the family of deer that takes its morning constitutional in the pasture beyond our woods and then come back for her morning nap.
Last night was a 4am morning with a twist.
Katy has different barks. She has a happy bark when she’s trying to ‘play’ with the deer (I’ve watched her try to frolic with a young buck by the pear tree who, I swear, was raising an eyebrow as if to ask, “Are you serious right now?”). She has a sharp ‘I’m ready to come in and sleep by the wood stove bark’, and, once in a very great while – like last night – her growl-tinged bark warns, “I’m your worst nightmare!”
So I let her out, thinking there might be something worth scaring off, and, even if the something was just a funny shaped twig, the bark might be a beacon to bring our wayward tabby home.
I listened as she moved around the yard and then close to the house, growling as she pursued some critter who had broken our quarantine. She raced into the forest again, and I heard a few growl barks. I could hear tromping on dead leaves near the woods. Suddenly there was a thunk, thunk on the window.
I sat up in bed and shined my flashlight at the glass, hoping I saw a Jim-shaped shadow just outside. He saw my movement and putting both paws on the window, pantomimed a meow.
I cracked the slider so Jane, now by my side watching the drama unfold, didn’t try to ‘help,’ and Jim scampered in, making a beeline for the food dish.
I followed him to the kitchen, switching on the light to check for injuries. His tail, momentarily puffy and confirming that there had, indeed, been an unauthorized critter out there, relaxed as he emptied the food bowl.
Katy appeared at the window ten minutes later. She settled on her pad in watch-dog position, occasionally growling to assure us she was still on duty.
Jim and Jane joined us, Jim on my legs and Jane on the dresser where there’s more stuff to knock off. Jim washed, seeming to have a little trouble settling down, but, like a teenager returning home after a bender, he soon passed out and did not move from the bed until I did hours later.
I pulled on my sweatpants and t-shirt and subjected Jim to a little petting and head scratching. As I put on my ankle brace, he hopped down off the bed and padded over to Katy.
Katy and Jane are BFFs, but Katy is suspicious of Jim whenever he approaches her bed. The first time they met, he swatted her on the nose. He goes out of his way to bully her out of food and sleeping spots. But this morning, still hung over from his wandering, he just sniffed. Then he butted the soft part of his head against her face and hopped back on the bed.
He turned three times and curled up in a ball at the foot of the bed where he is still snoring.
Jim is not known for learning lessons, so I expect that, by the time he wakes up this afternoon, he and Katy will be back to their established pecking order. But, for a few minutes last night, our humble little heroine reminded all who were awake never to confuse a gentle temper with a faint heart.