Every now and then someone asks me how Melany and I like being "empty nesters." I give them a quizzical look and explain that we're not--we just exchanged our now-grown children for pets, a greyhound named Frank and a black-and-white cat named Chloe. Unlike our children, our pets won't grow up, at least mentally. On the other hand, they won't incur educational loans they want us to co-sign for. So it all washes out in the end, I guess.
I'm not sure which aspect of pet ownership predominates in our house right now--the endearing/entertaining dimension, or the aggravating/burdensome one. Of course, there's no bright-line distinction, and one can morph into the other in the blink of an eye. Take Chloe -- please . . .
One day last week, as Melany was piling clothes into our front-load washing machine, Chloe crept up from behind, hopped inside, and burrowed down as Melany continued to toss in more clothes in unawares. Just before she closed the door and turned on the machine, Melany noticed the clothes inside MOVE--she flung the door open and pulled some of the contents aside, and of course found the cat staring back at her from under the pile! Once she got the cat out of the washing machine and finished with the laundry, Melany opened the stand-up freezer door to put in some items, whereupon the cat jumped inside the freezer. This time Melany saw her right away, as her black coat was readily visible against the freezer's white interior. So, she didn't come nearly as close to a bizarre and painful end as she just had inside the washing machine. But that didn't keep her from trying to exhaust all nine of her allotted lives. This past Sunday we gave Chloe her first real taste of freedom outdoors (as the weather was relatively good and the cat had recently been "fixed"), and one of the first things she did was climb the big bush beside our back door, all the way up to where it meets the roof over the back porch. Of course, she had to go explore the roof, too. Unfortunately, when she got bored with that, she couldn't--or wouldn't--climb back down the bush the way she had come up. Instead, she stood on the roof mewing and pacing back and forth until Robert opened a bedroom window that opens above the roof, for her to jump through. Just a few hours after that we caught her sitting on the second--floor stairway banister, reaching up with obvious intent to jump onto a ceiling-mounted light fixture that hangs a good 20 feet above the bottom of the stairwell, with a metal hand railing on the spiral staircase between the ceiling and the floor. Needless to say, if Melany hadn't intervened to disabuse her of this idea, she'd be occupying a small box underground right now.
Frank seems less intent on winning posthumous awards for chutzpah. In fact, he seems quite content to spend his daily life doing nothing more than dozing and trotting along the Erie Canal when we take him up there (at least once a day) so he can release all his, ah, "frustrations." He huffs at the deer hanging around our yard, especially if they approach the house, but hardly notices squirrels and rabbits any more. I guess that's what happens when middle age creeps up on you (as I know from personal experience).
Contrary to all the conventional wisdom about greyhounds' animosity toward cats, Frank gets along quite well with Chloe, notwithstanding her frequent playful "attacks" on him from chairs or from behind doorways or under beds, and even though she regularly helps herself to his food (in retaliation, he regularly helps himself to her food).
Lately, when we want to treat "the kids," we put one plate down for them, and they happily go to town side by side. Naturally, Frank sucks up a lot more a lot faster than Chloe does, but he was "here first," after all, and she hasn't yet lodged a formal complaint.
As aggravating (and expensive) as these two can be, they do add a certain livelihood to our otherwise quiet, childless home. They remind us constantly of that age-old parents' lament: "Kids! Can't live with 'em; can't shoot 'em . . ." Maybe we'll just keep 'em.