“Oh, and we have cats,” I said to the man that day when he brought Molly to my house and told me we could have her. I had forgotten about them until that moment. The poor cats; they are always the last to be consulted about anything, if they are consulted at all.
“She’ll go after them,” he said with certainty as we stood outside in the fading light and looked up at the house, the windows dark and reflecting the flat light of evening settling amongst the trees.
“Really?” I said with a sinking heart, and I imagined Chestnut sitting back from those windows looking down on us from the shadows, keeping an eye on this new black creature with the tall ears. ‘Hmm, another dog,’ he would say. ‘Well, they better not think it’s coming in here.’
The thought that flickered through my mind then was, ‘we can’t take her,’ and I said, “Well, I’m sure it will be fine. They’ll figure it out.”
But I knew it wouldn’t be that easy, I wasn’t entirely sure that they would figure it out at all and that Chestnut wouldn’t get sick again. We shouldn’t be doing this, I thought, as the man and I discussed us taking Molly for a few nights as a trial run.
“What about Chestnut,” I said later to Morgan when I told him more about Molly.
“I know,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that.”
I always have it in my head that our cats are great with dogs, they were raised with them after all, coming to live with us when they were just weeks old and too tiny to know the difference between their actual mother and Bear. But, that’s the thing, it was Bear they fell in love with, all other dogs Chestnut has just tolerated and Cleo has treated as research subjects.
It was when I brought Murdoch home that Chestnut had his first and most serious bout of urinary tract issues. The stress of the situation eventually resulted in an extended stay at the vets, necessitating the use of a catheter to empty his bladder. Since then any time a stressful event happens in his life, Chestnut’s urinary system betrays him.
While Chestnut had a melt down over the insane puppy Murdoch, Cleo approached him as more of a novelty, planting herself in front of his locked kennel and staring at him with almost scientific curiosity while Murdoch pledged with slavering jaws and sharpened teeth to eat her the minute he was free.
And so it has gone on, with Chestnut jumping at the slightest noise, running to hide behind the wall in the bathroom when the wind buffets the house just so, while Cleo approaches life with an obliviousness to all things dangerous.
If she was loose in the woods and came across a pack of wolves, we always joked, Cleo would run into the midst of them crying ‘Hi! I’m Cleo. I love dogs.’ And commence rubbing up against their legs and purring happily right up until the moment someone ate her.
If this thing was going to work with Molly, we said, it is going to be up to Cleo. And we were going to plan things better than the haphazard way I imposed Murdoch on them all. There would be baby gates and rooms off-limits to Molly at first, and places for the cats to escape to, and there would be lots of treats.
The minute Molly saw the cats, who had arrived wide-eyed and twitchy-nosed to look through the railing from the kitchen down to the entryway to see what all the fuss was about, she barked and lunged and leapt after them and they scattered with the scrabble of claws on hardwood, leaving tiny clouds of fine hair suspended in the air behind them as they beat a hasty retreat up the stairs, which only piqued Molly’s interest even more.
“Molly,” We yelled in unison. “No!” and she half flattened herself to the floor and looked at us askance with confusion, a fiery pent-up adrenaline flashing across her eyes, ‘did you see those things?’ she seemed to say. “Don’t eat the cats.” We said. “They’re part of the family.”
For the first week, the cats lived like phantoms, slinking through the kitchen for the bathroom and for food. They abandoned their posts by the woodstove in the entryway and slept instead in a heap on the couch on the second floor, far away from the warmth of the fire and far away from ‘the beast’. They sat quietly on the stairs and watched the new dog without her knowledge, for when she saw them, she barked and lunged all over again.
But brave Cleo always sat a little bit closer, always slunk a little more slowly. She couldn’t help it, her curiosity overpowered her survival instinct. So Cleo eventually ventured forth to bridge the gap, and Chestnut, of course, had to go to the vet.