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October 18, 2005

On the walk

There is a dead cat on my neighbor's lawn.

It is a young one, mottled gray and white tortoiseshell, probably killed by a car. It looks about nine months old. It lies on its side in the grass, not noticeably mussed, eight feet from the sidewalk.

This neighbor has a cat or two, but I don't recognize this one. There are plenty of strays around, and plenty of un-owned cats who make the rounds of the outdoor bowls.

Zeke sees the cat. He cocks his head.

Zeke chases cats if they run. He is, after all, a dog. But if a cat comes walking up to him, he is as likely as not to sniff it joyously, wagging his tail, happy to be pals. Ten years ago he had a cat friend, Jet, who lived in the upstairs apartment. Jet once got into an argument with another cat; Zeke ran up barking and growling, and Jet dove beneath Zeke while the other cat hissed and fled. And then there were the feral kittens he helped us with last year. He just plain likes cats.

He is very curious about this unmoving cat. He strains at the leash, wagging his tail. But I am in a hurry. I pull him away and we head down to the park. Zeke hurries through his routine, unusual for him. He makes a cursory inspection of his requisite stations - the horseshoe pit, the squirrel oak, and lawn - and then hurries me back up the hill to the cat.

He approaches again, slowly, with tentative tail wags.

I decide to risk my neighbor's wrath. I let Zeke sniff the cat. He wags his tail fiercely at first. Then less so, and then his tail droops. So do his ears, and then his shoulders.

He slumps down to the ground next to the cat.

A few years back he was accosted by a mastiff; a big, friendly, but nonetheless scarily aggressive dog a few blocks from our house in Richmond. Zeke was terrified. I chased the dog across the street, and then trotted to catch the end of the leash where Zeke was pulling it away in rather a hurry. The leash taut, Zeke looked back at me and uttered a sound of utter despair, one I'd never heard him make before. It was part howl, part bark, and part attempt to mimic human speech with an upward inflection. "Rrrr-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow?"

Lying next to the cat he looks at me and makes that noise again, the second time I've heard it in 14 years, this time with a resigned, downward inflection. I walk over to stroke his head. He groans deep and long, puts his muzzle down between his front paws.

"Poor kitty," I say. "Come on, Zeke, let's go." He doesn't move.
"Let's go, Zeke."
"Come on, puppy." I tug at his leash. Nothing.
"Zeke, come." I pretend at sternness. He lifts his head, looks at me for a moment, sniffs the cat again, and then settles back in with a sound half groan, half whimper.

I sit down next to him.

A plane tree uphill is losing its leaves. Big as dinner plates, they catch the wind and pivot, spiral to the ground. They crunch and skitter on the pavement. A Steller's jay shrieks from a branch above, lands on a moving leaf, flies back to his perch with a worm. Zeke puts his chin on my thigh. The jay takes a long minute to eat his prize, tossing it upward and catching it, nibbling it an end at a time. The last bit swallowed, he swoops downhill and away in a cloud of scolding.

Posted by Chris Clarke at October 18, 2005 01:59 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

Oh, the poor sweet boy. That dog has the biggest heart.

Posted by: Stephanie at October 18, 2005 02:36 PM
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Chris,

You are one heck of a writer. This is great stuff. Good dog. Sad story. Great writing.

Posted by: Grant Canyon at October 18, 2005 03:51 PM
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zeke is a lovely dog. he needed to have his own memorial -- not because he knew the cat personally, though he wanted to, but just because.

we're fostering kittens -- bob, lucy, and jamie -- who have all been getting to know the dogs. cora, the junior dog, especially wants to be friends. our elder cats are very annoyed with the little playful ones, but the duke of earl [the junior cat] adores being a foster uncle, and also enjoys playing with the dogs. all of us (except the elder cats, who appear to have issues) would like to meet zeke.

Posted by: kathy a at October 18, 2005 06:40 PM
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Poor kitty. *sniff*

Posted by: Space_Kitty at October 18, 2005 06:49 PM
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Nothing brings out tears from me like story of a dead kitty. She sounds like my kitty, Penelope.

Zeke deserves a prize. At least an extra good scritch behind the ears.

Now I feel bad that I have been (jokingly) threatening to take my 8-week-old kitten, Hercules, to the Humane Society. We found him when he was approximately 3 days old (umbilical cord still attached). I bottle fed him for a month. He wasn't supposed to survive, but he did. Now, he's a terror. There's not a surface in the house he hasn't climbed, and he almost committed suicide over a railing yesterday. But he's so gorgeous.

Posted by: SneakySnu at October 18, 2005 07:07 PM
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I remember Zeke stopping in the driveway in Oakland and staring up at the orange kitty on the porch railing next door, wagging his tail furiously and smiling. I've always imagined he was thinking "Kitty!!"

Posted by: craig at October 18, 2005 08:17 PM
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I love Zeke. Stella loves Zeke. We all love the poor gray and white kitty.

Posted by: alphabitch at October 18, 2005 09:46 PM
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Delurking to say... Awww. This entry made me cry. What a good Zeke... and poor kitty... and thank you for sharing.

Posted by: anne at October 19, 2005 07:24 AM
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Wow...great post.
How I would love to meet Zeke.
But I bet he'd hate my cat! ;-)
This post reminded me when our carin Elliot got sick enough that we needed to have him put down. The day before, he lay on the couch and our other carin and our cat (the one Zeke would hate!) both came over to comfort him. It was amazing to see. The cat, Dela, HATED Elliot, as he came into the house with my husband and immediately took charge of a household that Dela pretty much ran. But she took the time to comfort him in his pain and say a proper goodbye. It's amazing what compassion our pets/animals can show us, isn't it?

Posted by: cyndy at October 19, 2005 07:47 AM
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I am always amazed at how much animals understand--indeed, more than what we give them credit for. My Lady knew just which cats to chase and which ones to put up with, because they were our "pet" cats. After Lady died, Puff and White Socks, the indoor cats, obviously missed her.

Beautifully written post.

Posted by: Deb at October 19, 2005 09:53 AM
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I'm always amazed at how connected the dog and I feel after a long walk.

Posted by: Erin at October 19, 2005 10:35 AM
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you are just killing me with this stories - first the Jasper post, and now this! i can't keep crying like this at work.

but i guess sad and beautiful will do that.

Posted by: kate.d. at October 19, 2005 11:08 AM
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A brilliant post, Chris. Really, really beautiful. You've made my day, as it's always nice to realize there are other people who still connect the "Circle of Life" to heightened experience. As one of my favorite singers/bands (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) puts it, "Life is long and it's tremendous."

Posted by: Hungry Hyaena at October 19, 2005 11:41 AM
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zeke, what a fine heart you have.

Posted by: peacebug at October 19, 2005 11:42 AM
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and chris, what a fine way you have of telling it to us all.

Posted by: peacebug at October 19, 2005 11:43 AM
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Amazing.

An excellent use of the present tense to tell a story, btw. I was just explaining this concept to someone. I think I'll send him here.

This one goes in the book, Chris.

Posted by: KathyF at October 19, 2005 03:12 PM
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Your closing paragraph says to me, "Where is Chris Clarke's book of nature writing?"

Posted by: Orange at October 20, 2005 08:58 AM
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Well. That was the real deal. Thanks.

Posted by: Rob at October 20, 2005 05:50 PM
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Thanks for that story, Chris. It made my day warmer somehow.

Posted by: Hissy Cat at October 21, 2005 01:52 PM
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