NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Losing A Pet Is A Special Kind Of Pain

When you love a cat or dog, two things are resolutely certain. He will fill the empty spaces in your heart with love, and someday he will break it.

If you’re not a pet person, go ahead and stop reading: This is a grief that’s alien to you. If you were raised on a farm, house pets might mean little more to you than furry livestock. If you’re consumed by human suffering, they may seem too trivial for your anguish. If you’re allergic — well, you may sniffle a little, but that’s just pet dander talking.

But if like Russ and me, your pets are an essential piece of the puzzle that makes life beautiful, and you’ve certainly shared the sorrow of laying a dear furry family member to rest. And you’ve grappled with the question — what next?

Do you honor your lost friend (and preclude future pain) by leaving his spot forever empty? Or do you fill the chasm with another fur friend who can never quite measure up to the memory?

And — not insignificantly — do you secretly seize this moment as the easy way out? Do you grieve your loss while silently ticking off the unspoken advantages … no more late-night walks at the end of a leash, no more latrine duty with the litter box?

Cats and dogs spin the circle of life far too fast. From adorable fluffball to slow-moving senior stretched out in the sun, from playful pup to white-muzzled elder who needs a boost to get into the car, they speed through the goofiness of youth to poignant old age in much too close to an instant.

We faced the inevitable when our talkative 9-year-old tabby, Miss Muffett (above), died. We were genuinely shocked. Cats are masters at hiding what hurts. We knew she’d been slowing down and were headed for the vet at the very moment her heart came to a dead stop.

It’s far from the first time we’ve lost a four-legged member of the household — just the first when we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. Over the years, our three good dogs have lived out long and comfortable lives. All came to us as adult rescues, the last two from Adopt-a-Pet; all repaid us richly in laughter, love, wagging tails and enough loose hair to fill a mattress.

Our feline friends have, more or less, just appeared. The first became our studio cat when the young man who’d gallantly “rescued” him noticed he lived in a no-pets apartment. The second willfully chose us while our newly independent daughter was picking a pair for herself from a friend’s latest litter.

How many cats is too many cats? We’d figured the magic number was two. But when little Miss Muffett caught my eye on a kibble-and-litter run to PetSmart, we negotiated a new normal: Three. Three would be our limit, just this side of “crazy cat lady.”

Which is not to say the urge went away entirely. I “like” every kitty meme on Catbook — I mean, Facebook — watch every video, read every rescue story, share every cartoon. Only days before Muffett passed, I’d spotted a sad-faced black-and-white puss who’d been waiting at the Marshmallow Foundation in Detroit Lakes for nine long months. Now I understand the magic of online dating. One look in his sad golden eyes, and I was in love.

I showed Russ. We read about his trials and his timid disposition on the Marshmallow website. Then we reviewed why three cats were our limit, and …

… and then Cat No. 3 left the land of the living. Now what? Fate had clearly supplied the answer.

Welcome home, Mick.

But introducing a younger male cat to a couple of good old boys is not as simple as shaking hands and scattering a treat or two. Mick was our first experience with adopting a full-grown rescue — a 3- or 4-year-old who’d lived the hard-knocks life before the bedraggled, beat-up fellow was captured by a kind angel and delivered to the rescue group. Our second cat in particular, who claimed the household title of Top Cat when he was small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, had plenty of thoughts to share.

Nor did the extremely timid newcomer turn into a social butterfly when we unzipped the cat carrier and injected him into his new home. We started slowly, booking him into a private room in the basement. Even that small space seemed to overwhelm him after nine months spent in a 2-by-3-foot cage. He dived under the bed and stayed there for the better part of the next six days, venturing out only to nibble kitty crunch and do his business as the resident beasts sniffed suspiciously at the door.

When he’d worked up his courage to tolerate the occasional chin skritch and belly rub, we deemed him ready for his debut and left his door open. He greeted freedom with … nothing, not even a twitch his long, silky black whip of a tail. After lights-out, though, we heard the pitter-pat of the not-so-intrepid explorer padding up the stairs and down the hall, his toenails tentatively tapping along the wooden floor. Finally he stuck his nose into our bedroom and announced himself with the tiniest meow. When the incumbents rumbled out a few hisses and half-hearted yowls, he disappeared in the blink of an eye … but left a greeting of sorts in the upstairs litter box.

He’s been coming closer. We’re fascinated by Mick’s hesitant steps as he stretches out and settles in. When he found his way onto the screened porch, spotting sparrows and squirrels for the first time in nearly a year, it brought tears to my eyes. Then he fell asleep with the breeze in his face and the hot sun on his back.

That evening, we sat as still as mice as he sidled to a spot just inside the living room doorway. Clearly, TV was brand-new to him. He cautiously padded up to the Channel 6 newscast and froze, then reached out gently to touch the screen with one paw … just as our toddler granddaughter had done the first time she glimpsed “Peppa Pig.”

Just two weeks into our common life, Mick is blossoming — cautiously curious, sedately playful and blessed with plenty of shedding fur. He lingers just beyond arm’s reach, though he’s willing to accept a pat or two in passing. Peace with the homeboys? Still under negotiation. As for an unexpected leap to cuddle in a waiting lap, that’s merely a dream … for now.

No, this wary boy with a troubled past will never replace sweet Miss Muffett. Not even close — not yet. But he seems to be a perfect fit for the gap she left behind.

TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Living A Sheltied Life

It’s been a long, cold winter. I know. … After all these years of living in Minnesota and North Dakota, I should be used to it by now. In fact, I freely admit to having sneered with derision at those overmatched out-of-towners who complained all the way to the airport, upon spending a few moderately cool days here for Super Bowl weekend.

We’re supposed to be tough. But when you reach your mid-60s, the cold just seems colder and the snow a bit snowier. Maybe that’s why so many of us, while never acknowledging it to those shivering visitors, privately dream of warm weather destinations as we shovel our driveways for the 15th time.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of leaving. At least not permanently. There are reasons why my two states recently finished 1-2 in “Quality of Life,” based on a study from the U.S. News and World Report. But isn’t complaining also a rite of passage for loyal Midwesterners, particularly when March rolls around and it still looks and feels like January?

While it can often prove therapeutic, let’s face it. Nobody likes a whiner. Which brings me to my, if you’ll pardon the pun, “bone of contention.” When you’re down and out and you just need someone to be a good listener, seek satisfaction from your shetland sheep dog.

For me, it all started in the summer of 1987. Only married a couple of weeks and already short on cash after buying a new house, my wife’s birthday was coming up. Ever the romantic, I pondered my options. Jewelry was out…we were still paying for those engagement rings. Flowers seemed frivolous. So I chose to go high-tech instead, surprising Laurie with something new and exciting: a compact disc player with speakers included.

Maybe I had some visual of Friday nights in Fargo with wine, woman and song. So much for romance. Less than a month later, we were trading in that CD player for Laurie’s real desire … a new puppy.

Little did we know, but three dogs and 31 years later, we’d still be smitten by shelties. In fact, one is snuggled up next to me now as I compose this piece.

To this day, I have no idea why we chose this particular breed. Both of us grew up with poodles as house pets and had generally good experiences with those sometimes skittish, but intelligent and lovable animals. But after a bit of searching, we stumbled upon a sheltie breeder not far from home and the rest is history.

I’m sure other families have similar tales to tell about their pets. I can only speak for our three boys — Cole, Star and Chase. While each has had a uniquely different personality, the love and affection they’ve provided us is what helps get us through good times and bad.

Cole was there when our twins were born, a constant companion as they played in the backyard. While he only lived nine years, due to heart complications, he was famous for barking at airplanes and providing companionship after hard days at the pharmacy or television station. When he died, Ashley and Pat placed a paper airplane in his little box, which we had buried on a friend’s farm.

Star was the heart and soul of the family, giving us 15 wonderful years as our children became adults. He was the snuggler of the bunch, smart and so easy to train. Gentle, well-mannered and understanding but didn’t care much for the loud sounds of fireworks or motorcycles. As other pet owners will attest, the day we had to say goodbye to Star will always be remembered as a bittersweet moment. Filled with sadness, yet so grateful for the unconditional love he’d given us.

Now, it’s Chase’s turn to capture our hearts. Befitting his name, this guy is the most athletic and energetic of the three, adept at catching balls and Frisbees, while almost never barking. That is, unless he thinks you’re in the mood for playing, while shoveling some of that snow I’ve been complaining about. Chase will be seven years old this summer.

What we’ve learned about this breed is that it’s crucial to socialize them early in your training. All three of our dogs have been wonderful around children, but it means working a bit to make them comfortable around other dogs and other people.

Because they’re so smart, shelties savor “mental exercise,” such as advanced obedience and agility training, making them good candidates for competition. But their soft and sweet temperament is what has captured our attention.

In Chase’s case, we continue to marvel at his uncanny knack for knowing when something is wrong. He will stare directly at you, put his nose up close or find the most central location to observe family members in the midst of a serious discussion. He’s also capable of clearly distinguishing the meanings of various words and is quick to learn tricks that will earn him treats if performed correctly.

In short, our shelties have hopefully made us better people. No matter how long the winter nor how difficult the day, that wagging tail and enthusiastic squeal upon arrival home is the best medicine for occasional whiners like me.

I think our dogs remind us that people are generally about as happy as they want to be. In fact, they almost make you feel guilty about grousing over silly things like predictably cold and long winters in Minnesota. Almost.

JIM THIELMAN: Happiest Cat Ever Born Dies

On a peaceful, moonlit, October night in 1999, Bob the Remarkable Cat coiled around a gravely ill feral kitten. Bob was in little better shape. His long tail was a mysterious stub and a gash decorated his left side. Threads of gangrene had begun weaving through him.

A dust of stars scattered when dawn broke on the outskirts of Detroit Lakes, Minn. Bob, 4 months, uncurled. The kitten was dead, and fate was thinking about slipping a Mickey to Bob.

Exhausted from a timely surgery and in the clasp of a strange new life, Bob slept in a sedan’s back seat during the entire 200-mile drive to his new home in Long Lake, Minn.

Bob shrugged off the twist and tear of his early days to spend the next 18 years as “the most laid-back cat I’ve ever seen,” a neighbor observed as Bob calmly watched fireworks flash overhead on one of Bob’s July 4 birthdays.

A solidly muscled orange and white tabby with dashing good looks, Bob delighted in beachcombing through wildlife-tumbled lakeshore brush or chewing kale that had floated to the kitchen floor.

Bob’s body died Monday,

Intestinal cancer was the cause, according to Harper Mingus, his friend of seven years.

With considerable swagger, talkative Bob was known to pad his white paws toward strangers and chat them up, often during his evening walks on the Luce Line Trail behind his home.

One afternoon, he visited a carpenter who was banging a hammer on a neighbor’s deck. Swathed in sunlight, Bob high-stepped toward the detonations.

“I’ve never seen a cat come up to a stranger with a hammer in his hand,” the man said.

Another time, Bob sent currents of communication through a cat-averse insurance salesman who said, “Bob gives cats a good name.”

Not that you want to win over too many insurance salesmen.

Bob’s stubby tail was a topic for all.

“Bob insisted that he had a short tail because when they were handing out tails he left the line to go back for another helping of personality,” Harper said.

“Bob told me that his endless thirst for people was because that short tail couldn’t hold much love, so he had to keep searching for more.”

“I suppose he really just didn’t want to talk about the tail.”

Bob alone knew what had happened.

Mistreatment seemed unlikely. Fearlessness of people had saved his life.

That was when Bob approached a stranger who was standing near a truck at a Detroit Lakes gas station. Bob verbalized his imperiled situation as, “Can you help me?” Young Bob didn’t hesitate when he heard, “Hop in.”

Bob soon arrived in Long Lake, where he cherished sisters, Alvy, Wilma and Croucher, each of whom preceded him in death, along with everyone else who has ever died.

Unlike his sisters, later to include Harper and Rikki, Bob resisted outdoor supervision.

“I caught a couple of birds. Mice. Pounced on one on a fall night when it was pitch black, and chased a rabbit toward a busy county road,” Bob said when interviewed for this obituary in 2013.

“The rabbit stopped in thick brush under a tall pine tree rather than cross the road, or I probably wouldn’t be here to tell you about it.”

As he tore deeper into his nine lives, it was decided that spring-loaded Bob needed a leash. Bob took subsequent walks in a harness. Soon, other neighborhood cats were seen on leashes.

“People would approach me and say, ‘Is that a dog?'” Bob said.

“Were they blind? But I guess I am loyal as any dog. That slowwitted guy with the leash and I are the best pals in the history of the universe.”

One evening, Bob taught the slow-witted guy that he was just humoring him about the harness.

Tied to a tree, a fuse was struck when Harley the neighboring Rhodesian ridgeback/pit bull mix galloped toward Bob with questionable intent.

Bob Houdinied out of his harness and flashed his snowy white paws up his deck steps and plastered his claws into the front-door screen 6 feet above the welcome mat.

Bob was chaser, chasee and savior. He not only had comforted that dying kitten in Detroit Lakes, Bob’s fidelity was on display when the independent, ailing Croucher Mingus was preparing to fly through the universe. He kept vigil at the foot of her bed during her last nights on earth.

The peaceable little fellow also stood over a motherless, baby squirrel struggling for life in the shade of a pine tree one bright Sunday afternoon until someone with opposable thumbs arrived to drive it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Weeks later, Bob received a letter informing him the squirrel was outside doing squirrel things.

Asked to reflect on his life, Bob said, “Every day was great. Soon as the stars faded into day I’d wedge my nose between the shades and window and hope to see the sun bouncing off the green of the grass. I ate that grass most every day in the summer.”

“Puked it up more often than not.”

“I’ve lived in two different centuries spanning three decades. By a lake. For a while with some white lab mice and a sugar glider. Most people don’t even know what a sugar glider is.

“You might think that I was a throwaway kitty who loved life because I got a second chance. But I was always a high-fiving ball of optimism. Surviving those early days just let more people see that I was the happiest cat ever born.”

TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — We Are Not Alone

This past Easter week was an unusual experience for me. I was sitting on my deck overlooking Elephant Park in north Fargo, watching the cloud formations. The white fluffy clouds against the dark blue background of the sky were beautiful.

I then noticed a very large flock of turkey vultures riding the winds high above the clouds. Unlike eagles and ducks, the vultures really cruise at altitude and rarely flap their wings.

Each time I’ve noticed them, they’ve been in very large flocks. This prompted me to wonder where they live, as I’ve never seen one close up. I took to the bird book my wife has literally worn out and found the following:

  • They nest on bare ground, in hollow stumps, caves, cliff ledges or old buildings.
  • They feed by scavenging on carrion, fresh or decayed.
  • They find food by sight and scent while soaring.
  • They are mostly seen coming to and from nightly communal roosts, which may be located on tall buildings, towers or large trees.
  • They use thermals and updrafts to glide. When these terminate, they land because they don’t like flapping their wings.
  • When they sight live prey, they fold their wings tight and dive.

Given that they glide thousands of feet above the ground, you just have to imagine how good their eyes and sense of smell are to enable them to focus on their target. The book said nothing about their braking systems, but you have to wonder how a bird with a 26-inch wingspan can target its victim from thousands of feet overhead and brake at just the right time to strike its prey and not crash into the ground. It really makes you wonder.

Next I spotted two eagles flying around, much lower than the vultures and majestic with their white heads and wingspan. As you drive around Moorhead-Fargo, you’ll see them perching on trees, usually along the river. You can get within 100 yards or even less before they decide when to fly away. They don’t spook — they just take off, flap a few times and glide to their next perch.

In our area, we have bald eagles:

  • They have a wing span of 30 inches but appear larger, as they fly lower.
  • They build nests in tall trees, and they are massive. If you’ve ever seen one, it’s as if they’ve cut down an orchard and flown it to the top of a large tree, then lined it with whatever.
  • They too use sight and smell to hunt. When they spot prey as they glide over their target, they tuck their wings and dive straight down.

As with the vultures, you have to marvel at the eagles’ ability to dive and brake as they hit their prey without slamming into the ground.

Now, we have a number of bird feeders in our backyard and all kinds of small birds visit us. Sparrows, American goldfinches, house finches, junkos and blackbirds spar for the food.

We have Cooper’s hawks in the neighborhood. You know when they’re around because, all of a sudden, the small birds start flying into the windows and the side of the house, and then just disappear. No birds anywhere!

Of course, our cats, which are inside looking out, go flying into the glass doors trying to catch the birds on the outside as they panic into the glass. The birds don’t knock themselves out — they just go “bang” and flee. The cats are another matter. They hit the glass, then just sit, switching their tails and lying flat as they try to figure out how they missed those birds.

Enter the dog, which up ’til now had been resting. It sees the cats attacking the window and jumps all over the cats, trying to get them to settle down. It’s a show worth filming … but I digress.

We have rabbits under our deck, our neighbor has rabbits under his patio, and a third has them in the bushes in his backyard. Those damned rabbits have learned that if the neighborhood dogs are inside the fence, it’s OK for them to run by on the outside from yard to yard. I’ve seen dogs (not mine) run headlong into the fence and bounce off it while going after the rabbits. I mean, they smack the fence, stagger up like a drunken sailor, and then do the same time after time.

My border collie (crossed with an elephant) has her own way of dealing with the rabbits. She sees them and just chases after them right up to the fence … where she stops. They, of course, don’t stop — they keep on running. I just noticed what her fun is. She tries to get the angle on them as they go by and races them to the end of the fence. I now know the rabbits would be well advised not to show themselves if Ellie is off-leash because she can, in fact, outrun them.

I spent a few hours (“spent,” not wasted — I’m retired) watching four rabbits across the street at the base of a very large pine tree. They were running, jumping over each other and acting like they were playing tag. I’ve been told they weren’t playing but were, in fact, breeding. If they were breeding, then it’s the first time I’ve seen sex on the fly. From what I saw, breeding must involve spitting at each, if you get my drift. I saw no touching, only a fly-by or jumping-over-and-round technique. End of story on rabbits.

Now, we’ve also had a lot of squirrel activity — animal, not human. It’s fun watching how they interact … play tag, fight, chase each other all over. When the dog and cats were inside looking out the glass door, those squirrels (and once in a while the rabbits) would take a short cut across the deck. The dog would just bark and let it go, but one of my cats would go bonkers. She’d go from window to window around the whole house, tracking the rabbits as they played. I’d be lying in bed, trying to go to sleep and hear the sound of that cat tearing across the floor, ricocheting off the wall, tearing across the carpet and slamming into the window where she’d assume the rabbits went.

I have observed her on more than one occasion and have to admit I laugh because I can’t figure out how she bangs into so many things in her quest and never gets hurt. Of course, when she is on the rabbit run, that wakes up the dog, which thinks there’s a burglar at the door. If the cat hasn’t awakened us up, the dog will.

Our second cat, a male, simply watches all the activity and doesn’t get involved in the foolishness.

I’m guessing people without animals haven’t read this far. But animal lovers have and may be wondering, what’s my point? Well, the point is you read this far, and that’s why I write. Have a great week. Amen.

PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Dogs, Politics And Refugees

My dog disappeared for a few days this week.

Marti is beagle terrier cross, with the energy of a terrier and the intelligence and roaming instincts of a beagle.  She’s a sweet little dog who is terribly anxious, because she was abused before I got her from the Humane Society in Willmar, Minn. (my hometown — where my first dog, growing up, was also a beagle cross).

I was always nervous about her dashing out of the house and getting hit by a car. She is small and quick and if she smells something, she can take off running. As any owner of a beagle will tell you — once they’ve caught a whiff of something, you can call all you want, but they aren’t coming back.

Last Wednesday, I was coming home from work with my arms full and when I came in the house, Marti went out. Normally in the winter when she gets away, she is only gone for a few minutes, and that was true Wednesday.

The only problem was, a few minutes was long enough for her to run in the street in front of a suburban. The poor driver slammed on her brakes and didn’t hit Marti but skidding on the ice, ran over her. Marti took off running and yelping after she came out the side or the back of the car.

There was no blood, but I wasn’t sure if she was hit or bruised or wounded. All I knew was that Marti was nowhere to be seen.

For the next hour or so, the woman who drove the car and my next-door neighbor, her daughter and I searched for Marti. I continued after they left and when there was no sign of her after a couple of more hours, I texted my son, who is best buddies with Marti, to tell him Marti was missing, and then I posted in on Facebook.

That is when an incredible thing happened. People kept sharing it and sharing it and sharing it. The next morning, when I got up, I contacted the pound, the vet, and the city auditor sent an email to everyone on the city list to alert them.  I posted Marti’s picture on the Casselton Rummage Sale site, and the word continued to spread. In the end, her picture was shared nearly 200 times on Facebook.

I stayed home Thursday to alternate looking for Marti and working. But I wasn’t the only one. I was astounded at the support. I heard people yelling Marti’s name all over town. Our alley, where she was last seen, is normally a quiet place, but I can’t count how many people drove down it, looking for her.

I talked to almost every neighbor on the alley, some to whom I had never spoken and most of them had already heard her story and were keeping an eye out for her. Day cares went out calling her name. I went to the post office, and everyone asked about her. And the amount of support I received on Facebook was astounding, along with ideas and advice. It felt like everyone was concerned.

On Friday morning, I was up early again, looking for her, but I had a funeral to lead, so I had to leave home. Someone suggested that I leave out a blanket of hers, allowing her to follow the scent home, so I put out one of Ian’s blankets because she always cuddles in his bed when he is away at college.

Shortly after getting to church, I had a call that Marti had come home — after being gone 48 hours, and the woman who saw her let her into my house. I came home immediately. She was wet and cold and tired but not hurt. My best guess is that my nervous little dog got scared and went into hiding until she calmed down. If only she could talk, I would love to know where she went.

As I was reflecting on this whole experience, I began to think about the unity this little dog brought to a lot of people during a challenging week. I know for a fact that many of the people who searched for her, gave me advice and offered support are not on the same page as me politically. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they cared about me and they cared about Marti.

We live in an incredibly divided world and at times, it is easy, especially in the world of social media, to shut down people with whom you disagree. To write them off. To characterize them.

But, as I have written previously, I know that many of the people with whom I disagree are not bad people. They aren’t hate-filled. Or cruel. Oh, make no mistake about it, there are those people out there. And more are coming out of their own dark corners and wretched shadows. The rise in hate crimes and the fact that some people think it is OK to say racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic things are a reality. We can’t ignore that or normalize that behavior.

But I truly believe that at their core, most people are not cruel nor do they believe it is OK to sexually assault people or lie. Most people want what is best for others and want to be good neighbors. Most people want to be decent human beings.

I believe if we can harness that essential goodness and focus it, we will be better able to hear each other, and learn from each other. To face our fears, rather than segment ourselves, and perhaps, if we do that, we will find that we have more in common than we think.

People went the extra mile for me not necessarily because they liked me but because they have dogs and they know how much a dog is like a family. They made a personal connection and that connection moved them to an act of kindness, as well as concern.

If we find out how much we have in common with others who may seem different than us, we are better able to see the humanity of those around us. Rather than focus on the “otherness” and what separates us, we can find a way to see what links us. And once we have a connection, we are better able to see and celebrate our diversity.

When we see others as humans, not labels, we can be moved to compassion. When we cease to focus on what tears us apart but rather what binds us together, we can learn to feel another’s pain and help bear their burdens because it isn’t “them,” it becomes us.

During a week when I thought I was going to feel alienated from many around me because I am deep blue in a sea of red, I instead found people united because of a little dog.

I write this as I am preparing to leave for Uganda, to go to a refugee camp. My prayer as I leave is that I will be able to find stories to share that will make the connection with the people living in the camps, so that maybe, we can become as united about the plight of the abandoned people in the world as my town became over a lost little dog.

JEFF TIEDEMAN: Straight From The Vest — The Perfect Puppy

Her name is Sadie. She’s a Golden Retriever puppy, about 13 weeks old. But she’s already acting like a big girl.

Therese and I became the proud parents of Sadie last Tuesday. At the time, she was known as Charley, the name given to her by a too-busy couple from Grand Forks Air Force Base who made the hard decision to give up the pup.

Oct. 18 started out just like any other weekday. I arose about 4 a.m., hopped in the shower and then took our 7-year-old Labrador/German Shorthair cross named Sweetie on a walk. It was then on to Altru’s Medical Fitness Center, where I work out for about 1½ hours before taking a half-hour dip in the therapeutic pool.

Upon returning home, I warm up a cup of coffee and sit down to read the local newspaper. Then I do the jumble and crossword before getting on the computer to see what’s going on with my Facebook friends and checking out my Twitter feed.

Before logging on to my computer, though, I usually check out the newspaper’s classifieds, not looking for anything in particular, just seeing what kind of jobs are available and what people are selling. Being retired, I also always look at ads for winter vacation spots or lake property, not that we’re contemplating a move, but just being curious. I also peruse the section of the want ads that lists dogs for sale.

We’ve always had dogs — up to four — but since we lost our spunky Cocker Spaniel, Lucky, to old age a couple of years ago and our beloved Sassy (a Lab/Golden cross) to illness a year or so earlier, Sweetie has been our only canine.

We’ve talked about finding a companion for Sweetie, but the idea of getting another puppy that could outlive us gave us pause. Another option we discussed was getting an adult dog that needed a home.

That was until last Tuesday, when I spotted a new listing for free Golden Retriever puppy. It immediately caught my eye. The ad said call or text if interested.

Being somewhat impulsive, I texted, asking about seeing the puppy. Within a few minutes, I had a response from someone at the air base. The text said they could bring the puppy to town so I could see her.

To make a long story short, we met in the Walmart parking lot on Gateway Drive, and when handed the golden fur ball, I was smitten at first lick.

In the week we’ve had Sadie, she messed just once in the house — my bad, I ignored her at the door — sleeps all night without fussing and has bonded with Sweetie. She’s even retrieving a throwing dummy.

About the only annoying thing she does is a little biting, which is a puppy thing. But she’s a quick learner, realizing that her nipping will get her a swat and a lack of attention.

How’s that’s for a mature 3-month-old?





NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Good Dog … Goodbye

Love may last forever, but dogs don’t.

We said goodbye to our wiggly little yapdoodle last week. She’s gone in body but not quite gone in spirit.

When I get home, I still expect to see Molly standing sentry at the top of the stairs, waiting for us to take up our positions ― I at my desk, she curled shrimp-shape on the oversized dog bed beneath.

I’m still surprised to awake after an entire night’s sleep ― uninterrupted by requests for backyard trips long before dawn.

The cats are even curious. They wonder why she no longer competes for the choicest spot on the sunroom couch.

All in all, these days have marked our sad re-entry into dogless living. Though it’s the third time Russ and I have traced this path of grief and recovery in 40-plus years of marriage, Molly’s demise ― like the loss of every beloved pet ― still delivers countless little blips of sudden awareness.

When we’re out for a leisurely evening, I may catch sight of the time and think, “Oh, no, we have to speed home to let her out.”

When we come back to the car on days when the weather’s fine, no one yaps with pleasure at the thought of continuing her ride.

There’s no slobber on the floor beside the water dish (for our cats slurp much more neatly) and, after a day-long drizzle, no muddy paw prints smeared by the back door.

Saying goodbye is a special kind of tough for we who love our animals with no hint of moderation. I understand better now why my late mother-in-law never let her kids get the puppy or kitty they’d plead for. Her family had lost a dearly loved terrier when she was just a girl, and she’d resolved then to never expose her own children to the heartbreak she still remembered.

To me, though, Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

My entire family embraced that approach. I never saw a photo of my father, boy to man, without a dog or horse at his side. Jinx the dog and his successors, along with a series of cats starting with feisty old Tom, were essential fixtures in our home.

So, when we married, Russ never had much of a chance. Starting with the gerbils ― Herbal and Verbal ― I’d sneaked into my pet-free apartment, he may have had some inkling. When we bought our first house, we acquired our first jointly owned dog even before shopping for a lawnmower and curtains.

Ole was our original “used” canine. Like any first child, he was darn near perfect. Beautifully behaved and (we thought) a near-genius of the canine kind, he displayed just one flaw during the 15 years of our life together: Like every Norwegian elkhound, he shed as much as a freshly sheared sheep from his Arctic-quality double-thick coat and his fluffy curl of a tail.

We swore we’d never find another friend like Ole after he finally passed away. And we didn’t. But by the time our daughter reached elementary age, Adopt-a-Pet had linked us up with another used beast. Charley, like Ole, came to us at the age of 2 or so. Unlike Ole, this pudgy Brittany spaniel was anything but perfect ― vastly overweight, neglected, and hungry for love … plus anything else he could find to approximate dinner.

Charley was not without distinctive flaws. Due to the excess pounds that had already made him a bit bow-legged, he spent his first year with us on a doggy diet. He was miserable. He’d chow down whatever snack he spotted, including little-girl socks in neon colors, stray gloves, sofa pillows and dog droppings he browsed on slow, lumbering walks.

The dietary pain was not in vain, though he never entirely lost his exotic tastes. Eventually, we were able to stroll our entire neighborhood without him lying down in the street even once to catch his breath.

You hear that middle children get away with murder, while the firstborn had to toe the line. Correct. Ole was never allowed even an envious glance at upholstered furniture or a discreet bout of begging during dinner.

Charley? Not so much. In no time, he’d trained us to let him curl up beside us on the couch, and his treat-seeking behavior was epic ― especially popcorn and anything that smelled like peanut butter.

A dozen years later, we were grieving our lost friend again … and once again vowing he’d be our last dog. We’d acquired a couple of cats in the meantime ― soft-hearted Charley raised them both from kittens ― and gone through a quartet of parakeets plus untold tropical fish. The kitties and Poppycock the cockatiel, who’d taken the late budgies’ place, were plenty …

Until three years ago. I blame it all on Facebook. I noticed a post from an Adopt-a-Pet volunteer telling of a pair of elderly dogs destined to be euthanized after their adoring owner, a childless widow, had passed away alone. There was something about the story that gripped our hearts. Why should these beloved pets have to die when their only sin was outliving the lady who loved them?

Both were far, far from their puppy years. Both were black ― dooming them to be passed over for adoption. To our surprise, our kids stepped forward to adopt the larger beast, a black Lab-retriever cross roughly the size of their davenport. We welcomed little Molly.

Her major pluses included a tolerance for cats and, due to her poodle-ish lineage, no worries about shedding her tightly curled coat. The minuses were somewhat greater.

We knew no more about her real age than her bloodline, but our vet estimated at least a dozen years. She had cataracts. Either she was hard of hearing or a purple-ribbon champ at not at paying attention to her humans. She was a timid, worried little auntie, perhaps because of the trauma she’d endured; she shivered with anxiety for her first six months as a Hanson. And she was the pickiest eater our menagerie has ever known.

But she was a joy, too ― a lover of sitting in my lap, a snuggler, a happy character. She wriggled in sheer delight at the prospect of a car ride, a walk or anything involving our full and undivided attention.

Like any family’s later offspring, she disdained all rules. She not only “owned” her corner of the couch and occupied far more than her share of the bed at night; as age constrained her, we actually found ourselves giving her a boost up onto her favored furniture.

Yet time rolls on. Day after day, she’d wake up 24 hours older. Her arthritis, various undiagnosed aches and doggy dementia advanced with relentless certainty until we agreed we had to do the kindest thing on her behalf. As we’d done two times before, we said goodbye to a treasured member of our household.

Friends who aren’t pet people may not quite understand. Those who love their dogs and cats certainly do. They speak in kindness when they ask, “Do you think that you’ll replace her?”

Perhaps ― someday ― we’ll adopt another creature. The world is full of “used dogs” who lack the appeal of puppies and the vigor of younger beasts, yet have joyful years left to live and savor ― paths to prance down, trees and hydrants to inspect, guests to greet at the door and eager snoots to sniff the breeze, ears flapping, through open car windows.

But “replace” our yapdoodle Molly? Not going to happen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Fur Better Or Worse

Signs of spring are everywhere: Chubby buds add haze to bare branches arching over Fifth Street. Geese honk high up in their northbound express lane. Frisky squirrels play hopscotch on our porch roof.

And our cats are taking off their winter coats … and flinging them into every corner of our house. Or “their house,” as they prefer to call it.

The three phenomenal felines who permit us to live among them are greeting spring with their usual epic round of shedding. As bona fide animal lovers, Russ and I are more than familiar with this counterbalance to our lovable roommates’ virtues. It’s not so much that their cast-off fur gets on our nerves. Our nerves are fine. It’s our furniture, our floors and every square inch of black fabric in the closets that generate a jolt of irk.

The fur-kids do a fairly good job of collecting their own stray hairs for much of the year. They attend to their grooming with the passion of a Kardashian, then sprucing up each other. They keep the loose ends in internal storage, then recycle them for us … gacking up cigar-sized hairballs with proud abandon, usually in the middle of the night.

But the dawn of spring tells another story. Even the prissiest of pussycats can’t seem to keep up with the floating clouds of winter insulation.

Like cat-lovers everywhere, Russ and I have tried countless strategies for controlling their annual explosion. We’ve fed them gourmet foods guaranteed to keep them in top-notch trim. We’ve dosed them with vitamins and tiny shots of cod liver oil. We’ve even built a world-class collection of grooming aids ― nubby gloves, stiff-bristled brushes and the indomitable Furminator, a medieval-looking combing device that one cat loves, one avoids and the third flat-out dreads even more than the vacuum cleaner.

And still the fur flies. Now, at the peak of the season, lighter-than-air tufts of our companions’ crowning glory infuse the very atmosphere we breathe. Tumbleweeds of fine fur bounce about in the breeze. No surface, however well-tended, remains truly clear for longer than a minute … computer screens, glasses left on the kitchen counter, couch upholstery and, mysteriously, the magically magnetic wool coats hopefully hidden behind closed closet doors.

Fur better or worse, we’ve come to accept the situation. We try to focus on unfluffing our own flanks instead of fussing over the cats’. Thus we enter the season of sticky lint rollers and damp towels and favoring tweedy camouflage.

And our number is legion. You can spot us cat lovers without too much trouble. We’re the folks who seem to develop nervous tics in public, plucking at hairs on our lapels. We compulsively pick at our clothing in polite company. We avoid direct sunlight, which makes every hither-unsuspected hair stand out like a glowing filament. We brush and rub our clothing whenever we leave the house, hoping to dislodge the loose layer of fluff before we must face civilians.

Somehow, nothing makes my previously undetected cat frizzies stand out as much as walking into a dignified meeting populated by meticulous grown-ups … or welcoming guests at home who (horrors!) are wearing black wool.

One thing about our compulsive picking and nattering at flying fur: For cat people (and you doggie types, too), it’s like a secret handshake. We can spot each other a block away. Instead of shrinking in embarrassment, I’ve progressed to a smile and a shrug. All it takes to forge a lifelong bond is pulling a roller from your purse.

It really seems that such an abundant natural resource as shedding cats should have some practical value. I think I’ve glimpsed it. Captured by the mystical link between adoring kitties and knitting, I’ve searched out several fiber experts online who can spin pet fur into yarn. Three bags or so should do it for an average-sized scarf; a sweater requires about a bushel. If lowly rabbits’ fur can be turned into precious angora, surely our housecats must have fashion potential.

In the meantime, I seem to have already taken an involuntary half-step in that direction. Cats worship balls of yarn. Mine cannot resist reveling in the knitting on my lap. It’s said that in days of yore, lovelorn maidens were advised to knit strands from their own heads into garments to bind their loved one’s heart. If you dress in anything made on my own cat-coveted needles, prepare yourself for a long, passionate feline friendship.

DAVE VORLAND: Photo Gallery — Pets Of Greece

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The Greeks and Italians have a much more relaxed attitude toward pets roaming at large (and entering eating establishments) than do Americans, according to photographer Dave Vorland. Dave caught these pets off- and on-guard during a recent trip to Greece.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Raise Your Paws For Pets

paws1Once again this year, we’ll be hosting Raise Your Paws For Pets.  It’s always a lot of fun.  Hope you’ll be able to join us. For information: (701) 775-3732.