Animals are an essential part of life in the Wildish West. You have heard about our dogs, the fish we try to catch, moose and spiders encountered on the trails, and there are frequent sightings of coyotes, deer, elk, antelope, squirrels, beavers (sometimes alive!), muskrats, and birds of all kinds. Even the damn cows… My day is better when I hear coyotes howling while I am out for a run, even when the dogs are chowing down on a coyote’s recent deer kill. I feel bad for the deer, yell at the dogs to leave it alone (dead deer eating almost always leads to dog barfing), but I am grateful to live close to wildness.
The dogs are our near-constant companions in our adventures. If the dogs can’t go then usually we don’t either. We like having them around even when they are naughty and stinky—they are still full of love even when they are full of gas. The longest-standing furry friend we have is a little gray cat, a critter of a thousand names, mostly known as MFW (which stands for Mister Fuzz Wuzz, though we rarely call him that).
MFW doesn’t like to travel much. While he has been a trooper over the years and moved with us to 3 cities (one of those twice!) and six houses, he is the one who holds down the home front. I can’t count the number of times I have said, “If it wasn’t for the cat I wouldn’t go home.” There has been no way to know if that is true, since the cat is always there, always waiting inside the back door to greet us. I don’t begrudge him the end of my adventures, rather I appreciate that he is there to ground me. Until one week ago we joked that he would outlive us all and eat our bodies when we die, and it seemed almost possible. He has been the picture of youth and longevity, a savvy midnight trapper (rarely a killer), roamer of fences, roof tops and high cupboards, and while he is not a particularly soulful meower, his purr is nearly constant and has solid amplitude.
There is that question: are you a dog person or a cat person? To which I answer: it depends on the dog or the cat. I have room for active adventure dog friends as well as cat friends who keep my lap warm while I eat my toast, but they must be my friends. They are all a major pain sometimes, and when I think about what the animals add to my life the list is mostly unpleasant: so much barf, dog hair, cat fur, strange smells, poop, paw prints on every surface, holes chewed or torn in favorite shirts, shoes and hats, scratches, bad breath, dirt, strange things in the house, vet bills for porcupined noses, sliced tendons, chipped teeth and general gimpy-ness. But the pure entertainment value, their joy in being alive, their happiness from just being in our company… so worth it.
Cats and dogs are a bridge to the wild world, they retain instincts for being outside that the vast majority of people have lost while sleeping on memory foam dog beds and eating fancy kibbles carefully calibrated to replicate a wild diet (minus the sticks and acorns that Mack hoovers up). I watch the dogs outside, smelling and chasing and eating, but the cat slips out the door and what he does outside is mostly a mystery. Perhaps he is closer to wild.
MFW is sick, and while he may live for a while, it seems unlikely that he will be our grounding force for too much longer. He is suddenly smaller, slower, and even more generous with his affection. We will be staying closer to home while his illness stabilizes, giving him his saline drip and encouraging him to eat. He’s been there for us and now we have to give it back. And since it seems that he is not, in fact, immortal, I wonder what will draw me back home when he is not here.