For the first two months of our Africa visit, we’re house- and pet-sitting: We have two dogs and four cats in our care.
Squeeky is an older female cat and a fussy eater. She eats small portions throughout the day and prefers to lick the gravy off the food, leaving the rest behind. She likes to have human company while she eats, and if I am slow to get her food, she’ll tap my leg with her paw to remind me she’s waiting. I confess I’m sometimes slow on purpose. She appreciates Mike’s cat lap and is content to sit beside me on the couch.
Bundle is an older male cat. He spends most of his time outside in a cool earth bed. He comes in to eat and enjoys a good pet before and/or after eating.
Little Miss is a younger female cat. She’s a huntress, and from the size of her and the mouse pieces I’ve seen, I think she eats what she catches. She’s allowed to hunt rodents, but if we see her catch a bird, she’s to be tossed into the pool. Bird hunting is not allowed. For sleeping, she prefers our bed, Mike’s lap, or snuggled beside me on a chair.
Bandit is a younger male cat. He will occasionally harass Little Miss and might be seen as a bully, but he’s also a bit of a ‘fraidy cat: He startles easily. I caught him attacking a robin-chat (he didn’t kill it, and I don’t think it had lasting injuries), but he let it go and bolted away before I was even off the verandah. Yes, Bandit, the no-bird rule still applies.
Pip is a nine-year-old female pointer. She’s smart, sleek, alert, and focused. She patrols the yard and lets us know if anything is amiss. She talks to us and enjoys a snuggle but also has an agenda of her own. She would love to run and run and run, but we can’t let her. She loves walks and seems to enjoy a family lap around the yard in the evening. Everyone but Squeeky has joined us for this.
Gib is a nine-year-old male lab. He’s a devoted companion, always cheerful, always willing, always hungry—but unlike some labs I’ve known, he’s got wonderful self control when it comes to food: He doesn’t eat the cat food unless and until he’s invited to do so. He’s a water dog and loves a swim after a walk and whenever it’s terribly hot, which it often is.
It’s a toss-up which is better: a cooling swim or being rubbed dry afterward.
And then there’s Bundle (the dog, not to be confused with Bundle the cat), an aged, female rottweiler who lives next door. Her bones and joints are stiff, and she doesn’t hear well. She’s like a close cousin to the animal siblings here. Though the houses are separated by a fence, two gates remain open and the animals can and do wander between the yards. She comes over most mornings for a bone or bit of breakfast, and she generally hangs out during some part of the day. She doesn’t, however, come into the kitchen—well, not her back half, anyway.
She was the slowest to warm up to us, but she’s a good pal now and enjoys a good scratch just above her tail. One of these days, I’m going to see if she’ll let me brush her back end.
It’s tough getting old.
I’ve taken care of a lot of animals, and by and large most are happy and content. These animals live a good life here, so I’m not surprised they’re well behaved and happy. But there’s also something special here: The relationships between the animals. There’s a cohesion that seems remarkable, and it seems to revolve around Gib as much as it does us, the human caregivers.
“Gib” is short for “Gibraltar,” and a better name would be hard to choose for this dog. He’s the rock in this animal family. I have seen every other animal—cat, dog, neighbor—love on Gib. The cats rub up against him, lick him, lie next to him. He and Pip play on walks. Bundle the Dog rubs her head on him. And Gib wags through it all.
When driving home from a walk the other day, Gib wanted to be sprawled out, and Pip wanted to see out the front window. So Gib spread out, and Pip sat on top of him. Both seemed just fine with arrangement; they rode the whole way home like that.
All the animals enjoy human company, too, and it’s not unusual for them to gather wherever we are.