The Pet Chronicles

Reader response to my last post has been that I write more about this topic:

5) Pets and habesha people: write a retrospective of my colorful personal histories with pets. “His name was ‘Yeneneh’. Things would have worked out much better between us if he himself was aware of that…”

(Note: no pets were harmed in the writing of this post, but if you’re a certain kind of person then you might want to brace yourself or skip this altogether.)

Well, as I said, his name was Yeneneh. Things would have worked out much better between us if he himself was aware of that. YenenehUnfortunately, we had to part ways. Me to the Far East and him to the Far South (a.k.a. The Toronto Humane Soceity branch out by Exhibition Place. He’ll be closer to the horses there, and the view of Lake Ontario is nothing to turn one’s nose up at, cat or human.

It’s always been cats for me. Even though my first close encounter with one, when I was very very young, almost ended up being my last. That piece of fur didn’t want to be my friend, no matter how much up in its face I got, so it let me know by clawing me across the eyes, barely missing the left one. Growing up, cats came and went in our yard, as they did in everyone’s yard – they were sort of a mobile recycling unit for organic waste. And of course they spilled a bunch of kittens from time to time.

One day, I unilaterally decided that one of these fresh kittens would be my pet. I was five or six then.

As seemed natural, I made a mini bed for the kitten out of a cardboard box – complete with bird libs, ansola, tiras and so on; I must have cut up some decent linens to make a miniature bedsheet, blanket and pillow. I even folded and tucked the edges in just like I’d seen the maids do. Then I tucked the kitten itself in. Literally, tucked the bony little thing in. And then I tucked that little bed under my actual bed.

For some reason, the kitten started growling. I remember my grandmother sitting on my bed, and I could hear it growling, and I’m sure she could hear it too, but I pretended to hear nothing and she pretended to hear nothing. So there we sat, on a growling bed. After she left, I decided to take my little friend out for a nice evening walk around the garden. With a leash, of course, but I had to get it out from the bed-under-the-bed first.

By now, it had gotten all hissy and fangy on me, so I made a noose out of a piece of rope, pulled the bed aside so that I could reach the kitten-bed in the corner from above, and tried to pass the noose over its head so that I could trap it that way and then take it out for a walk. I forget how, but I managed to leash it and take it outside. Except it had developed a very location-sensitive limp/paw-drag. When we went to the side of the house nearest where it was born, it would practically run, tugging me along, but when we turned the corner and were on the opposite side of the house, it would start limping and dragging itself. Anyway, walk accomplished, I decided it’s best to relocate it for the night (what with the hissy fanginess and all, didn’t want that under my bed all night) so I put it in a drawer unit in the garage. Naturally I shut the drawer all the way in. And yes, I transferred the mini bird libs, ansola and tiras as well.

Come morning, it was miraculously still alive, though really uninterested in sharing my breakfast chechebsa (or was it beso; anyway it was rather not into Ethio food), nor my milk, even though I so very nicely poured it into his own cup and dunked his head in it. After that, there was nothing to do but release it back to its aimless foraging life where I’m sure it grew up to be absolutely no good.

Years later, a dog entered the picture. Some mini brown and white thing the previous people left behind in our first house abroad. It looked like Eddie from Frasier. We got on ok, though he was a bit too active for my liking. I took this one for a walk too, the way I’d seen the Austrians do, with a proper leash, smiling down on it fondly, out in public and all. I might have even talked to it. For some reason, I thought large earrings were required for this, so I remember taking two pieces of glass from a chandelier and wiring them into my pierced earlobes. That, somehow, was the proper dog-walking attire. Anyway, Like-Eddie-From-Frasier was soon let go for reasons I can’t remember.

After that I stayed animal-free until a few years ago, when Yeneneh entered the picture. He came by way of a friend of a friend who already had too many animals in her house. He was just a few weeks old when I got him. And that was basically the sum of my error. See, the kind of cat I’ve always dreamed of is so fat, so lazy, so sleepy that it might as well be part of the furniture; it’s closer to a living, breathing, ultra soft pillow more than the spastic, needy, insomniac speed-monster that Yeneneh turned out to be. We did not get along. At all. He did not seem to understand the kind of cat I needed him to be. Apparently kid cats are very much like kid humans – they like to run, play, interact, wake up in the middle of the night, etc. etc. I tried to apply some good old fashioned disciplining. But you can’t spank a cat. I’ve got the scars to prove it.

People kept telling me it would get better. He will grow out of it and calm the fuck down and I was willing to believe it, until one day he totally broke my heart. I loaned him out, you see. Just for a week. Kind of like an extended sleepover. Or camp. I loaned him to a kid who was on March break and had always wanted a cat. So I said, sure. Take my cat, please.

I had a week of bliss. No poop scooping, no claw trimming, no chasing with netela chama. I even missed the little bastard a bit. But when he came back and stepped out of his little cage, he acted like he didn’t know me from nothing, like he’d never seen these four walls before. He looked up at me like ‘Where am I? What is this place? Who is this woman looking at me like I owe her something?’

I think that’s when I realized why they say you own a dog, but you can only feed a cat.

Next, and against my will, I was introduced to another dog. Luckily, the initial introduction was long distance so I had time to adjust. Until I had to meet this BIG golden retriever in the flesh, I could pretend he was a goremsa anbesa who lost his way and ended up in Maryland.

In the years since, we’ve developed a moderately affectionate, respectfully arms-length, mutually beneficial relationship. Considering that when I met him I thought he would eat me, and he probably thought I was some kind of slow-moving, low-speaking statue, I’d say we’ve come a long way. If he stays still, I pet him. If he lets me use him as a footrest, I let him sit on me for periods of limited duration. But I draw the line at the licking business.

To be honest, he’s kind of cozied up to a little corner of my heart and stayed there the way I always imagined a cat would. Life’s funny like that. I continue to be amazed at how well he has integrated into a habesha household. (Or is it how well the habesha household has adapted to him, coming as we do from a culture where dogs are kept in tin shacks in the yard and their job is to get vicious or die tryin’) But that process of integration has not been without its funny/strange/wierd/gross moments, so in the second installation of The Pet Chronicles, I’ll record for posterity some of what that get-to-know-you has been like.

Move over Yeneneh, it’s time for Tiliku!





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