When I first moved to this area four years ago I signed up to lend a hand at the local animal shelter. Meeting the staff in person, the manager suggested since I was small in stature I might do better handling the cats than walking the dogs as was the original plan. After seeing some of the huge heads and large paws protruding from the dog cages, I breathed a sigh of relief to find myself tasked with the kitties. For two years I came once a week to clean litter boxes (not my favorite), wash pet food dishes, and generally lend support to the often frightened but mostly sweet furry residents at the shelter.
There were always those animals, not unlike humans, who preferred their own company and didn’t want a helping hand, or paw as the case may be. During my first weeks there I was instructed to watch the behavior of each animal I was dealing with. Cats will give “tells” when they are provoked or upset such as low growling sounds or hair raised along their necks and spines. Since nature saw fit to equip felines with claws for protection and teeth for chewing or to defend themselves, it was better to be out of the line of fire when either tool was about to be put into play. Stories told during my stay there, several volunteers had spent uncomfortable afternoons at the local ER having the result of not paying attention to their charges being sewn up by the doctor on call.
Unfortunately, during my two years there I was witness to the darker side of human behavior. One group of six very frightened puddy cats came to the shelter as a result of their owner tiring of taking care of them and deciding to end their collaboration by using the animals for target practice. Nine animals were on site when the man began his rampage, only six traumatized and injured animals were left by the time the police arrived on the scene. One guy, “ol’ one eye” lost an eye in the process. What a gentle animal. In spite of the abuse suffered on him by his owner, each Wednesday morning he was there at the front of his cage leaning his large black head in for a friendly pat. Always he submitted without argument to being removed to a holding cage to allow me to clean his bedding and clean and refill his dishes and cat litter box. What a sweet boy he was. Was it not for the fact that part of the roommate agreement with Boo, the Queen of Cats, was that she be the only resident other than Rick and I with fur and a tail, I would have adopted the one-eyed cat and made him part of our family. Luckily someone else found him as irresistible as I did and one Wednesday I arrived to find a new face peering out of his cage.
Many animal shelters are offering deals on pet adoption over the holidays. We got Boo from a shelter originally and couldn’t have asked for a better companion over the past ten years. Once we made it through the first few weeks of getting acquainted and she picked up on what I would and would not smile about as far as behavior, we have been the best of friends. I highly recommend adopting a lost and lonely animal and giving them a forever home. Being in the shelters is better than being on the street, but in spite of all efforts by employees in these animal rescues it can never replace having their own homes and families to give them the attention they deserve.
After the lights are repacked in the boxes marked “xmas” remember that you have taken an animal into your home not a toy that can be set on a shelf. Animals need attention, vet visits, food, and walking in the case of dogs (and some cats). I dated a man in the 80’s who was an engineer. Divorced, he had maintained custody of a lovely home in San Fernando valley. As lovely as the interior was, the backyard looked like no one had mowed the lawn since Roosevelt had taken office. I visited the house once for a holiday party. People milling inside, I stepped out back to get some air. Bright moonlight highlighted the tall grass-covering most of the yard. Rustling towards the back along the grass line alerted me perhaps I was not alone. Like the wave of a magician’s wand, a small furry face appeared above the grass, disappearing as quickly as it had come. Hmmmm. Over and over again this happened as the little white face moved closer to where I was standing. Out of the maze emerged a tiny white dog with burrs in his fur. So glad was he to see a human face he showed his appreciation by relieving himself on my shoes. His excitement was both comical and profoundly sad at the same time. It was obvious he got little to no attention of any kind.
Filling his water dish I stayed with him for quite a while, reluctantly having to finally abandon the little guy in the backyard and rejoin the party. Getting my date alone, I inquired about the dog. The ex-wife had left it, he told me. Not a dog fancier, he fed him daily but didn’t have the time or the inclination to give him much attention. After that conversation I decided I didn’t have time to give the engineer any further attention either. End of date, end of relationship. Before making an exit as it was obvious the man didn’t want the animal, I asked if it would it be all right if I tried to find the dog a home. Enthusiastically he agreed. After several weeks of selling people I knew on “Max”, a co-worker picked up the excited terrier and took him home to his new family. After a trip to the groomers the next time I was to see Max the transformation would have made Henry Higgins proud.
There are a lot of “tells” to be found in how people treat their pets. I didn’t want to find myself out in the backyard jumping up above the grass for a pat on my head.
1 lb. ground chuck
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (bulk, mild)
1 onion chopped
1/2 large green pepper chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 oz. ziti, cooked according to package directions
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
In large saucepan cook ground chuck, sausage, onion, green pepper and garlic until meat is cooked. Drain on plate covered with paper towels. Return to pan and add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.
Cook ziti according to package directions. Drain well and add to meat sauce along with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Stir to mix well. Pour into casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with parmesan.
Bake for 35 mins. or until bubbly.