Posted December 31, 2012 04:38 pm - Updated December 31, 2012 05:06 pm

The Blue Heeler and the Black Cat

   We humans had a terrific Christmas this year. Thoughtful gifts. Great food. Happy grandchildren. Our daughter Amy and Olive, her Blue Heeler, came up from Seattle. The exception to the overall joy was Deacon, our reclusive generally weird black cat, who spent the holidays hiding behind the paint cans on a shelf in a dark corner of the garage. The area in front of the shelf is blocked with a blue plastic tub full of boat stuff, two emptied Kitty Litter buckets overflowing with golf balls, and our pickup truck. Aside from the plaintive meows we could elicit by calling his name, he was invisible for a full week.

    On the other hand, Olive had a terrific Christmas. She played with the humans, chewed on her extra tough red ball with her muscular jaws, and stuck her head through the cat door between the dining room and garage just often enough to keep Deacon cowering. At home, Olive lives peacefully on a small storybook urban farm in Bothell with an elderly cat named Missy (who is Deacon's mother), a rabbit, ducks, chickens, and roosters. This mysterious cat’s snubbing mystified her. We can’t explain Deacon to humans, so we didn’t even try with Olive.

    Blue Heelers, bred to handle sheep and cattle, need lots of exercise. Each day, Amy drove to Floyd Dryden, the only fenced in area in town available for throwing and fetching that red ball. Olive wasn’t used to snow when she arrived, but she became adept at leaping through the drifts searching out the ball, and coming up with it clenched between her teeth, her black nose covered with flecks of snow. Last year, Amy, Olive and I walked in front of the glacier, but tales of flipping icebergs convinced us that solid ground was a better choice this winter.

   During these afternoon absences, Doug and I tried to lure Deacon out of hiding, if only to pet him for a bit, but no dice. Doug had to reach into the narrow space between the wall and the barricade of paint cans and stuff, calling his name softly, then gently extract him for some human contact. But Deacon’s loud meows, stiff legs, and swiveling head made his efforts futile. This went on for eight days.

   On Friday morning, Amy readied Olive’s crate for the trip to Seattle. She arranged Olive’s blue Seattle Seahawks blanket on the bottom. Doug loaded the empty crate in the back of the Subaru and we headed for the airport. Olive’s front paws rested on the console and her hind legs were braced on the edge of the back seat. Her head, with those brown and black ears always on alert, was right between Doug and me. She wasn’t going to miss a thing.

   We’re always sorry when Amy’s visits end, but we were sorry to see Olive go, too. It felt good to pet a dog again so many years after our own dog passed away. At the airport, Olive strained at her leash, sniffing everywhere. Doug took the leash while Amy did all the paperwork, explaining to curious Alaska Airlines folks and other passengers what kind of breed Olive is. With everything in order, Amy tossed a few treats in the back of the crate, got down at eye level with Olive, and told her to get in. After Olive was settled on her Seahawks blanket, Amy filled the water bottle attached just inside the crate from her own water bottle, and latched the door shut.

   An attendant came over, asked Amy a lot of questions, then stuck the necessary form on the top of the crate and called for TSA. Two agents, a man and a woman, came through a door by the end of the baggage conveyer belt. The man was a giant of a guy with a shaved head. He stood by, while the woman knelt down and checked the paperwork stuck to the crate. She asked Amy to open the door and “wanded” around Olive checking under the blanket along the crate’s sides. I found myself tensing up, but Olive didn’t move a muscle. We all said, “Good dog!”, in that patronizing voice people use with animals and babies. Amy shut the door and latched it tight.

    Once the inspection was over, and it was clear that the crate contained just a Blue Heeler, her blanky, and her ball, the big guy picked up the crate like it was his lunchbox, and Olive and the TSA agents disappeared through the door. We walked up the stairs to the line of humans and their TSA agents, kissed and hugged Amy good-bye, and watched until she was through the scanner and on her way to the waiting area.

    As soon as the car was in the garage, Doug went to Deacon’s shelf for a heart to heart chat. Deacon wasn’t having it, so Doug reached in, extracted him, and carried him into the house. Talking softly to the wary cat, he went from room to room assuring Deacon that the coast was clear. Finally, we could see Deacon, although still on the alert, relax a bit. Doug gently set him down in his favorite chair and he stayed put.

   A few hours later, Amy called to say that she and Olive were home. One duck was missing, but otherwise, all was well. The first thing she asked was if Deacon was ok, and we assured her that he had survived just fine, and was curled up fast asleep in the living room.

   As Robert Browning wrote, “The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His heaven— All’s right with the world!”



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