Someone once told me the key to a long and happy life is understanding why you’re on this earth.
I used to think it was to write books and harmless essays, edit magazines and enjoy an occasional bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with extra mayo and not too much guilt.
Ha! What a laugh. Turns out my real purpose in life is to serve as personal valet — full time butler, if you prefer — to a pack of demanding domestic animals.
The aforementioned animals live in our house. Or rather I live in theirs.
They number five in all: three dogs, two cats. Three are rescues, two are purebreds. Two are old and whiny, two are young and pushy, one is a little of both. All are as demanding as spoiled Saudi princes.
Old Ella, a golden retriever, hails from a barn in rural Maine. She’s 13 and basically dumb as a rusted pump handle and twice as stubborn. She can be sweet as long as it serves her purposes. Over the years she has survived every affliction known to doghood and boasts the vet bills to prove it. Our vet faithfully sends Old Ella birthday greetings thanking her for another year of generously underwriting their new wing. All Old Ella cares about, frankly, is eating until she blows up and rubbing her butt on the most expensive rug in the house.
No one knows exactly how old Old Rufus is. A fluffy yellow tomcat, he was old and cranky as hell when my soft-hearted wife brought him home from SCC campus seven years ago. God only knows his true age now, the George Hamilton of tabby cats. He boasts an impressive vet bill too because he can’t — how shall I delicately put this? — poop. But like his canine partner-in-crime Old Ella, Old Roof never misses a meal — his or anyone else’s — and is unfailingly sweet to perfect strangers and the staff at the vet’s. So cute and cuddly. Me, however, he treats like his Mongolian servant, following me everywhere demanding food and carping like an old man who can’t get his plumbing unstuck. He stays out all night, complains all day. A Romeo who can’t poop.
Mulligan is my dog, dang near perfect, a Carolina black dog I found as a mere pup living wild and free eight years ago. She is as smart as our current sitting governor (actually, smarter) and better behaved unless you try to steal her food, at which point she will take you down and you won’t get up. Wherever I go, she goes. Her tail is always wagging, her soulful brown eyes always shining with gratitude. She cannot believe she has to put up with a household full of such complaining, pooping and non-pooping dogs and cats.
Next comes Ajax, aged three, a purebred golden aptly named for the giant warrior of Greek mythology — I tend to call him Junior simply because he’s the most spoiled loveable lug on four legs. Junior was a surprise 10th wedding anniversary gift to my bride a few years back, worryingly smart and far too handsome. Not surprisingly, my wife has completely ruined him. I call him the “Worst Dog on Earth” because he pays absolutely no attention to anything I say to him, steals my shoes and takes himself for unauthorized moonlight swims in the pool.
Our newest resident is Boo Radley, a handsome year-old gray tiger cat our college-boy lad Conner found wandering the streets of The Pines as a kitten. His original name was Nico but somehow Boo Radley suited him better, probably because he looks scary but turns out to be a true pussy cat with questionable friends. One morning not long ago I looked out and saw him sauntering along the driveway with a young gray fox a neighbor feeds. The two are evidently pals. Who can figure. Boo’s preferred way of coming in from a fine night out with foxes is to bang on my office window and demand entry.
Keeping up with the needs and complaints of this bunch, let me tell you, ain’t no picnic at Downton Abbey.
I rise around four each morning to write, put on the coffee and shuffle off to my office to try and work. Silly me.
Soon comes Boo Radley’s insistent rap at the window. Old Rufus, meanwhile, waits at the back door, annoyed and constipated beyond belief. The two meet in the utility room where they hiss and snarl at each other until the butler separates and feeds them both.
At this point Mulligan is out the back door, eager to scour the property for any unauthorized critters that may need to be killed. She detests the expensive organic gourmet dog food we provide and would much prefer, say, freshly killed antelope for breakfast.
Old Ella is up, too, faithfully tagging after Mulligan, the alpha dog on her appointed rounds. Eventually Junior and his mistress make a sleepy appearance, she with a yawn, he with a shoe, and he lumbers out for a pee and perhaps a quick morning dip in the pool.
Soon everyone is back, eating, demanding more, squabbling over who got more of the good stuff. After this everyone goes their separate ways for the day until the process is repeated in the evening.
Not long ago I read that the average dog costs its owner eight grand over the course of its life, the average cat about a third less.
By this math I project we’ll have laid out close to forty grand before my days as a butler to domestic animals wind down.
It’s a good thing they let me live here for free.