It wasn’t always great. When I first got her, I had scant info from the SPCA. Her owner, an invalid, had had to give her up. She'd been in the SPCA a long time, transferred from Kelowna. Her name was Nikita, or Nikki. But I'd gone to get a cat, and remained fixated. Hence, Kitty. I know. I know.
In her first year with me sometimes she'd see a man of a certain tall, spare, build and would get very excited, hopeful. If we passed park benches she would often curl under them as if by long habit. She missed someone terribly. And she was inconsolably afraid.
The slightest noise and Kitty rattled from the soul. After Halloween the first year, she never would go out at night again. There’s this bizarre firecracker thing in Vancouver at Halloween. Pop-up stores sell screaming spitting incendiaries to every girl and boy for about a month beforehand. You’d swear you were in a war zone. Halloween is a crap day to be a dog in Vancouver. Anyway, from that point Kitty dug her paws in at the very idea of going out at night. You could drag her but she'd just shake. I mean really shake, like a machine that's had enough and the nuts and bolts are flying and taking out eyes.
I learned to listen for what might set her off. A truck backing up a few blocks away, and she might bolt.
She did like to go out predawn. The peace before our yappy minds and bangy ways get going. I’m still in the habit of walking through the woods before the sun is up because of her. Me and the coyotes.
I took to singing affirmations for her when we walked, and if you think that’s flaky, I see your point, but it’s a small peak on my giant glacier of flakedom and I really can’t apologize. It’s who I am.
Then, year two, when Halloween was approaching again and I heard the first firecrackers start to go, I was desperate. The first Halloween, her shakes lasted weeks.
I found a pet psychic in Kelowna. Yes I did. I can’t remember exactly what details she asked for—I think it was just the breed, species and problem. Anyway, when she got back to me, she said “stop singing to your dog." I hadn't mentioned the singing. But apparently it made Kitty more nervous. She was always listening hard in case of danger, and I was ignorantly running interference. Plus, she thought I wasn't paying attention. Double danger. So much for affirmations.
Three years in, Kitty began to calm down. She no longer ran away at sudden noise. When we’d walk, every so often, she’d press her muzzle into my pocket or my hand. I can still feel it.
She started to play with toys. She started to chase squirrels. She started to smile.
Having had only cats for ten years it was hard to get used to her being a total Klingon. She followed me everywhere. She looked at me with the most affection when I was sitting on the toilet. I considered perhaps she was thinking “I do that too!” Then a friend said, “She’s probably thinking: I drink out of that.”
Year four. You could say the name of someone unpleasant like so "VILE SOCIOPATH/POLITICIAN (insert your choice) is a SQUIRREL!" And she’d go crazy, barking her fur off and looking for the pernicious rodent. Good Times.
We had six years. Me and little buddy.
I had a dream. Kitty ran away an over a hill. The night was busy. In the pitch black you could hear raucous laughter, parties everywhere. I knew she’d be afraid of the noise. I ran out into the dark. Into the woods. An older man of a certain spare build called me, holding open the door of a log cabin. It was the only light in the nightscape. Inside the light was warm, golden inviting, like firelight. Kitty was there. She was lying down under his bed, not panting, sprawled, relaxed. The man said: ‘I’ve got her now, it’s okay.’