I was searching for a new character for my fiction. Then I met a greyhound dog. Then I met his people. The following story came from the introductions.
From Dogs, Cats, and One Lone Rabbit in My Rear Window, published January 25, 2017 on Decoded Pets
A Four-Furry-Paws Welcome
One day, a cat fell into my garden.
I had claimed a section of the apartment’s community garden as my own in early June. Though, the entirety of each patio was open to all residents. The white-pawed cat rested in our home until her people picked her up that evening. Snooks’ cooperation at letting me carry her, sans struggle, and her mellow conversation in the kitchen with my husband belied the fact she had broken her leg in four places. Thus began my symbiotic relationship with this Lansdale cat. Her people said we rescued her. But it turns out, she, and all the other pets I met that year, rescued me.
The first morning of my life in Lansdale started with a camp chair for a seat, stark walls vacant of artistic depth, and sheets of uncovered windowpanes from ceiling to ledge. The glass opened up to an unfamiliar borough; a town or a village in my Midwest jargon, though it was a borough in Pennsylvania. The quiet sights and sounds, some imagined, filled my head each day while we waited for our furniture making its way from Arizona that late autumn.
I nestled with a book one early morning and caught a bit of rustling. The sound passed through the wall coming down the next-door neighbors’ long interior hallway paralleling our own, I surmised. A sudden rumble and then a bounce hit the wall, “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?”
The large building we resided in was outfitted with a maze of apartments; an assortment of configurations divided by long interior hallways on three floors. Within the outer brick and mortar walls were, also, two large patio gardens and a lobby with a cathedral ceiling bisecting the complex. Though many residents didn’t have a pet, it would have been difficult to live here without a passing appreciation for the four-legged fur babies living amongst us.
We had arrived in Lansdale still grieving for our dog of 17 years. We had our dachshund’s ashes and our memories; our new neighbors did not know about either.
Snooks was the only cat we came nose to nose with at Silk Factory Lofts. Though quick glances through panes of glass outside on either side of our apartment helped us realized our neighbors had cats, too. Their hullabaloos evoked welcome sensory delight; imagined antics were easy to contrive from living with our own felines years ago. We saw in our minds’ eyes the wiggles, jumps, and pouncing. These sounds awakened our other long cherished memories.
During an early breakfast, a marble broke the silence with a drop and then a slow, but steady roll down the length of our neighbor’s wood flooring. A ball in search of a bowling alley? A bounding broke the peace. Pounding paws, and then two more in quick succession, after which I envisioned a paw put to his or her nose? A snicker, perhaps?
Another tumble another time came. Of pieces, and the scamper of padded feet, two by two. Quick, they were discovered. Then a pink cotton swab appeared on our side from under the floorboard. Was it a message? A gift? A signal? A notice that yes, we are here.
Lincoln was the first dog I met, a puppy-welcome on the day our furniture was hauled in. With an upturned brow, I looked down at his paws. Reliable predictors of growth spurts to come, I thought. Through months that followed, Lincoln never lost his rambunctious nature; as we looked at each other I knew he tried hard to calm himself when I asked if I could pet him. I was happy to oblige this beautiful American Staffordshire Terrier for I enjoyed the pets as much as he did.
I don’t remember what happened to start the music in my head, but later in the year, when I would see Lincoln, Shirley Ellis’ The Name Game would suddenly start spinning. “Lincoln, Lincoln Bo Binkin, Banana, Manna, Bo, Lincoln…Lincoln…” A 60s song, really?
I met dogs in the hallway with varying frequency. There might be days or weeks before I’d see Lincoln, again. Though more like Abby, happenstance would mean we might pass each other in the hallways or out in the parking lot on one day, repeatedly. I was glad for the friendly canine faces and it was a good opener to converse with new neighbors and make friends, too.
As the days turned into months, my daily jaunts turned into habits, “May I pet your dog?” I’d ask a passerby with furry friend in tow. To the everlasting kindness of my neighbors, rarely, but with as much of a light touch, was a “no” uttered.
Every Average Day Welcomes
Tess, the big Sheepdog and Border Collie mix, delighted in meeting people, early. Tess dressed in a fluffy black and white coat and showed off an equally dazzling set of white teeth. Tess loved to smile. She and her people had moved in about the same time we had. In those early days, trips out to dispose of cardboard meant I’d see Tess often. Though in the end, our routines did not jive. I lost touch with Tess, until one day outside we did say goodbye. We were moving out about the same time; our one year in Lansdale was coming to a close.
Pieper would tug her dad ever closer when finding ourselves outside. I could not help but welcome the brown dog, like Tess, also was bedecked with a broad smile and, who I could only think, was also touting a big laughing heart.
Silas is her companion; her Stan Laurel to his Oliver Hardy. The sleek brindled Greyhound was a rescue, whose early life was the stuff of sad dog-track stories. Now, Silas was stoic. He had survived and had his two people, and his very own Pieper.
Pieper is the cheerleader and without fail asked for pets before the question ever left my lips. Silas stood by with his shiny cow eyes scanning the periphery. “Hi, Silas,” I would say as I peered into his face, my hand not missing a beat on Pieper’s soft brown coat. As the months passed, I saw Silas open up. Though, his priorities were set. Sometimes he just wanted to get home. “Can you not feel it? A storm is coming,” I imagined him thinking.
I got to know Silas and Pieper better that most of the resident pets. I accepted the opportunity to visit them in their home for an interview with their people. In developing a new character, a greyhound, for a future story, I asked to impose. While reading about dogs is good research, nothing replaces meeting an animal in person.
Both dogs in their home were my chance to watch them interact where they felt most comfortable. Silas gracefully stepped, first front legs then back end up, onto the couch next to me, took the measure of me with his sideways glances while Pieper, sitting on the floor, leaned into my legs. Then, for what seemed just a few minutes, Silas, in all his poise and grace edged off the couch, and up the stairs. Silas stopped, turned, and, with a look, bid us goodnight. They were a tribe; Pieper a love and Silas a majestic soul with people who created a safe life for both. Pieper was the polite host and bid me goodbye at the door.
Penny, the Pug was a senior girl that snorted hellos from her pushed in snout each time I greet her. I did not see her often though, I did hear about Penny before I had moved in. Penny was the first dog my husband had met in the complex. I regretted not saying goodbye to Penny, the Pug.
Abby, a blond Cocker Spaniel, I met early in the year as she moseyed in and outside the lobby with her dad. She sported a top knot of fluff that I had never observed in the Cocker Spaniels of my childhood. Abby wore coats made of many colors and practical beauty for every season, and did so with dignity. Abby was a willing player and in her jovial manner requested pets I was happy to give each time I saw her.
Hopper in a Blanket
A woman came towards me, as I walked down the hallway one afternoon later in the year. In her arms, she carried a bundle wrapped in a thin flannel blanket. Not until I passed her did I see, huddled inside, a rabbit.
After that, I wished I had grown carrots that summer. A few days later, I saw the rabbit lady in the patio; where my garden was nearing its end and where the cat had dropped in. She was struggling behind some tall shrubs in search of her rabbit, she told me. I laughed. Hopper had sought a secret place to play “hide and seek.” Quietly and gently she picked Hopper up for me to meet that day. Like Silas, and I suspected many of the four-pawed pets in the building, Hopper was a rescue.
Abby turned her head right and then left as though she stood at a crosswalk. She moved down the long hallway which led to our apartment and met me at our front door well-coiffed, dressed in style with her stubby tail wagging a greeting. My friend Janet came to bring me a book being the readers we were. Abby found a comfortable seat on the pillow of a rattan ottoman that once was loved by our own dogs. The time seemed a millennia ago.
Snooks’ leg healed over months, but she, too, spent the time in style. Her bandages went from pink to green to leopard print. Snooks and her people visited, and though, for a time she had to keep off her leg, she took the visits in stride. I was grateful.
After her bandage was off, I strolled up to their home the last week before our departure. Snooks’ evening silhouette stood at the end in the middle of their apartment’s hallway. Then she moved, escorting me to the living room. She acted as a cat, as though she was “checking for silverware.” We visited and said our goodbyes.
First Goodbyes Last Memories
Less than a week later, Snooks’ people were at our door with a picture of Snooks and me in a frame. A kind remembrance that now sits on a table in our home in the Midwest.
A little French Bulldog lived doors from us, though it was a rare treat to see him in the hallway. Usually he would be just turning a corner or walking into his apartment, his little tail wagging behind. He wore his clownish expression and dapper appearance well.
Days before the moving truck was loaded up, I met Mr. Piggy and his person in the public park “kitty-corner” to Silk Factory Lofts. It is a popular park made of old-growth where many residents took walks. He wore tan splashes on a white coat and his head was topped with the iconic bat ears and pushed-in nose of the breed. The bullish muzzle sported strokes of mouse pink color against his blackened nose. The gentleman was polite; we said our hellos and our final goodbyes.
Waiting for an airport taxi is a tedious task. First the waiting is going too slow, then, the time is suddenly fast approaching. A friend had stopped by to talk and keep me company in the lobby. Then I saw her. Aahh, Abby.
In from a stroll, she came over, sneaking around the low table around the chairs, and got a pet.
Abby had come to say goodbye.