My life with cats and a dog


There are close to 90 million dogs living in the country’s households, according to a 2017 survey by the American Pet Products Association, and 86 million domestic cats, according to the Humane Society of the United States. This is a story about two such pets, Buddy and Cooper.

Growing up in apartments in Boston in the 1950s and ’60s, the closest thing to a pet that I had was a goldfish, and that barely lasted 24 hours. It’s not that I had anything in particular against dogs and cats, it’s just that a Boston apartment doesn’t make for a good home for them.

So it’s not surprising that I remained without a real pet in my life until my wife and I bought our home in North Attleboro 26 years ago. That’s when a domestic short-haired gray tabby named Frisky adopted us. Yes, that’s right; it turned out that she had lived at our place before we moved in and was left behind by the previous owners.

Over the years, Frisky was joined by Fluffy, an old Persian cat who also adopted us, after a neighbor added a big dog to his household.

After we lost Frisky and Fluffy within two months in the summer of 2001, we adopted another Persian cat, Wally, from a shelter, and soon added Mao-Mao (the Chinese word for cat) from a friend’s litter.

After Wally succumbed to a congenital heart condition, we got Mao-Mao a friend, a kitten named Cooper. But Mao wanted little to do with him, and a couple of years later, Cooper was all alone after an illness took Mao-Mao from us.

That brings us to today, when Cooper shares our household with Buddy, a feisty shih tzu-Pekingese mix that my wife, Lynne, brought home for our 27th wedding anniversary. Buddy is the first dog that I’ve had as a pet, which likely has a lot to do with me having a history of being bitten by dogs while running.

To this day, I’m not crazy about dogs, but Buddy and I have an arrangement: I share my challah and bagel crisps, and matzah during Passover (he’s a Jewish dog, after all), and in exchange he won’t bite me – although I still must refrain from petting him on the head while he’s on his mat, or else he’ll munch away at my fingers.

Cooper and Buddy generally coexist, although they like to wrestle with each other, until Buddy gets too rambunctious and forces Cooper to practice his high-jump maneuvers over the kitchen gate that keeps Buddy from roaming all over the house.

Over the years, I’ve wondered why Cooper and Buddy do certain things, so I conducted an exclusive “interview” with both pets for this issue of Jewish Rhode Island. A partial transcript follows:

A dog’s life

Me: Why do you bark so much, especially whenever people come over?

Buddy: I’m just trying to protect the household; you never can be too careful.

Me: That’s what you say! We’re tired of your incessant barking every time friends drop by, and whenever a plumber or an electrician, for instance, has work to do.

Buddy: What do you want from me – I’m a dog, I bark. I can’t speak human, after all.

Me: Speaking of barking, why do you go crazy whenever there’s thunder?

Buddy: Look, I can’t comment on the day’s events like you can. Instead of saying, “OMG, look at the size of that hail” or “that thunder really shook the house,” all I can do is bark. So lighten up.

Me: Why do you try to bite me when I lean over to pat you on the head, and why did you bite me last year when I tried to clean your mat? You don’t ever treat Lynne that way.

Buddy: First off, you’re a big dude, and given your underlying issues with dogs, I won’t ever trust you. As for the second part, that’s easy: I know Lynne’s the boss and you’re a paper tiger, so I’ll never be afraid of you.

Me: What’s your favorite snack?

Buddy: Anything that falls on the floor.

A feline’s perspective

Me: You seem to sleep a lot during the day. You go from hanging out in the basement at night to napping on the master bed. What gives?

Cooper: I’m a cat, therefore I nap.

Me: It’s nice when you cuddle up on my lap at night, but why do you pace on the couch for five minutes before settling in?

Cooper: You’re not the only living thing in the house who’s suffering from restless legs syndrome. I have to move around to feel better, and the last time I checked, there’s no kitty acupuncture.

Me: How do you always seem to know when I’m about to take the trash to the garage? You inevitably appear at precisely the right time.

 Cooper: I have CESP?

Me: Is that a cable network for cats?

Cooper: No, dummy, that stands for cat ESP.

Me: I know you stalked the bunny before Cookie left us in 2014, but why were you trying to kill Buddy by leaving your metal coil toys near his bed?

Cooper: So that’s why you guys took them away while you were on vacation last December, and only recently gave some of them back. But you shouldn’t worry; I wasn’t trying to do away with him, I was just testing him.

Me: In that case, you won’t mind if we let Buddy’s wrestling with you get out of hand, will you?

Cooper: I’ll ease up on Buddy if you’ll let me outside just once.

Me: That’s not happening. You may be annoying at times, but we love you too much to ever let you step one foot outside, because if you did, it could be the last time we see you due to the predators that live in the woods.

Cooper: OK, you guys win. I’ll try to be better, but I’ll still jump on the kitchen table whenever I smell food.

Me: I wouldn’t expect anything less.

LARRY KESSLER ( is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.

Kessler, pets