This Side of the Pond – Mar. 29

By Sarah Pridgeon

There’s a new puppy on the family land and she has us wrapped around her tiny paw. Barely big enough to see without squinting, covered in scruffy black fluff with the most ridiculous squeak of a bark you ever did hear, she’s a much bigger presence than her size would imply.

Right now, at about 12 weeks old, Lucy is a bundle of energy on legs that don’t yet work as intended. She likes to be tucked under chins, can drag puppy-sized objects such as shoes surprisingly long distances and has figured out that, if she wants to get down from the sofa, she should push a cushion onto the floor for a nice soft landing.

But one must always consider the future, and she’s not going to be tiny forever. Granted, as part Skye terrier and part Scottie, she’s never going to be big enough to take down a bison. But terriers were bred back in Britain specifically to root out pests such as rodents – and the Skye version particularly hates cats.

Not only do we have a cat, we have an unpleasant cat. This is a creature that never knew its mother, so was never taught any manners, and was also born grumpy (and has yet to find the right side of the bed to roll out of).

I love my little ball of fur and claws to distraction, but I am objective enough to understand she isn’t going to win any charm contests. She bites my nose on a daily basis, jack-rabbits every chair leg in the apartment and never does a thing that she’s told.

We spend most of our time instructing her to get down from various surfaces, especially in the kitchen. All these years later, you’d think she’d have accepted that her humans don’t like pawprints on the chopping board, but no.

She’ll get down, reluctantly. But she has learned to mentally list every surface she’d been chased from during the course of a day so that, as soon as the lights go out, she can tour the place and take a seat on each of them in the correct order.

She reminds me of the tales I used to hear from my grandparents of the ugly ginger tomcat that for some reason adopted them. My grandfather adored it; my grandmother felt quite the opposite.

This cat was fierce from a young age, like my cat. Hearing a commotion one day, my grandfather ran into the next room to find the dog – a sizeable spaniel-terrier cross – cowering under a dining room chair while a fluffball of a kitten hissed at it from across the carpet.

That tomcat also wouldn’t take no for an answer, which did not endear it to the headstrong matriarch of the family. It did what it pleased, just like my cat, no matter the direction it was given.

One day, it came sauntering in from the back yard in the middle of a rainstorm, sopping wet and covered in mud, and my grandmother finally lost her temper. Her foot shot out towards it with the full intention of kicking it back out where it belonged.

Unfortunately, she missed. As she did so, her slipper flew from her foot and sailed down the garden, end over end, until it came to rest in the long grass right by the fence.

Cursing up even more of a storm, she hopped down the garden to retrieve it while my grandfather had a good laugh from the doorway – which no doubt infuriated her further. The way he always told the story, as she made her irritable way back to the kitchen, he turned to leave for work.

Still chuckling, he walked up the drive and through the front gate. Just as he turned back to close it, a clod of earth came flying past his head and, sure enough, there was my grandmother at the front door, a shovel in her hand.

I digress. The point I was getting at is that I had good reason to be concerned the high-pitched puppy and the undersized cougar were unlikely to get along. After all, the cat’s reaction to meeting a boxer ten times her size was to smack it with all her strength on the cheek.

And so, when it came time to babysit the squeak, the first thing we did was introduce the two of them: one dog bred to dislike cats, one cat born to despise absolutely everything. Would there be fur flying within the first few seconds?

The cat regarded the new arrival from atop one of the many discarded cardboard boxes that have grown into Cat Town on the floor of the dining area. The puppy gazed right back at her, tail wagging uncertainly at this strange new type of beast.

Slowly, the cat unfurled itself and slinked down to the floor, stalking over to inspect it more closely, completely in control. She stretched out her neck, sniffed and the rest of us held our collective breath.

Moments passed with the only motion in that room the twitching of a cat’s suspicious nose. The silence stood unbroken until the puppy yipped, wagged her tail and gifted the cat with a long, drool-covered lick, right up the front of her face.

I’m not sure who in that room was the most shocked, nor who was the most relieved. For my part, I suspect this is not the beginnings of a beautiful friendship, but it’s a better start than I hoped for. I’m fairly confident that not a single war has ever started with a kiss on the end of a nose.