Pet Smart?

            It goes without question that the most elite echelon of the brave, daring and most oft sacrificed members of our Air Force are not the boys and girls in blue but the poor beleaguered creatures forced by the cruel hand of apex superiority to abide them. This entry, before moving on to the weightier matters of foolish ideas and the eventual collapse of the core shop cabal, serves to pay tribute to the handful of animals who endured us; some to their eventual demise while others perhaps still now breathing the sweet air of freedom. Probably not though as it has been a while and all but perhaps a cat are quietly rotting in a Hefty bag beneath Mt Trashmore.

            I first observed the sacred bond between human and animal back at Sheppard in the halcyon days of tech school. Although I have gone on ad nauseum regarding the strictness of the rules in said place of torturous learning I will bore you again by reiterating that disobedience brought on the most draconian of old time tortures this side of Iron Maiden; a far cry more heinous than the spiky namesake rusting away in the Tower of London. Airman Jackson, however, was a man without fear or good common sense and like a slightly enhanced Lenny managed to capture a baby jackrabbit and smuggle it into the dorm.

            Sheppard was littered with various forms of wildlife include the aforementioned jackrabbits which in Texas grow to the size of dogs and are incredibly fast. Jackson would never reveal how he came across is prize but he sauntered into the smoke pit one afternoon cradling something in a towel. “Look what I got!” he revealed a miniature version of the fleet footed vermin proudly as if he had a hand in the creation poor creature frightened into a stupor. Against the advice of everyone present, he proceeded to smuggle the beast into the dorms hidden in his pants. Apparently baby rabbits don’t bite or the canny thing had the wherewithal to distinguish a true carrot from the distasteful similarity crammed before its face.

            While he expressed a deep and paternal love for his acquisition, he proved to be a poor caretaker. Refusing to heed advice that it still retained its milk teeth and likely wasn’t on solids yet, Jackson dutifully smuggled greens from the chow hall up to the rubber banded shut shoebox where he kept it. His constant surprise at its lack of appetite did nothing toward inspiring a decision to opt for release into the natural environs. Due to the rigid inspections we were all subjected to, Jackson kept the thing in the shoebox all day beneath carefully folded laundry. I am sad to say that the wee beast held out for the better part of a week before spiritually departing for sunnier fields.

            While the Air Force management would have taken action to prevent the demise of the poor bunny, I feel there is a different policy in order when it comes to fish; the ferocious beta specifically. Once I got rid of Jim, my dorm roommate at Langley, I felt a small pang of loneliness at having the abode all to myself.  It was during the time when Carrie Pierce was around a lot and she suggested I look into getting a fish and offered to support the decision by entering into a commitment herself by doing the same. It was initially with trepidation but soon with great joy that Carrie and I made our way to the mall and emerged each with gleaming new bowls, colorful rocks and plants, and glorious betas encapsulated in those plastic bags of water they give you that should not be left long in the car on a hot day.

            I set up my fish, named Dr Doom after my car, upon the shelf such that I could see him from any part of the room. He proved a far better companion then Jim ever was; rarely haggling over what we would watch, declining noisy and pointless projects, and shutting the fuck up when told. To boot, I could beat him at chess as well. Each morning I fed him a carefully measured amount of bloodworms and in the evening stood vigil to ensure my ill intentioned friends did not pour beer into his bowl to see what would happen as they frequently threatened. It was a partnership for life in my mind.

            The joy was not to last and what I feel was a deep and far reaching conspiracy reared its head on monthly inspection day. Once a month the First Sargent of the squadron would let herself and an inspection team into each one of the dorm room and perform a white glove casing of the joint. Failure meant suspension of privileges but most passed but with some notes for improvement or complaints short of the fail mark. I came home after the first such inspection and greeted Dr Doom. He failed, however, to greet me back, being far too busy floating at the top of the bowl. I sank to my knees in despair; our time together, rosy and budding like spring, was already at an end. In a daze I picked up the inspection results that MSgt Wood so kindly left next to the bowl. ‘Pass but one demerit for dead fish. Pls remove. Tx – MSgt Wood’.

             My outrage could barely be contained. Who the hell did she think she was? Fortunately I knew exactly who she was and wisely kept my fury local. The sheer audacity overwhelmed me nevertheless. On what rational basis would I meticulously clean the room to utter perfection yet leave something so conspicuous as a big old floater in the middle of the room? Was she suggesting I was so obtuse as to polish each individual venetian blind yet leave great hulking carcasses about in defiance of her iron handed pristine order? A niggling thought resonated. What if she could not abide perfection in the lower ranks? What if despite her best efforts to uncover flaw it simply was not to be had? What might someone desperate do then?

            I find the best method of dealing with loss is to abstain with the whole 5 stages process and the dreariness that accompanies it and move right on to direct replacement and pretend the whole sordid business never happened. I dragged Carrie back to the pet store even though her familiar made it though the inspection unscathed, and obtained a nearly identical fish, which I also named Dr. Doom. Despite some minor personality differences and obvious dislike of my friends, it was a good match and for all intents seamless. DD and I settled into comfortable routine though I looked uncomfortably toward the future inspection that loomed. My expertise as a procrastinator allowed me to bumble forward for most of the 30 days without much care.

            Before I knew it, inspection day had come around again; the rough beast to come slouching through my door to ensure our living conditions were as comfortable and homey as a Cadillac showroom. I spent the night before scrubbing the dickens out of the joint such that not even eagle eyed CSI type nosey parkers could detect the tiniest speck of organic or other evidence that I had ever been within a nautical mile of the room. This would be the acid test to se what was really going on. I was tempted to call in sick and be present for the inspection, but Air Force regulation held that it was come to work or go to the hospital and I didn’t feel my acting skills were up to par to feign overnight stay caliber Buellering. With a heavy heart I tapped the bowl goodbye and left for work.

            I came home and found my suspicions correct! Once again my finny friend lay sunny side up next to a mocking note from the First Shirt. ‘I thought I said, get rid of the dead fish! 2 demerits. All else good. Pass. Barely. Tx – MSgt Wood’ That fucking coldhearted bitch! She was killing my fish just to have something to complain about! I began investigating with the other dormies who also harbored animals; legally or illegally. I got no corroboration as everyone else went unmolested. Obviously their hygienic standards were such that Wood needed no trumped up excuse to kvetch about their rooms.

            There was nothing I could do. Her power was such to smite me from afar and I knew even my inquiries were dangerous as spies lurked everywhere (a truism as will be explained in another story). Taking a page from Homer who advised that anything hard should be abandoned, I quit. I donated my fish supplies to Carrie who apparently had a much nicer inspector; plus she was a slob. The next month my room was pure perfection though fishless. I came back to find the usual note. ‘Pass. One demerit for fingerprint on the mirror. Tx. MSgt Wood’. It wasn’t mine.

            Interestingly enough, a year later MSgt Wood became our shop chief and I got on friendly terms with her. A battleaxe for sure, but pure excellence in leadership wisdom. I became comfortable enough to discuss with her the fish incident though stopped short at hinting at her murderous actions. “Wolfie, every time I came in there I could barely breathe with all the cleanser in the air! There were probably enough chemicals in that water after you were done to kill a horse.” Oops.

            The next pet worth mentioning was not mine but Tiffany’s. Tiff had moved out of the dorm and into the spare bedroom in Travis and Kelly’s apartment. They liked the idea of the extra income and Tiff was hard up at finding another roommate so it seemed to be an ideal situation. Though an innocent maneuver, she nearly immediately incurred some degree of animosity by procuring a puppy shortly after she took up residence and hadn’t quite gotten around to consulting with them first. Like me, she was a beg forgiveness type of gal, which is how she ended up with Josie the basset hound. I believe the namesake was glam-rock superstar Josie and the Pussycats and not the tragically transgender named Outlaw Josie Wales.

            Josie resembled a miniature version of canine icon Flash from ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and was almost as smart and fast. Naturally she was not housetrained yet when procured and truly never would be. She and Travis entered into a hate/ hate relationship early on. It was clear the poor thing wasn’t terribly bright as she never even learned her name, how to use the bathroom outside and other examples I’ll get to. She did, however, possess a certain level of defiance in her insistence on waddling up to Travis, looking him dead in the eye, and taking an enormous crap on the floor.

            While Travis was no neat freak, he grew resentful of constantly stepping in dog shit, puddles of urine, or one of the numerous foamy piles of Resolve that added to the landmine aspect of the carpet. At first, Travis took to barking loudly at Josie at any circumstance, which would scare the puppy something fierce and of course make her pee. It had the added effect of teaching the dog the one thing it ever learned; barking as an effective tool to annoy and began doing so almost incessantly. Travis took a more passive aggressive approach thereafter to Tiff’s annoyance. “Dammit! Travis ate all the Pupperoni again!” He had found an effective tool to both deprive the dog of her favored snacks while irritating Tiff and saving his personal snacking budget.

            The situation could not hold and she ended up renting a house with Alicia, who also had an irritating pet habit with her gigantic turtle pond. On the evening she left, Travis threw a ‘Ding Dong the Bitch is Gone’ party and did not inform Tiff as it was left conspicuously unclear who precisely the title of the party referred to. I declined to attend out of an enamored sense of loyalty and never had the heart to reveal to her that it had taken place. The dog pee smell never quite came out of the carpet despite all clean up efforts and I believe they lost some or all of the security deposit as a result since it was a ‘no pets’ establishment.

            The troubles with Josie continued at the new place of course and no amount of effort was making a change. She read up on and tried crate training, but the dog seemed perfectly happy to not only crap in the cage, but then roll around in it forcing Tiff to add bathing a shitty dog to her itinerary of morning chores. She finally decided that Josie was best suited to be an outdoor dog and figured a pounded in stake in the yard with a chain would serve as the beast’s new home. The keen intelligence of the animal, however, thwarted this clever scheme. Josie, lacking comprehension of physical limitations, would strain against the chain with all of her might, which had the effect of closing her windpipe and would then pass out for lack of air. When she awoke she would immediately do the same thing; strain until she passed out, then fall over, wake up a minute or so later and so forth. Tiff took pity on the situation and procured a harness whereby the dog could strain forever injury free.

            She discovered one of the benefits of having Josie perpetually air deprived was lack of breath for barking. Once freedom to breath was restored, the hound would bark continuously from the moment she was put out until Tiff had to haul her back in to appease threatening neighbors. The solution of a bark collar which provided a shock when the dog got going was briefly employed. The problem was again that Josie couldn’t understand cause and effect and would bark more with the shock until the repetition drove her into a rage. The device was removed and set aside for dares, drinking games and pranks.

            One Friday morning after the overnight shift, Tiff and I were drinking beer in her kitchen and listening to the Bloodhound Gang and Dynamite Hack as was our start of the weekend routine. Josie was making it hard to listen to the grating sounds of late ‘90’s faux punk, so we took a chance and invited her to partake with us. Initially the bubbles made her bark more until she took a taste and slurped up the whole bowl. She was considerably mellow after that and Tiff was relieved that at least something existed that would relax her into shutting the fuck up, even if she did crap on the floor soon after. The problem was that keeping the dog drunk, while probably having some ethical considerations, was not sustainable and caused strife amongst the humans who were now competing for scarcer alcohol resources. Beaten, Tiff finally found a nice family who took Josie at no charge, renamed her Duke, and had her fully trained in less than a week.

            After the Josie experience, Tiff decided it might be advisable to go with a more maintenance free animal and set about looking for a cat. Despite there being numerous SPCA shelters about and plenty of local ads in the paper, she somehow set her heart on one of a set of kittens way down by the NC border about an hour away. As usual, I was recruited to drive her down there one morning after work as I was incapable of saying no, no matter what the level of inconvenience was. I was never clear on why she was determined to pay $50 for a far away kitten she had never seen when plenty of free ones were available, but nevertheless, she did.

            Our scheme for getting the cat home was a cardboard box wherein the flaps could be folded closed and a roll of duct tape. We made it down there and met the family and were introduced to the cat who immediately ran and hid. The family gave us no help in catching the wily creature and we spent about an hour getting a hold of it. Putting it in the box was no easy task either as it did that infuriating cat thing by splaying out its legs to make itself too big for the opening. I managed to force it in and close the flaps while it went apeshit inside, sticking its claws out and drawing blood more than once. I was trying to duct tape the box closed when it found a new strength and burst free, running away to another part of the house as I cursed a blue streak and Tiff and the family laughed. We finally decided the Tiff would just carry the thing home in her lap.

            Surprisingly, it turns out that cats don’t much enjoy lap rides in moving vehicles. After a long bout of freaky mewling, it voided the contents of its surprisingly large bladder into Tiff’s lap and the seat. I was considerably grateful that we took her car down instead of mine, though smelling the rancid cat piss smell for the rest of the ride was no picnic. Rather than immediately have the car detailed, Tiff let the odor bake in for a few days and ensured it would be a permanent feature of the vehicle. On days we traveled together thereafter, until I got my next car anyway, it was always a discussion as to whether we wanted to enjoy the fragrance of spoiled milk or cat piss for the day. The last time I went down to visit her, the rank stench was the first thing I noticed when she picked me up from the airport.

            The cat worked out marginally better than the dog, but continued to share a lack of good toilet habits. Tiff, annoyed that the cat constantly avoided her and could not be found, tied a large jingly bell to its collar. The cat retaliated by pissing then in Tiff’s bed. They made a truce after that for the most part, although there was an unfortunate incident during the collapse period where the cat was suspected of pissing in Alicia’s bed leading her to demand the cost of a new mattress. Due to the huge amount of it and lack of distinctive cat pee smell we countered with the alternative theory that it was actually Bryan who peed the bed while drunk. We were not on good terms at the time which may be part of the genesis of this unfavorable hypothesis, but in the end it was agreed that the cost would be split.

            I thought all was well and done with the wild kingdom until Tiff decided to take custody of one of the dormies large aquariums. Having no special expertise in cleaning them, it soon became a horror. When the collapse occurred and she was forced from the house, she decided to foist the damn thing on me, and of course I took it under the auspices that she loved the fish and wanted to visit them, which was all right by me. When I moved back to Buffalo months later, I left it there, one gift of many, for Travis and my replacement at the apartment.

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