Wednesday, August 17, 2005

K-9 Compassion

Do dogs have feelings? Can they think, rationalize, or sort out their emotions? These were but a few of the questions posed by Dr. Stanley Coren in his book, "The Intelligence of Dogs - Canine Consciousness and Capabilities." After reading Dr. Coren's book, but affirmed by personal observation, the answer to my questions is a resounding "Yes!"

The other members of our household are two cats, Natchez and Alexis. Natchez was rescued by Anne about 10 years ago, after being found scavenging french fries by a McDonalds dumpster in Natchez, Mississippi. Alex, the most civilized of barn cats, came to live with Kathy after her father died.

Natchez is pure feline. She hunts and is quite successful. I've seen her stalk a bird on the ground and execute a perfectly timed leap to snare the bird as it made its getaway flight. Obnoxious blue jays who once tried to torment Natchez were met with her "You wanna piece of me? You and me. Right here. Right now." attitude. This confrontational demeanor is what makes the Border Collies love it every time Natchez roams into the house. Cornered by Gumbo and Roux, Natchez stands on her back legs, boxing the dogs with her declawed front paws. They love it. After Natchez finds safe harbor atop the fridge, the BCs position themselves on the kitchen floor in front of fridge for hours on end, waiting for Natchez' inevitable trip to the food bowl or litter box. Who says you can't herd cats? Our border collies do!

Alex, on the other hand, is the sweetest cat in the world, and could purr for hours on end while stationed in your lap. For a former barn cat, Alex never hunted or acted catlike, but instead lived the life of Riley. She had it made and she took full advantage of it. The one time early in life when Alex had kittens, she was the worst of mothers. It was like being a cat was something she wasn't destined to be.

Well, several weeks ago, we noticed Alex gimping around with her left side almost totally limp. Her left eyes and mouth drooped, while the mouth quivered. The look in Alex's eyes was not one of pain, as she did not howl out, but one of "what the hell is happening to me?" Certain Alex had a stroke, we took her to the vet. A stroke was ruled out, but some sort of unknown neurological degradation had occurred on her left side. We were given little hope that Alex would ever walk normal again.

But Alex didn't give up. She gimped less and less each day, and preferred to lay outside in the scorching Louisiana sun. Now suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, call it what you want, the chill of an air-conditioned house made her uncomfortable. But she was losing weight. Fast. It was obvious to Kathy and I that Alex was not long for this world. Her condition reminding me of so many stories I've heard about elderly folks falling and breaking a hip and it's all downhill from there.

Last Monday, Alex slid outside, motoring quite well. The gimp was barely there. As I left for work, she was parked in the sun, basking in all its radiance. She's on the mend, I thought.

But by Tuesday evening, Kathy and I were asking each other "Had you seen Alex?" By Wednesday noon, we concluded that Alex had wondered off to die. When Anne called Thursday evening, we told her about Alex, but she rebuffed our logic saying, "No, cats come home to die."

That night, both Gumbo and Roux started a new session of obedience classes. Kathy shuttled Roux out to the OVDTC for the second session, giddily telling me, "Alex is back!" When I got home, Alex, looking skeletal and pale, plunked herself on my lap and purred herself to sleep.

Anne and Jeff came for the weekend, and Friday night Kathy took Alex under her arm and brought her to bed with us. Sometime after midnight, I got up to turn off the TV, and returning to bed, I stroked Alex's head and was greeted with a soft meow and I heard her purr motor kick on. At 2:35 AM, I awoke to go to the bathroom, but when I went to stroke Alex again, I was met with a limp cat. I took her lifeless body outside and buried her at first light, before the family was awake and the mosquitoes, humidity, and heat of a Louisiana summer could work on me.

So what is all this background about the life (and death) of a cat along with questions about if dogs feel emotions and understand situations doing in a dog-blog?

Since Alex's gimpy-ness, the border collies left her alone. They would harass the hell out of Natchez, but Alex was off-limits. Not once did they confront her. They respected her disability, and gave her wide berth. As I dug Alex's grave, Gumbo and Roux stood guard over Alex, her body wrapped in an old towel. After covering the ground with stone and brick, they both came by and sniffed the grave. Once inside, Gumbo looked at me with a set of a sad, brown eyes. As I sat and drank my coffee, reflecting about Alex's life and times with us, he came and pushed his muzzle under my arm. He knew.

Do dogs have compassion? You bet. I'll argue this point with any scientist at anytime. Gumbo and Roux will never delve into quantum physics, but they certainly know about quantum emotions, the lifeblood of the soul, both human and canine.


Blogger Wayne's Mom said...

Quantum emotions. I felt them after reading your account of Alex's glorious life in the Wilkerson household. Big hug to you and Kathy.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks, Wayne's mom.

I think I'll have to write Alex's story now....

8:52 PM  

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