It’s Mother’s Day in the United States today, and it’s Mother’s Day on Tuesday in Mexico. I don’t have any human children, but my husband often refers to me as The Mother of Dogs, just as I often refer to my home as the House of Bark.
So, in honor of the day, and in celebration of all mothers, whether they are raising human children, fur-kids, or some combination of the two, I want to share a true story from my life.
It happened in 2009.
It was a cold and sleety January day in the DFW Metroplex, with many of us indulging our inner ten-year-olds and watching the weather reports with one compound question on our minds: Will we get snow, and if so, will it actually stick?
In my back yard, however, there was another question to be answered: in the matter of possession of the patio furniture, who would win: Miss Cleo or the Squirrels?
I should explain a few things before I begin my story:
Miss Cleo was a twenty-pound spayed female dog. At nearly nine years old, she still thought she was a puppy. She also had an aggressive streak that generally only manifested itself with veterinary personnel, smokers, and strange men with clipboards who dared to ring my doorbell and provide repair services or present packages.
Second, a week before this incident, when we were at jury duty, we came home to discover that some animal had carved a bowl-shape the size of a Cool Whip container (the big ones) out of the seat of one of the patio chairs. (Lest you believe we aren’t taking good care of said chairs, please understand, we’d planned to replace all the cushions in the summer, anyway.)
And now for the fun part:
It had become necessary to walk out into the back yard (at least to the edge of the deck) with the dogs when they were sent to complete their morning “rounds,” because my older dog (Zorro, 14YO neutered male Chihuahua) had, in his old age, become cranky and neurotic. He’d never liked to get his feet wet, and if he was not supervised, would go to the end of the deck, come back inside, and leave puddles in the middle of the living room floor.
That morning, as I escorted the dogs to The Place Beyond the Door (we could not use the word ‘out’ with Zorro or Cleo because they recognized it. This is a tradition that continues with the current members of the House of Bark), Miss Cleo and I noticed a small furry animal perched on the back of one of the patio chairs. It was large enough that at first I thought it was a stray cat, but it was, in fact, a red squirrel, with a mouthful of cushion foam and a cheesy grin. It gave us a wave, flicked its tail, and was scooting along the top of the back fence before Miss Cleo could even stop pawing anxiously at the ground.
Score: Miss Cleo – 0, Squirrels – 1
Not fifteen minutes later, we were all sprawled on the bed (well, the dogs were sprawled, and I was sitting, writing an article about the future of Saab for work), when Miss Cleo’s hackles rose, and she began producing that really low guttural growl that small dogs generally emit only when there is a rodent to be attacked. Or, you know, a sock. Or a leaf blowing in the breeze. Or someone walking down the street three miles away. You get the idea.
I glanced out the window, and sure enough, another squirrel – or perhaps the same one – was on the patio chair harvesting foam.
Miss Cleo and I went out to the yard to investigate.
I wanted to try and snap a picture; she wanted to play ‘eat the squirrel.’ Sadly, my camera batteries were dead (note to self: charge camera), but Miss Cleo went outside into the sleet, and approached her prey.
When she was two feet away, the squirrel glanced at her.
When she was one foot away, it stared balefully over the foam it was holding.
She hopped onto the seat of the chair, tail curled so tightly I feared it might never unfurl again, and then – and I swear I am not making this up – the squirrel threw a wad of foam at Miss Cleo. It bounced off my poor dog’s nose, and while she was shaking her head trying to figure out what the whitestuff was, the squirrel gave a shake of its tail and scampered out of sight.
Score: Miss Cleo – 0, Squirrels – 2
Several hours later, I had just finished giving Zorro his evening drugs (Lasix and vetmedin), and giving Miss Cleo treats to help disguise the fact that Zorro was getting drugs (I’m sure he knew, but he was willing to play the game in order to get extra treats).
I escorted them into the back yard, which had become decidedly icy once the sun had set, and guess who was back? Yes! The squirrel! I didn’t think they were nocturnal, but apparently they really dug (no pun intended) the innards of my patio furniture.
Miss Cleo took off across the yard and the squirrel took off into the trees.
Miss Cleo jumped up onto the brick ledge that forms the back wall of the pool (and is about two and half feet above the water’s surface).
Miss Cleo learned that icy brick and dog feet are ‘unmixy things’ (to use a Buffy-ism), and went splash! into the freezing water, while the squirrel sat on the opposite fence, laughing.
It is a well-known fact that squirrel laughter sounds uncannily like Bart Simpson.
Neither Zorro nor Miss Cleo are still with me. Zorro went to the Rainbow Bridge less than a month later, a week after I brought home my first big dog, Maximus. Miss Cleo joined him in 2013.
The current members of the House of Bark, Max, Perry, Teddy, Piper, and foster-dog Madison never met Zorro (well, Max did, but the others didn’t), but all of them except Piper lived with Miss Cleo. She was always a prickly sort of dog, but she was my dog, and I loved her.
The squirrels remain, but ever since that winter, they’ve left the patio furniture unmolested, and none of the other dogs have managed to land in the pool.
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.