Rosemary McLeod: A sucker for animal stories

By Rosemary McLeod

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Buddies Harry and Maggie. Photo/File
Buddies Harry and Maggie. Photo/File

The more I see of humans the more I like animals, any animals, but especially cats and dogs, who never have loud, drunken parties even if they do puke on your rug.

Our cat Toby is getting older. He can no longer whip round the garden quick enough to catch butterflies and cicadas to drop at my feet, and as a result the garden is a confetti of monarchs, cabbage whites, and - for the first time - a native butterfly that used to be on a postage stamp. I've only rescued a handful of butterflies this year.

When he was a little chap Toby caught wetas. I think he exterminated a city full of them for the pleasure of hearing my squeals and watching me jump. Then he targeted cicadas, the wonderful noise-making toy a cat can play with for ages. I've only rescued a handful of those, too, this year. Apparently you can eat cicadas. Toby doesn't.

There have been mice. I saw him deposit one in a visiting friend's handbag and looked on it as a token of his esteem. I'm an indulgent parent now that my older, human children have grown up.

If cats are cruel, because they maim and kill their prey even when they're not hungry, at least they know no better. They haven't reasoned themselves into it because of religion or politics, or just because they're nasty. They can't be evil because, like young children, they don't have a mind that dwells on big picture ethics. They just are.

The price of a cat's affection is having to deal with dead rats, mice and small birds, and coping with vomit. The appeal is that the world is a bewildering place full of people doing unimaginably nasty things, but an animal is never nasty, unless it has been abused by humans, who are the bad dogs of the world. We know what's wrong, but we do it anyway.

I have begun to look differently at dogs. I don't want to own one. I've tried, and couldn't handle their constant need for attention, but I look at them these days like some women look at babies. Some dogs have big personalities, especially the small dogs I once ignored.

They enjoy the world so much when their owners walk them that it's infectious. What smells we live among, colours, if they can see colours, and what gratification there is in peeing here and there, the way some humans leave graffiti.

It must be age. I smile at dogs. I talk to cats. I lose my house keys. And in the evening I'm rewarded by a small animal's decision to choose my lap to sleep on. Gertrude Stein said, I am I because my little dog knows me. I am I because Toby helps me feel less cantankerous when I watch the world news and despair at the stupidity of people.

If everyone could have a loyal cat maybe they'd stop making wars and wrecking people's lives. Life could be simpler, surely.

Such is the simplicity of the animal-lover's brain, anyway.

A cat makes the world small enough to handle, for minutes at a time. And a dog can remind the world of what loyalty is. It's a rare trait in humans, but comes naturally to a well cared-for dog like the chubby and unbeautiful Ataahua, of Hamilton, who was doubtless lovely looking enough for her owner.

Ataahua's owner, Kerry Morgan, has vanished. Though the dog was taken home for the night without him she escaped to sit on the Waikato riverbank where he was last seen, and where they walked together every day. Searchers found Ataahua near his shoes and hat.

She kept returning, waiting for him, and as I write, days later, he has not been found.

Donald Trump is the scary new American politician who'll cause havoc if he gets elected, and makes democracy look dumb. Syria is in its usual state of misery, while Europe drowns in asylum-seekers.

China is building armed islands in the sea near the Philippines, and America is testing its minute men nuclear missiles to remind Korea that it can retaliate against attack. England may leave the European Union, and somewhere in Russia, I expect, Alexander Putin is busy doing press-ups. He has a dog. He can't be all bad.

As for Kerry Morgan, wherever he is, what greater tribute could there be to him than the loyalty of his dog?

I'm a sucker for stories that make the world seem to be a saner place than I know it is, and this is absolutely one of them.

Rosemary McLeod is a journalist and author.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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