Sep 13, 2007

Four-Legged Friends Challenge

Yes, I know I said no more challenges this year, but I am actually doing well in my current ones, so I figured one more wouldn’t hurt. The Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge is being hosted by Kailana at The Written World, and it’s a homage to her recently deceased dog, Sandy, and also to all the animals that were or are important in the participant’s lives. The goal is to Read books that have animals as the main character or an important character. They do not have to believable, in other words if they talk that is fine, but let's keep it with animals of the 21st-century. I love animals, and there are a few books I’ve been meaning to read that fit this challenge perfectly, so there’s no way I can resist.

So, between the 20th of September and the 26th of February, I will be reading:
  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White – because I’ve never read it before, and I really feel that I should. I remember that I loved the cartoon version that was around when I was little, but I don’t actually remember the story very clearly.

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo - I really look forward to read this story of A Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread.

  • Varjak Paw by S. F. Said – As some of you might remember, I saw this one at a bookstore a while ago and knew that I had to read it. It’s the story of a cat, and it’s illustrated by Dave Mckean.

  • Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones – I love Diana Wynne Jones and I haven’t read this one yet. It’s the story of Sirius, the Dog Star, who is doomed to spending a mortal lifetime as a dog on planet Earth.

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams – Another book I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time. It’s the story of a group of rabbits, and from what I heard it’s a sad and profound book.
As part of the challenge, Kailana also asked participants to write a little something about animals, past and present, which are or were important to them.

I am a huge animal lover, and I’ve had pets since I was seven years of age. Before that, my family and I lived in a tiny apartment in Lisbon that could not possibly accommodate animals. Despite that, my brother and I bugged our parents about it all the time. He wanted a dog, and I wanted a cat. When I was seven, we moved to a house in the north of the country, and we got our dog and cat.

Unfortunately, when we got Pluto, the dog, he already had the nerve disease that would kill him six months later, although he seemed healthy at the time. He spent a good part of his short life in and out of vets, but there was no way he could be saved. A few months after his death we got Pluto II, who was a loyal dog for 11 years. As for my first cat, we had him for 5 years, and then he disappeared. I was heartbroken when he did. He was a beautiful grey cat with emerald-green eyes, and he was extremely affectionate to me, even though I was a child at a time, and children don’t make ideal cat owners. I wish I had pictures of my first pets to share, but all of this was long before the time of digital cameras.

Over the years I had a great number of cats (7, to be exact) that either disappeared or were run over. The area we live in used to be quiet, but they built a new road and it became increasingly dangerous for animals – which is why my current pets are not allowed out. We have a big backyard that was carefully fenced, and my father made these protecting bars for windows in case we want to open one when a cat is in the room.

Each of the cats I lost was special for me in their own way. I think the death that hit me the most, though, was Juliet’s, four years ago. I got her and her sister Dia when I was seventeen. They were left in our front yard when they were kitties (probably because my family has gained a bit of a reputation as animal rescuers) and we kept them. Juliet’s death was terrible because it happened after we stopped letting the cats out. The backyard was fenced, but she still found a way out, and a car hit her right in front of our house. After this happened we put an extra protective net around everything, but I still had nightmares for months about something happening to the remaining three cats. Almost every day I would get up in the middle of the night to go check if they were okay. This is how I gained the habit of just bringing them into my room to sleep, and as a result, they became spoiled – one of them in special.

As you can tell by now, I have a lot of animal stories, so if I’m not careful this post will go on forever. So let me just write a few lines about my current pets. Right now there are two dogs and four cats in my house. All but two of the cats were strays we adopted. The dogs are both girls, and they are named Maria and Janiça. They are both very sweet, and they love each other to death.

This is Janiça. I cannot tell you how old she is exactly, because she was no longer a puppy when we got her. The vet says she must be around ten now. She just showed up in my neighbourhood some years ago, pregnant and abandoned. At first, several people in the neighbourhood would feed her and let her sleep in their porches. But then the day of her labour came. She picked our front yard to give birth, and as the hours passed we realized that something wasn’t going well, so we took her to the vet. It turns out that, probably because she had been hit by a car when she was younger, there was something wrong with her hipbone, and so she couldn’t give birth. They had to operate her, and both puppies ended up dying. They also had to remove her uterus, or else she’d run the risk of getting an infection.

After that, we brought her into the house and she officially became our dog. We had been the ones to pay for her surgery, after all. She actually dealt well with the deaths of her puppies and with the fact that she couldn’t ever be a mother. I know that can make some dogs neurotic – my boyfriend’s dog, for example, also can’t have puppies, because she has a defective backbone. Mating and pregnancy could potentially kill her. Every once in a while, she acts as though she is pregnant, and then “gives birth” to one of her toys. She spends whole days around it, licking it and protecting it, and she can even get aggressive if you try to take it away from her. But Janiça never acted like that. I was very sad when her litter died, but I was also glad that they had managed to save her.

Maria was also a stray, and her story, or what I can guess from it, breaks my heart. She was about one year old when we found her, and she had been terribly, terribly abused. She was nothing but skin and bones, part of her tongue was missing, and she was terrified of EVERYTHING. It was heartbreaking to watch, because on the one hand, she was a very friendly dog, starving for affection. But on the other hand, every sudden movement or loud noise would terrify her. She would just freeze where she was and start shaking violently. It was even worse if someone picked up something like an umbrella or a broom around her. All of this made us think her previous owners beat her up. It took a long time for her to become the enthusiastic, fearless dog she is now.

And now, the cats. I have four cats: Mi, Pedrez, Dia and Calvin. I am more of a cat person than a dog person, even though I love dogs too. But because this is already far too long, I will just write about the cat I’m closest to, Pedrez. Pedrez is the sweetest cat you can imagine. In some ways, he is more like a dog, even though he does have that unmistakeable cat-like independence. But he does things like come when I call him or follow me around the house. When we got him, he was a hyperactive and slightly avoidant kitty – with everyone except me. He took to me right away. Then slowly he warmed up to my family, but to this day he remains terrified of strangers.

Whenever we have a guest in the house, he runs away and hides under my bed. He would do that with my boyfriend at first, and it made me sad, because I’d always talk to him about how sweet my cat was, and then he’d only get to see this frightened little creature eyeing him suspiciously. But then he began to get used to him, and these days he likes him as much as the rest of my family – but I remain his favourite. Anyway, I’m very glad he likes my boyfriend now, because this way I get to share his soft side with him – his cuddliness, the way he climbs onto the computer monitor to be close to me when I’m online, the way he purrs louder when I scratch behind his ear or give him a bit of something he really likes eating (his favourite is chicken), the way he’s crazy about yoghurt and keeps meowing around me when I’m having it.

Lately I’ve been kind of emotional about my pets because I’m going to stay away from them for six months. For the last two nights, I’ve been having terrible nightmares about bad things happening to my cats. I think that in a way writing this huge post was helpful for me. It was something I needed.


  1. Thank you for sharing this with us Nymeth :) It was a beautiful post...really sad too, but it shows your love for animals. Your pets all sound amazing and they're so cute! I'm much more of a dog person and Janica is just the cutest little thing! Maria looks like such a sweet dog...her story is sad. It's horrible how awful some people can be to animals. I can't go to the animal shelters here because I know I would just adopt all of the dogs there! I have such a soft spot for animals.

    I've been trying to find 2 more books for the challenge and I just found them! I'm taking your ideas and reading Varjak Paw and Watership down ;)

  2. Thanks for joining in! I was seeing you are going to be away from your animals for 6 months? That would be horrible. One of my stalling factors in moving anywhere was Sandy. But she was different because she was at the end and I figured if I went away I would never see her again. It will still be hard with my three remaining cats, but not as much so.

    I am enjoying reading about everyones animals, I picked a good challenge. :)

  3. I just read about this on her blog and am thinking of joining in as well. I will give my book choices some thought and put up a list when I move.

  4. Chris: You're welcome... thank you for reading it! It really is horrible to see how cruel some people are to animals. I wish I could adopt all the dogs at shelters, and all the strays I see... it breaks my heart to see an abandoned animal. But there really isn't room for any more here.
    Yay, I'm glad you're taking my ideas. It'll be fun to discuss those books!

    Kailana: I'm going to study abroad for the next six months, and my animals are staying here with my family. I will miss them terribly, but at least I know they are in good hands, and hopefully they will be just the same when I come back. I hope they don't hate me for leaving - my cat Pedrês tends to sulk when I'm away for a while, and takes a few days to forgive me and warm up to me again. And yes, you really picked a good challenge!

    Rhinoa: I'm glad you're joining too. I look forward to seeing what you pick!

  5. Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading about all your animals.
    That's so incredibly sad about Maria. It's so horrible when people hurt animals like that. I'm glad she found a good home with you.
    Our pets really do have a special place in our hearts, don't they. :)

  6. Tanabata: They really do. It's amazing how close we can feel to little four-legged furry creatures.

  7. Oh Nymeth, what a beautiful, touching post! You just got the tears a-flowing here. I could relate to so much of what you said...we're big on strays and shelter animals here, too. It's where all our babies come from. Even our guppies and snails were rescued from possible flushing after a class project in my son's first grade room. And our mice were rescued from being snake food after physiology experiments where my husband teaches (don't worry, they only measure respiration rates...nothing at all harmful or painful). And yes, I know snakes need to eat, too...but these little girls just weren't going to be food! And of course, our dogs and cats are always abandoned babies.

    Maria's story especially broke my heart. Several years ago we found a sweet, starving dog who was covered in ticks (we literally pulled more than a hundred off of him). It was so obvious he'd been abused, too. He was just like absolutely couldn't get out a broom or mop in his presence. He would just cry and shake uncontrollably. We eventually had to put him to sleep, because he could become very aggressive and eventually bit Annie. It was sooooo sad, because you just knew that it wasn't his fault he was aggressive.

    Anyway, I'm so glad all your precious animals have you to take such good care of them! I can't even imagine how hard it will be to be away from them for so long!

    I love your list. I have the first two on my list, too. I've actually read Charlotte's Web before, but it's such a special story that I decided this was the perfect time to read it to the boys. And Annie has Watership Down on her list. (She absolutely loved Varjak Paw!)

    And by the way, we're heading to the library today to pick up a book for her that I immediately had to interlibrary loan after reading your review...I can't remember the name, something about a house with a clock in its walls. So thank you!

  8. aw, those are the cutest pets. and its amazing, but every single one of them has such personality! what nice pets. actually when you have pets like those, they're more than just pets, they're family!

  9. Wow! What a story! I'll have to tell you about our retirement home for dogs someday. ;)


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