By Elizabeth Speth
Every morning Angus and I meet at the front door for a standing date to do chores together.
Now, the thing about Jack Russell Terrorists — what endears them to their humans despite all the crazy behavior, shrill barking, general mayhem and destruction — is that they are joyful dogs. Those frantic, furiously busy little bodies house enormous reservoirs of happiness over the simplest of things. A wide open place to run. A puddle of water. A morsel of food to bury. A daily appointment to scoop manure and terrorize the horses together. He’s all in. Every ecstatic, wriggling square inch of him.
So, as I was saying, we meet at the door, and we wish each other good morning with a dignified handshake.
I gather my boots, stuff my pockets full of whatever cream, medicine, ointment or pills I’m administering to the horses that day. I put on my hat.
Sometimes, to shake things up, I pretend to forget my hat, because it is fun to see Angus boy-oy-oing into the air to knock it off the rack with his nose. Then he looks at me pointedly as if to say: “Okay, Forgetful. Pick it up, put it on, let’s get going.”
Angus likes his routine. All of it. You can’t skip even one part of the ritual.
Lately, though, our smooth, calm scooping of the morning poop, wheeling of the barrow, filling of the troughs, throwing of the hay etc. has been marred by the presence of a bully.
I’m talking about the neighbor’s enormous, fluffy, blindingly-white cat. Hereafter I’m going to refer to the cat as (S)he, because there is no way I’m getting close enough to narrow it down any more than that. This cat is terrifying.
S(he) first strolled out to the middle of the pasture a few weeks ago. S(he) stood out like an ice floe in a field of dirt, and basically look-dared Angus to come over and mix it up.
And Angus wanted to. Angus saw S(he), and his jaw dropped. He snapped to attention as the cat began to grow, arching to twice its size, all that glorious white fur now standing on end, a scattering snow flurry.
“Angus, heel!” I commanded, because I did not want a gory felineocide on my hands. That cat was positively suicidal, sitting there like that, a creamy challenge to the poor, whining, blood-lusting little warrior that is Angus.
Since then, chores have become very stressful, because every day that damned cat is out there, big and fat and blinding and insolent in the middle of our field. I should be working, occasionally looking up to see Angus trotting around happily, exploring and stirring up trouble.
Instead, I am constantly anxious, shouting: “Angus! No! Heel to me, Angus! Stop it! Angus! Get back here!”
And he is constantly sneaking off, only to be called back, darting away, only to be sharply reprimanded. He is a yipping, yelping, squirming misery of longing to get at S(he) and show that interloper what is what.
I’ve tried leaving him inside. His sharp, high-pitched protest was shattering eardrums in the next county. Authorities were summoned. The cat situation was explained. No sympathy was elicited. Noise ordinance violations were handed out.
I’ve tried varying the times we venture forth, to no avail. S(he) watches for us, and comes sauntering out of the blackberry bushes, all menace and attitude, at the first rattle of the gate.
I tried scaring the cat off with a wave of my arms and rake, and the cat winked at me.
And then this morning it all got away from me.
I lost focus for a moment, I guess, my mind on manure. Maybe the tines of my pitchfork got snared in a weed. Maybe I was dozing. Maybe I subconsciously wanted it all to end. Whatever the reason, I looked up and Angus was halfway across the pasture, streaking at the fast-swelling S(he), who spat loud and long, screamed hellishly, and then charged right toward the missile that was Angus.
I was frozen in shock and horror. Angus’ name died a futile death on my tardy lips.
They collided like two white-hot stars.
The cat went over the top of Angus, slashing at him with an impressive arsenal of claws, which sent the poor dog tumbling once, twice, three times. He crashed into a post.
He wasn’t down for long, though. Nosiree. In less than a second Angus’ feet scrambled and found purchase in the witnessing dust. And he got the hell out of there, tongue and ears flying behind, just trying to keep up. He streaked past me with a large-eyed, humiliated stare, and then he flung himself under the fence and thoroughly out of the pasture, unmistakably ceding it to the cat.
Who strolled back into the blackberry bushes and, point made, has not been seen since.
Once the cat was gone, Angus, still on the other side of the fence, began running up and down the line of it, barking ferociously at the section of greenery that had swallowed the cat.
Loosely translated, because I’m leaving out the profanity, what Angus was saying was:
“Why, you dirty cat! If it weren’t for this fence between us, and the fact that you’re not even here anymore, why, I’d tear you limb from limb.”
He did this until the greenery moved, rustled by a passing breeze. That’s when he ran inside.
Later, he showed me where he thought he might have hurt his paw in the battle.
He’s been sticking close to the house today, keeping an eye out for that damn S(he).
I think he will be haunted for some time to come. When his eyes look out into the horizon, unseeing, he will go back to this terrifying morning. When a kitten meows softly he will start, and then retreat inward.
There are no support groups for Angus. (I checked. He asked me to.) No words of comfort. It’s his burden to carry. His and his alone. Poor fellow.