An ageing farmer’s new puppy is behaving like no dog he’s ever seen before; by Adam Strassberg.
|Image generated with OpenAI|
“ODDIOT. That’s a double letter score on the “I” with a triple word score on the “O”. 27 points.” Farmer Bob sat with his neighbor farmer Bill for their usual Sunday game night. It was summer, so they played outside on the small table set atop Bob’s wrap-around porch.
“TRELLIS. That’s a triple letter score on the “R” and the “I”. 11 points.” Farmer Bill was still winning though, with about twice Bob’s score.
The two men played together in the sort of comfortable silence that comes from sixty years as best friends and neighbors. They mostly looked alike, they had been nearly identical as boys, and were about the same age. They figured they had to be some kind of cousins, as everyone in their small town was related to everyone else, somehow. Bob and Bill even dressed alike most days, down to their recent proud addition of matching red caps with white lettering.
They alternated Scrabble with checkers each week on game night, however Bob far preferred the checkers. There is no ambiguity in checkers. Things either are or aren’t. It’s all black or white. Words are messy and sloppy. Like feelings. That’s what his wife Betsy used to take care of. And now she’s gone.
The farm was gone too, mostly. His great-great-grandfather had homesteaded the land, all 120 acres. Bob and his family were part of a 140-year-old farming tradition, one that had flourished for generations, but then ended with Bob. He was a farmer too, but by his time, this meant being mostly a mechanic and a mathematician. He had run his farm like a huge machine. Every animal and plant in its place, each to its own kind. Cows and pigs. Corn and soybean. His father would tease him that farming had become more about “spreadsheets than spreading ‘sheet‘.”
He and Betsy had managed to balance the books, but after a decade of worsening yearly losses, they too had to admit defeat. The kids had careers in the city and no interest in being farmers. In the end, to avoid loan delinquency, they sold off most of the land and all of their machinery. Most of Bob’s friends sadly left the county, a few tragically left suicide notes. America, Bob’s America, was not so great, and had not been great for some time now. And that’s why he and his neighbors desperately gave their votes to whoever promised to make it great again.
Farmer Bob now farmed just fifteen acres, he and Betsy had scaled it down to a hobby farm for their golden years. It would be just them, her favorite dog Bluebelle and her favorite cats Milo and Minnie. Betsy passed away before their first small harvest came in, and so these last few years it had been just Bob living with Betsy’s small menagerie in the old main house.
“Owww. Owww.” Bob and Bill both heard Bluebelle’s familiar howls from beneath the porch deck. She was right underneath them in the shade there. It was softer howling than usual, and there was panting.
“It’s gotta be her time. Bluebelle’s whelping. She’s gonna have the litter. Let’s call the game and check on her.”
Over the years, Bluebelle’s litters had gotten conveniently smaller. This latest was just four pups – Bob kept his favorite, and adopted out the other three at the farmer’s market near his daughter’s townhouse in the city. He named his new pup “Patch”, he had mostly white coloring with a large black spot encircling one eye. Even at twelve weeks, Patch was already the squirmiest and spunkiest animal Bob had ever owned.
As the pup grew, it acted stranger and stranger.
Instead of chewing at the chunky wooden coat rack by the front door, Patch preferred to scratch at the base, then bop at the ribbons that fell down from Betsy’s hat. Six months after Betsy passed, the kids had come and helped to clean out her things. His daughter took some of the clothes, gave some to his granddaughters, then donated the rest. Bob insisted on keeping only his wife’s favorite sun hat, a straw hat with a large brim and a band of bright blue ribbons laced through dried blue flowers all wrapped around the crown.
Patch stopped hitting the dangling blue ribbons, then squatted and stared at an empty space on the wood floor. After a quiet bit, he jumped and pounced down, apparently to capture a speck of dust. Then he darted around the house randomly for the next several hours.
Milo and Minnie lounged on the shelf and looked down on Patch as if he were a new kitten. Indeed this dog was just so very cat-like. He hated to get wet or muddy and preferred snuggling indoors on Bob’s lap to running around the fields. When Bob was moving preserves from the cellar, Patch would sit inside every empty box Bob placed on the floor. Patch loved to climb, from the chairs to the tables and sometimes even the shelves. The pup sat there quietly, then slowly and furtively knocked from the counter one jar of preserves, then another, and another. When Bob came up the cellar stairs to see the mess, he would normally have blamed Milo or Minnie but Patch was the obvious culprit. The pup avoided Bob’s eye contact and groomed its fur compulsively.
Whenever Bob took Patch with his mom Bluebelle over to Bill’s farm to socialize with the other dogs, it never ended well. Patch had no interest in chasing balls or sticks, or playing tug, or barking, or sniffing butts or rolling in grass. He would just run up the nearest tree somehow and then hiss down at all the other dogs below.
After Bob found Patch trapped inside Milo and Minnie’s indoor litter box, he knew he needed professional help. The pup had no observable interest in stealing and eating the cats’ poops, rather Patch had peed and pooped in the litter box himself, and then gotten trapped behind the door flaps.
Bill still raised some cattle and pigs next door so Bob grabbed Dr. S. for a consult during his most recent regular visit.
“There is something very wrong with my pup.” Bob handed Patch over to the new vet.
‘New’ was relative as Dr. S. had taken over Dr. Brown’s practice ten years ago. He was a brown fellow with a long multisyllabic name, unpronounceable to normal folks, so everyone just took to calling him Dr. S.
“Patch acts more like a cat than a dog.”
Dr. S. performed a thorough physical on Patch, completed a long series of questions with Bob, observed Patch’s behavior inside and outside the house, and then drew some blood work for later analysis.
“As you know, canidae and felidae – dogs and cats – are very closely related mammalian families. It’s rare out here in the countryside, but in the city we have a lot more dogs and cats so we see this much more. I still will run some tests on his blood work, but I’m fairly confident that Patch is just trans. You see sometimes a cat is born in a dog’s body, or really that is to say a felinized brain is trapped in a canine body. We vets suspect it’s a combination of natural genetic variations and hormone exposures. Similarly, it happens the other way too, sometimes we see dogs born in cats’ bodies, caninized brains trapped in feline bodies. Rarely we even see non-binary mammalian companion animals, though that’s not what’s going on with Patch. You see the very concept of species is considered a gradation now. It’s all the new normal, at least for us city folk.” Dr. S. stroked Patch on his lap and the young pet began to make a sort of purring sound. “With your permission, I can give Patch feline hormones, they work best if I give the regimen while he’s still growing as a puppy. This will transition him to a trans-feline. He’ll become even more cat-like. Later on, after he is full grown, I have a colleague in the city who can provide two surgeries to complete the process, one to his top and one to his bottom. He’ll need regular maintenance feline hormone therapy, but for all intents and purposes, Patch will be a cat. His outsides will match his insides. He’ll be whole. He’ll be happy.”
“I don’t know, Dr. S. In my day, dogs were dogs and cats were cats.”
“I know, Bob, but times change. Look at all you’ve lived through yourself.”
Bob thought about his age, then about his pet’s youth, “But turning a dog into a cat before it’s full grown, while it’s still a puppy – what if this is all just a phase Patch is going through? It seems so extreme.”
“That’s the problem right there. If we don’t give Patch the hormone treatment while he’s still an adolescent, it’s just not nearly as effective. We vets have a consensus on this. It’s controversial politically I’ll admit, but not medically. We’re lucky it’s still legal in our state – did you know that in Texas they just passed a law that you can be charged with animal abuse for providing this treatment to your pet. They’ll even take your pet away.” Dr. S. gave a huff and short growl. “I’m sorry, I get angry about it – I mean it seems to me that it’s abuse NOT to offer the treatment!”
Bob never much understood politics, just politeness. “Everyone should have the freedom to choose their own path in this life.”
“Take some time to think on it, but not too much time. That group pet insurance plan that Betsy had you buy will cover everything, they all do now. I’ll check with you in two weeks when I’m back up here to vaccinate Bill’s pigs. I’ll bring shots for Patch then.” Dr. S. wrote a number on a sheet of paper and handed it to Bob. “There’s a support group in the city for owners of trans-pets – they’re great people. When you visit your daughter there, go check them out.”
Bob sat for a long while in his favorite chair, staring at Betsy’s hat hanging on the wooden coat rack next to his cap. He was rubbing Patch’s belly, which Patch allowed for a bit, before suddenly and rather randomly nibbling at Bob’s fingers then rushing off to chase dust balls. Later Bob watched as Patch jumped from the floor to the chair to the desk, and finally curled up for his usual nap on top of Bob’s computer keyboard. The truth was self-evident. His dog Patch was the most cat-like animal Bob had ever known.
Bob remembered how sad Patch always seemed hiding up the tree whenever he tried to get him to play with Bill’s dogs. Yet Patch was always so happy to play in the house with Milo and Minnie. Bob mumbled to himself, “Well you love what God gives you and you wanna do right in raising it – that part’s easy – the hard part is figuring out what’s the right thing to do…”
And these days no one seemed to do anything at all. Right or wrong. Everything, everywhere, was just gridlock – planned inaction. Maybe it was the schools – his kids, and now his grandkids even more – they only got good grades by avoiding mistakes – so they never learned to take any risks. Bob winced as he remembered his grandson’s last visit to the farm – that boy is so scared of everything. Imagine running from worms and bees! He scolded him to stop acting like such a sissy which just made the boy cry. Imagine a boy crying back in his day.
Bob was a man – an old man, but still a man – and a man never cries, a man takes action.
“I expected to have a new pup, not a kitten. Now I guess I’ll miss that pup, but I do get to love a new kitten.”
He already had planned a visit to see his daughter in the city tomorrow, and so he picked up the phone and called the trans-species support group to see about their meetings.
Patch squiggled and squirmed as Bob gave Patch his weekly shot, just as Dr. S. had shown him how. His new kitten hated the shots, but otherwise was loving life on their small hobby farm. He had brought Bob more dead mice and birds in one year than Milo and Minnie had gifted him in ten.
Later that night, rain was falling, so Bob and Bill held their weekly game night at the table indoors. Bob set a fire in the fireplace and cracked open some beers.
His dog Bluebelle curled on the floor in front of the fire. His cats Milo and Minnie snuggled into the coach pillows. His cat Patch lay atop his usual spot on Bob’s computer keyboard.
Bob and Bill no longer played checkers as much. Somehow the game had lost its appeal to Bob. They mostly played Scrabble on game nights now, as somehow Bob’s Scrabble game had improved dramatically.
Bill still wore the old red cap with the white lettering, but Bob’s matching red cap had not quite fit right for several months now. He kept it hanging on the coat rack, but had taken instead to wearing Betsy’s sun hat, and not just around the house, around town as well. It fit well and Bob had become fond of wearing all the blue flowers and ribbons.