Members of the neighborhood’s animal kingdom have become my dependents. Does this make birdseed tax deductible? Is pet acupuncture covered by ObamaCare? My latest column in the Star.

Each New Year brings renewed opportunity for sober reflection and frank self-assessment. And one particularly problematic personal shortcoming stood out during this year’s mirror-gazing: I’ve made far too many of God’s creatures dependent upon my efforts.

The problem is most pronounced in my dealings with the animal kingdom. Regular readers of these scribblings may recall my beloved but brain damaged Tibetan Spaniel, my uncontrollably hyperactive mini-Aussie, and my criminal mastermind of a cat.

Each time I return home, I am accosted by all three in the cramped entryway even before I can slip my body through the door. They lunge with paws outstretched and mouths open, demanding instantaneous feeding and rapt attention. Well, the Tibetan doesn’t really demand, and he couldn’t quite muster a lunge. He just bumps around randomly in all directions like one of those robotic vacuum cleaners, hoping he’ll run into me, then wedges himself against the door so I can’t open it without clunking his head — earning himself the fond nickname among my visitors of “Doggie Doorstop.”

Neighborhood pets not my own nonetheless seek my patronage, frequently presenting themselves at my doorstep requesting assistance in locating their owners. Even some baby bunnies converge on my front porch each spring, requiring temporary daycare while waiting for their irresponsible mothers to collect them at dusk.

Other representatives of the local wildlife community have declared themselves my dependents, from the songbirds and the squirrels to the homeless cats who chase them. Unfortunately, the following expenses are not tax-deductible on Form 1040 Schedule A: wild bird food, Nyjer seed, hummingbird nectar, the latest anti-ant and squirrel-resistant birdfeeders, nuts for the squirrels, “natural” repellent for the ants, microwave pads to keep a feral cat warm on a freezing night, and sterile gauze and disinfectant to treat a bite sustained while placing a feral cat on a heated pad.

And where is my tax credit for the following: dog food, cat food, the new cat food because the cat woke up today and decided to stop eating the old food, heartworm medicine, de-worming formulas, flea and tick protection, MRI’s, X-rays, anal gland clearings, and newfangled fur removal products? If corporations can deduct employee training and health insurance, why can’t I deduct dog training classes, cat psychologists, pet acupuncturists, and anxiety-taming Thundershirt purchases?

A creature needn’t be in-residence to demand that I snap-to. One red breasted hummingbird travels from the west side of the house to the north whenever the feeder is empty, buzzing my kitchen window and staring me down until I refill it. I recognize that noted hummingbirdologists and representatives of the Nature Channel might doubt whether a birdbrain is capable of this level of thoughtful planning and execution, but as my grandmother used to say: “I know what I know.”

Her tendency toward firmly-held knowledge without regard to actual fact is a genetic trait I seem to have inherited. I know, for example, that God sends me insane pets because I am a spinster with the time and inclination to care for them, while couples busily raising actual human children might regretfully consign such four-legged unfortunates to the pound or the afterlife. I also know that animal shelters use the same system, entrusting the crazed, drooling, sensitive-skinned, barking biters with irritable bowel syndrome to us singletons, while gifting the even-tempered, un-finicky, trainable, non-shedders to families with children.

I hold other unsupported but unshakable beliefs. I believe that my friend Joan can cause it to rain. I believe that by washing my car, I can cause it to rain. I believe that God sometimes makes it rain on my birthday just to mess with me. And I firmly believe that God is not going to finish me off until I’m happy, rich, thin, in love, or some combination of all four.

I also, apparently, hold the unconscious but equally baseless belief that if I take care of nature’s creatures in need, the universe will take care of me. Time will tell, but so far, the universe has greeted my efforts with a resounding silence, accompanied by a plethora of bills payable and Petco rewards points.

Still, what can you do when a critter comes calling with soulful eyes, a growling tummy and a Ph.D. in the exploitation of human weakness? A recent study suggested that a cat’s cry was genetically engineered to sound like a human baby’s in order to trigger our protective instincts. I believe that the cat’s personality has been genetically engineered to make us feel inferior, like math prodigies, swimsuit models, and members of the British royal family.

I’ll doubtless end up spending my fortune maintaining my own little eco-system, living out my dotage escorting squirrels across the street, broadcasting predator warnings to baby quail, and transporting spiders, flying bugs and rainfall-stranded worms to safer territory.

And I will always believe that God recognizes and appreciates human kindness toward innocent animals, and that He or She maintains a particularly unpleasant place in Hell for animal abusers, despite a total lack of evidence to support such a theory. Because I know what I know.


Up The Valley: Fuzzball

September 27, 2012

Those of us who live with pets share a dark, well — often light actually — secret. Read today’s column in the Star:

One of the great things about living here in the Napa Valley is the number of months each year when you can entertain guests outdoors. There is nothing quite like the summer party on a warm evening out in the garden, with friends admiring the landscape design while nibbling your cherry tomatoes off the vine. Toss some light strings in the trees, and the backyard becomes a grand ballroom — one that you have only to mow and blow once a week.

But eventually, guests will want to come into your house — to use the restroom, to make a phone call, or to verify whether the manufacturer of your window treatments is the name brand or a cheap imitator. And that’s where it gets dicey for me.

You see, my house hides a terrible secret, and fear of discovery prevents me from inviting friends over on a more regular basis.

It’s not anything scary, like a refrigerator full of human heads, a sex dungeon, or a Gingrich for President poster. But it is something undesirable, insidious and inescapable. Something that can make guests uncomfortable, bother them long after they’ve left, and even discourage them from returning.

I’m talking, of course, about pet hair.

I live with two dogs and a cat, and they collectively produce more fuzz than your average sheep farmer shears in a year. Despite my best efforts at housekeeping, loose fur seems to live freely and multiply unchecked. Both dogs are breeds that blow their coats periodically, which means that they molt like birds. Twice yearly, giant chunks of their fur spontaneously detach and deposit in clumps on the furniture, the walls, or whatever unfortunate object or person they happen to brush past.

Still, the prime offender is my cat: a white fluffball with wispy Angora fur that utterly defies capture, except by the grates on my black Viking range, where the combination of grease and grit provides a welcoming pet hair preserve. The cat’s strands are so stealthy, they even get under the stick-um on Post-it notes, causing important reminders like “Buy more vacuum bags” or “Shave cat” to become unstuck and lost forever.

Whenever company is coming, I go into full furradication mode. Out come the vacuums with attachments, the sticky rollers, the miracle brushes, the 3M-Scotch Fur Fighter and the Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair. With sufficient advance notice, I attack the source, applying special shampoos, grooming gloves and Furminators to slow the shedding. One final quick lick with a wet mop, and a last minute touch-up with the Swiffer, and my home is pronounced sufficiently defurred. Then the front door opens or a ceiling fan turns on, and suddenly random globs of dusty fuzz pop out from wherever they were hiding, congeal to form balls, and roll down the halls like giant tumbleweeds traversing the prairie.

Returning guests know that visiting my house involves two things: selecting an outfit in a light color, and pairing the evening’s alcohol consumption with a nice decongestant and antihistamine chaser. I rarely wear black anymore, so if I wear hot pink to your funeral, it’s not because I’m happy. It is just too demoralizing to extract the black dress from its protective plastic sheath, don and dash for the door, only to find that pet hair has already inextricably woven itself into the garment’s DNA.

Sometimes wisps of hair will spontaneously waft toward me while remaining invisible, so that my wild gesticulations to brush them away make me look like a deranged Tippi Hedren swatting at imaginary birds. According to my calculations, I spend 180 hours per annum trying and retrying to remove fur from my contact lenses and unwinding pet hair from the wheels of my electric toothbrush. I fear that my eventual autopsy will reveal the cause of death to be a hairball the size of a basketball.

I dream of a fuzz-free life, luxuriating in my sleek marble-floored palace of leather, steel and glass where I stroke my hairless Chinese Crested dog while a Sphynx cat purrs on my lap. I’ll be dressed head-to-toe in slenderizing black jersey and shod in spotless dark velvet slippers.

Of course, in the real world, I could fashion a fine pair of slippers out of the pet hair sticking to the bottoms of my feet. And much as I curse their coats, I would miss my furry family. So I will resign myself to a lifetime of picking pet hairs out of newly applied nail polish, extracting it from my mascara brush, and trying to figure out precisely how it seeps through the refrigerator door and into the vegetable bin. And for the foreseeable future, I’ll be entertaining outdoors whenever possible.