Almost four years ago during a trip to the Hospice House for a holiday photo shoot with JJ and baby Shylah, we unexpectedly met our newest family member. He was a spitfire little 4-week-old light orange kitten, found on the streets by a co-worker's neighbor. We had been considering rescuing a kitten later in the year, although it wasn't exactly the height of kitten season when Taz showed up. JJ was immediately interested in him, and he expertly stood up to her in the classic Halloween kitty, arched back stance, hissing his warning that he was the only sheriff in town. She was completely nonplussed and our decision was made. He came home with us that day and he and JJ were cuddling within a few days.
The dogs were smitten with Taz, especially JJ's Daddy-O Dash. When I brought him home, my husband was away at a retriever field event and was quite concerned about having such a little kitten around the big dogs. While he had a "safe" room, he rarely used it and took charge of his environment as only a wee twenty ounce ball of spice could. He quickly learned to snuggle with the big dogs and chose not to play with the cat toys provided him. Instead, he had a secret stash of dog toys he had dragged into his gated off room. We discovered that kittens are quite easy to introduce to friendly adult dogs. Taz loved to play and his dogs frequently joined in. He would sleep with Dash, JJ, and Mama G, although Dash was his main companion until the time of Dash's death six months after Taz joined the family.
By day two of the Tasmanian Devil's arrival, I was seriously questioning my sanity. We were just settling in to life with Baby Shylah. Who brings home a 4-week-old kitten with a 9-week-old puppy in the house? They entertained themselves by careening down the hallway, sounding like a herd of wild buffalo. How two sets of paws can accomplish this remains a mystery. Taz was frequently found with a very slobbered upon head. Shylah was enthralled with this magical creature and treated him as she did with her litter mates who had just gone home a few days earlier. I was working hard to do puppy training, while having a kitten running amok during our training sessions. I had considered finding a different home for Taz during these first days, although decided to rise to the occasion and continue raising them both. My best memories were of Taz crashing our puppy obedience sessions in the kitchen, providing the ultimate challenge of kitten proofing. Shylah was amazingly calm during these times and I am so happy to have at least one of these sessions on video.
While Taz was still a young kitten, he got to meet his first set of puppies and was fascinated by them. While JJ was always a Super Nanny, Taz thought it was the best gig ever and would follow us all to climb into the whelping box. As he has grown, he is not quite as mesmerized as he was that first year, but he can be found checking in with the new arrivals. He is most interested when they are new or sleeping, before he can get caught up in puppy energy and antics. When he is in a tolerant mood, our puppies often get to experience their first scent of cat fur before their eyes even open.
The majority of the beginning of his life was spent being JJ's BFF. After Dash died, they slept together the majority of the time and could often be found playing together. From an early age, Taz perfected the fine art of the JJ Trap. He would give several distressed howls until JJ would run to him to save the day. Just as she would get to him, he would pounce and attack, pleased his plan had worked so well. He would try with us, although his humans apparently have better memories than his dog. One swipe of his paws on bare feet ensured we wouldn't fall for his ruse again. However, JJ would walk into the trap again and again, apparently more concerned that one day he would indeed be in trouble. Tag was also a favorite game, with the two of them running back and forth, taking turns to chase the other. JJ was very fond of many of his toys, in a twist to his stealing dog toys. She would spend long periods of time doing her best to get the ball inside of his track toy. It is no doubt Taz grew up thinking he was a Golden Retriever, thus the name of Cat-dog. None of us have the heart to tell him he's a cat.
Once JJ was diagnosed with her cancer and required treatment, there were times when she didn't want Taz sleeping with her. These were usually the times she had a shaved belly and/or chest. Most likely she did not appreciate his love kneading with his claws on her exposed skin, something I have experienced while sound asleep. Typically, where ever JJ went around the house, Taz often was not far behind. To the end, they could often be found together. He clearly misses her to this day. While occasionally he will sleep with JJ's sister Ottie, she often tires of this and he resorts to cuddling with me.
Taz now is going through what so many people and pets do after experiencing a loss. The acute grief gradually transfers to life as a new normal. He has adjusted and now has a new member of the household to train up. While I know he would love to just have his buddy back, he is slowly starting to train up his new puppy, Ember. Four years later, it is far different with his interactions than it was when Ember's mom Shylah was his puppy play toy. When it was clear Ember was staying, Taz liked it because she had a short thin leash she wore all the time to help teach her expected puppy behaviors. It was a continual moving target for him to pounce on. Ember didn't quite understand that his constant following was not because he was enamored with her. She still is fully of the belief that he loves her as much as she loves him, and Taz just is playing hard to get.
In his eyes, she is no JJ, and who knows where their relationship will end up. However, Ember is in love and thinks he is the best thing since a sliced liver treat. In fact, she often is torn between saying hello to him in her exuberant way or sticking around for a treat. Taz often will chase her and clearly knows how to get her attention; he just ends up annoyed by her puppy hops and persistent attention. She has tried to keep up with his rule changes, but has a long ways to go. Negotiations between them continue, but she gets points for persistence. No doubt, once Ember can control her excitement, they will become fast friends. It is, without a doubt, a bigger challenge to introduce a puppy to an adult cat. While we all miss JJ, her spirit continues and her influence on her Cat-dog will serve him well over time. The zoo remains as wild as ever here, and we all remain optimistic we will have a happily ever after ending. Eventually.