Donald R. Fletcher
“In our friendship, Don, there is one thing more that could stand in the way.”
It was mid-September, that kind of day that, in our New Jersey latitude, could be as balmy as early August, with rich, warm sunshine cascading along branches still loaded with thick bunches of green leaves, and a closeness and careless warmth in the air that cared nothing about ideas like frost.
But Jess was going on: “We pledged ourselves as loyal friends through thick and thin; but what about the special animal friends we already have? Will Caedmon and Hunter see things our way, and is that possible for them?”
Caedmon is my nine-year-old cat, coming to me two years ago from the Animal Orphanage as a stray, although affectionate; one that had plainly known humans in trusting relationships; and Hunter is Jess’s deeply loyal and magnificently poised eight-year-old German Shepherd dog. Both pets are males. And then there is the mistrust, not to say hostility, between dogs and cats that is constantly seen on every side.
I proposed a plan. Down on the edge of Lake Baikal, the shallow, wandering, homey lake a half-mile from the university campus at its nearest point and named, in jest, after Siberia’s magnificent, freshwater body, was a spot I had observed while sculling on the lake in a single shell. A patch of open grass lifted, there, in a gentle rise, inviting a spread blanket and serenely reflective contemplation of the whispered lapping, aroused by the wake of an occasional oarsperson rowing by, further out on the water.
Jess took up my suggestion and set a day, when a spell of good weather was promised.
“And Hunter will love it!” she exclaimed. “He’ll have lots of territory to sniff out and explore.”
“Yes, Hunter, no doubt. What about Caedmon?” I inquired.
“He must come, too—in his carrier, in your car. It may be a bit startling for him—the open, grassy slope you describe—even the water’s edge—but he mustn’t be left out just because he’s a cat. Cats live in the wild, too.”
I had my doubts about Caedmon; but we’d give it a try.
On the appointed day we met at the appointed spot—we and our animal friends. Impetuous Hunter was first out, leaping, the instant Jess unlatched her car door. He bounded around in a few circles, then noticed my car and came over to inspect, picking up immediately the feline scent.
His snuffling approach was not happily received by Caedmon, who responded with arched back and a low, barely audible hiss. When Hunter thrust his muzzle closer, Caedmon reacted with a lightning-fast swipe of the needle-sharp claws in a forepaw, very slightly nicking Hunter’s nose. There was a yelp, more of surprise than pain, and the big dog backed away.
“Now, Caedmon, we’re friends here,” I said, demonstrating with a pat to Hunter’s head. So, a sort of armed truce was arranged.
The afternoon was wearing away, with some sporadic reading and some conversation, languid and dreamy in tone, when there was an abrupt interruption.
On the lake shore, quite near our spot, was what remained of a small jetty, which Caedmon, having overcome his instinctive caution and finding himself intrigued by the rare splash of some larger fish out near the end of it, decided to explore. That was unwise. It turned out that, as his exploration took him out to the end, some eight or ten feet, over the water, there was a loose board. Under Caedmon’s weight—generous, for a cat of his size—the board suddenly shifted and dumped him, incredulously, into the lake.
Jess leaped to her feet, starting for the lake, but Hunter was already way ahead of her. He thrust into the water, paws pushing energetically against the shallow shore, then sinking his heavy body into the lake to swim toward Caedmon, who, meanwhile, was discovering with a turbulent thrashing of his paws, what neither he nor I had known: that cats can actually swim!
As Hunter reached Caedmon, there was a moment of confusion, maybe doubt, maybe fear—as we humans were interpreting the scene. Hunter’s broad muzzle went under the cat’s body, first lifting his soaked head, while his flailing paws tried to grip something solid. His forepaws reached into the heavy coat on the dog’s back, while his hind quarters rose high out of the water on top of Hunter’s head. We were astonished to see Caedmon deftly turn his body 180 degrees, so that now he was literally riding on Hunter’s neck, perched like a nautical warrior, his body rising and falling with the rhythm of Hunter’s deft underwater strokes, as they moved as one party toward the shore. Caedmon leaped off his canine mount onto dry ground just as Hunter’s legs hit the riverbed and they bounded separately up the bank.
I wrapped Caedmon in my dry sweatshirt, while Hunter vigorously shook off the lake water, from head to tail, then proceeded to triumphantly roll himself dry on the grassy shore.
Would this be a lasting truce? The discovery of a new feline sport? Is there a metaphor here? I don’t know. Our pets seemed as astounded as we were, jumping into their respective cars for the ride home.
Author Notes: At age 102, after publishing 9 books, Don Fletcher is writing flash fiction and short prose pieces.