Steve and Thelma used to have two cats, Stones and Sebastian, but they lost Sebastian, who was their big fat orange cat. They were out with friends on a Friday night and when they came home the first thing that struck them was that the whole house smelled like pee. It looked like a massacre had happened downstairs in the den.
They let the dogs out and Stones, their smaller cat, was at the baby gate frantically trying to get out, too.
“What the hell went on?” Telly asked Steve.
In the backyard Nanook, their Husky, was all over Gretel, their German Shepherd.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God,” Telly cried out. “Gretel’s hurt.”
“No, no, no, she’s fine,” Steve said, after checking her out.
They went back into the house, down to the den, sniffing around, and Steve found Sebastian.
“Telly, call the hospital,” he said.
He scooped up Sebastian, who was hissing and screaming, wrapped him up as snugly as he could in a blanket, and they drove him to the Animal Hospital.
He’s not too badly hurt,” the vet said. “Although, I can see he’s wheezing.”
“He always wheezes,” Telly said.
“He’s a little heavy, too.”
“That’s why we call him Fatbastian.”
He was their cat because former friends of theirs one day asked them to watch him for a few weeks. They were moving to Chicago. “Sure,” Telly said, like a gullible idiot.
“Do you think they’re ever coming back?” she asked Brian ten years later.
“No, the cat is ours to keep.”
What they didn’t know, while they were chatting in the waiting room of the Animal Hospital, was that the vet had taken blood from Fatbastian and was having it analyzed. When they were ready to leave, thinking Fatso was going to spend the night in care, one of the aides came back.
“The doctor wants to see you in the exam room,” she said.
Nothing good ever comes from those words, Telly thought.
“You need to put him down,” said the vet.
“Why? You just said he was fine.”
“I took his sugar and it’s over 420. He’s 13-years-old,” said the vet. “You should just put him down. He’s going to take a turn for the worse, much sooner than later.”
What happened that night while they were out was that diabetes finally caught up with Sebastian. Gretel attacked him when he started having seizures. She tried to take Sebastian out. It’s a natural instinct with dogs. “If they see you are lame, or sick, or whatever, they will try to put you out of your misery.”
Their personal vet, who performed house calls, never told them Sebastian had diabetes. She just said he was fat, and they should put him on canned food. But, when they did, he refused to eat it. He ate all the dried dog food instead, because it’s fattier.
Gretel once attacked another dog they rescued, a dog who turned out to have cancer. Gretel kept smelling her and smelling her for weeks and weeks. “Let me help you out,” is what Gretel said one day, barked, and tried to end her life there and then.
“We had to get the other dog sewn up. Gretel now knows, after that episode, and after what happened to Sebastian, we don’t eat other cats and dogs. I’ve made that plain to Gretel.”
When Telly’s sister Patty lived in West Park the lady next door was always afraid of Wellington, Patty’s big Rottweiler. One afternoon the dog slipped into her backyard, and was sniffing around, and she spotted him. She started screaming and carrying on. Wellington thought she was in trouble and ran right over. He turned his butt to her, backed her up against the side of the garage, and pinned her there.
“What is trying to hurt you? I’ll protect you!” That’s what Wellington was trying to say. Patty heard the noise and rushed next door.
“Your dog is attacking me!”
“He’s protecting you, you fool,” said Patty, after sizing up what she was seeing. “Although you don’t deserve it. Your cat would push you down the stairs.”
Patty rubbed Wellington on the head as she brought him back to the house.
“You poor dumb dog, you’re the beast she thinks is attacking her.”
“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF.”
The first dog Telly rescued on her own, once she was grown up and living in an efficiency apartment on Lake Road, was a Spaniel who was running around Patty’s West Park house. It was winter and snowing and cold. It took calmness and patience and stealth to get the dog to come to her.
She lay on the ground in the snow until the dog finally came to her. She petted him and he followed her back to Patty’s house. She called a shelter and later took him there.
Telly always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought she was going to have ten of them, her own pack. Then she met Steve and his brother Bobby the Bothersome. They rescued dogs and after Steve and she got married, and after they left Bobby behind in Little Italy, they started doing that, too.
They have rescued so many dogs that people now ask them to find them dogs for pets.
When God puts the love of an animal, or the love of something, in your head, you’re going to work with it. It’s there, in Telly’s head, and it’s in her heart, too. She cannot to this day turn them away.
Somebody posted a picture on Facebook of a dog chained up and all alone in Atlanta. Telly asked Steve, are you ready to take a ride to Georgia? She was ready to go down deep south. “Chaining a dog up all by himself, all alone at the end of a chain, is the worst punishment anybody can impose on a dog. You can hit him, and he will come back to you. But the worst thing you can do is separate a dog from people. They just want affection.”
When she had to send her dogs downstairs for a time out, they slowly crept back up the basement stairs and sat at the top of them. She tried to ignore them. They look like the worst thing in the world has just happened. They would probably howl, but they know full well they’re not allowed to.
“It can be heartbreaking.”