Thomas Howard: Do not fetch the ‘kitty’


One of the things I love about dogs is they’re always excited to learn new things. My two mutts, Alice and Arlo, spend hours trying to get treats out of coffee cans, find the chicken nugget in the old boot or extract the last bit of peanut butter from inside the cardboard tube left from a roll of paper towels. They like to learn, and I like to teach them. I never stopped to think that might come back to bite me.

Several years ago, Alice and I decided to take on a roommate. Well, that’s not exactly true. We were at a friend’s house for dinner. This friend had a litter of kittens that he was trying to find homes for. When it was time to go, she snagged a kitten and carried him to the car. I tried to return it, but my friend, desperate to get rid of the kittens, laughed and told me Alice had already voided the return policy.

And so, Charles the kitten joined our family. Alice loved her cat, who I maintain was not my cat.  I did not agree to have a cat; I was overruled. She would carry him from room to room, bath him and clear his litter box of those tasty treats. She was a cat mom.

Being the lazy person that I am, I took advantage of Alice’s motherly feelings toward her cat and taught her to “fetch me the kitty.” Before bed, I would open the door, and Alice would dash out, returning shortly toting her adopted son by the scruff of his neck. For the most part, it worked well.

Unfortunately, Alice is wont to interpret my commands to suit her own goals, and “kitty” can have so many different meanings. By and large, she did a good job returning with a cat, but she was very flexible on which cat. I spent a fair amount of time apologizing to the neighbors for abducting their pets.

We ended the practice of cat fetching after Alice, failing to find a conveniently placed feline, decided one of the local opossums be an acceptable substitute. I should note I am practically blind without my contacts in, and it took me a lot longer than I would’ve liked to discover her treachery.

Charles is long gone, disappearing one day like outside cats do, but the memories and lessons on fetching the cat remain. And Monday morning, they came back to bite me, when Alice, seeing a cat-sized furry creature streaking through the 4 a.m. gloom, bustled off to bring it inside, whether it wanted to or not.

At first, I thought nothing of it. Alice is a bit chunky. Ok, fine. She’s morbidly obese and can’t run to the end of the driveway without stopping for a breather. There’s no way she can catch a cat, especially when it has a head start.

Then the smell hit, bringing with it the realization Alice had once again given herself quite a bit of leeway on the definition of a cat, opting this time to expand the meaning to include skunks.

A long story short, the dog got sprayed, I got sprayed and the other dog got sprayed. The couch, bed, table, walls, bathroom, porch, kitchen, futon and recliner all now carry the pungent aroma of alarmed and irritated skunk.

A quick google search provided some relief in the form of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, but I expect the remnants of Monday’s mistake to hang around for at least a few weeks.

To quote my dad when I’d hurt myself playing with power tools, building bike ramps or other childhood shenanigans, “What did we learn?”

Two lessons come to mind. First, I probably shouldn’t have taught my dog to kidnap local wildlife and detain them until Stockholm syndrome sets in. That one’s on me, and I take full responsibility, but the second, most important lesson by far, is in no way, under no circumstances, should we ever fetch the kitty.

Thomas is the managing editor of the Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at