My neighbor Frank likes to say that the way people act around dogs shows what type of person they really are. He’s right. Animal stories reveal character. Frank has never gone so far as to say that if someone doesn’t like dogs, they have questionable friendship potential, but I suspect that thought has crossed his mind.
How Animal Stories Reveal Character
John Grogan’s memoir, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is a great example of how animal stories reveal character. In Your Life is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann explain the popularity of the yellow lab as a character. “One of the reasons Marley is such a beloved character … is because Grogan reveals his dog’s flaws as well as his joys.” The same holds true for the author. We don’t just love Marley. Grogan’s narrative of his relationship with Marley made us appreciate John Grogan as well, because we leaned the human’s flaws and joys, as well as his capacity to love and laugh and mourn.
Thinking about my dad as Fathers’ Day approaches, I realize the that his adventures and misadventures with animals give a glimpse in to his personality. Daddy was a dog person. He wasn’t a cat lover, so his interactions with the feline components of the family are the most telling.
Since Daddy was allergic to cats, no matter how much we begged, Mamma always resisted a cat adoption. Cat allergies can make someone miserable she said. She wasn’t going to do that to Daddy. Not, that is, until Tabitha.
We took Tabitha, a black cat named after the little girl on Bewitched, on a trial basis. My sister and I understood that if Daddy’s allergies flared up too badly, we wouldn’t be able to keep her.
Despite his purported life-long allergies to cats, Daddy was unable to muster up the first sneeze after Tabitha moved in. In fact, I wonder to this day if Daddy developed convenient allergies to avoid having to do things he didn’t want to do.
At first, Daddy and Tabitha just tolerated each other, but eventually they developed a strong affinity for each other’s company. I think Daddy started to love Tabitha the day the cat was sauntering across the den. Watching from behind, Daddy noticed two swinging spherical appendages that presented compelling evidence that our raised-on-a-farm mother had misidentified the kitty’s gender.
Tabitha wasn’t the friendliest cat. Even though we shortened his name to something more in line with his gender, Tabby went through life with a chip on his shoulder. But whenever he lashed out at someone, Daddy defended him staunchly. He had been maligned by his misnaming.
Years later, we had Peaches, a tortoiseshell cat. One holiday weekend, when Peaches came in, we noticed her head was misshapen. Close inspection and a call to the vet ascertained that the cause was an abscessed wound. Due to the holiday, someone in the household—rather than the vet—needed to relieve the pressure from the wound. Mom certified herself unfit for the job by puking on the spot.
I’m sure Daddy, who advertised his sensitive stomach with even more vigor than he claimed allergies, wanted to run for the hills. I won’t include any graphic details about how he “drained” the wound and how disgusting it was.
I remember sitting on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, my beloved Peaches wrapped in a towel, feeling scared and crying. Daddy squatted down in front of us and assured us both that everything would be alright, in a gentle and confident voice. Throughout the process, Daddy cooed at her and complimented my efforts to play medical aid.
As the pressure of the abscess was relieved, Peaches’ head returned to its normal dimensions. Daddy painted disinfectant on her head and massaged antibiotic ointment on her with as much aplomb as any vet.
I’m sure he didn’t want to do it. He—like any sane parent—would have happily paid any vet an exorbitant fee to do it instead. And, as an adult and parent, I’m sure he did it more for the teary-eyed, terrified daughter than for Peaches.
Still, he did it.
Daddy’s cat stories continued long after my sister and I moved out. A cat named Spot managed to get himself infested with fleas and Daddy was moved to take action without the assistance of Mom. He left mom a note on the refrigerator:
Spot had a flea dip.
Signed: Two fingers Wilkinson
Come on. I know you’ve got them. Think about your family members and which animal stories you could tell to reveal their characters.