by Terry Hargrove
I love dogs and I love football, so 2007 was painful for me. But the thing that snaps my string beans more than the accusations against a certain professional quarterback, whose comeback is amounting to little, are the statements by a celebrity/cushion, who said dog fighting was a thing that happened all the time in the south. I found that statement puzzling. I lived in Tennessee for 49 years, and was never invited to a dog fight, never heard about a dog fight, and certainly didn’t know there was money to be made at a dog fight. Besides, we all knew that for sheer entertainment, a cat fight was the show of choice.
The few canine altercations we witnessed in my neighborhood always involved our dog Hamlet, and whatever large stray stumbled into town looking for a handout. Hamlet hated other dogs and attacked them whenever the opportunity came wagging along. But Hamlet was small, so all his contests were Pyrrhic victories, and we spent many a Saturday afternoon taking him to the vet for stitches. Eventually, our neighbors took to calling him Frankenstein’s Dog, and he looked the part.
But Hamlet was afraid of cats, especially Snowball, the large white deaf cat who my mother doted on, and who was the most even tempered feline I ever shared an abode with. Snowball lounged around our house for most of the ’60s, and never bit or scratched anybody. But Snowball was deaf, and in the world of cats, you run from the trouble you hear coming. Snowball sat and patiently waited, like a glacier, for any tom bold enough to intrude into his space.
The dance of the fighting cats was a spectacle that, once observed, was never forgotten. It started with some strange cat, a newcomer or a wanderer, standing at a distance, howling a challenge in alien tones. The opponent replied. This was as far as most cat fights went, since the depth and rhythm of those calls sent all sorts of information to the combatants, and the more timid of the two would beat a hasty retreat. As you might guess, deaf Snowball was at a decided disadvantage, since he never heard the calls. This was strange behavior to the challengers, and it puzzled them mightily. They would sit and repeat the message, sometimes for hours, since obviously this large white thing couldn’t understand basic feline. The lull gave us enough time to invite all our friends over to watch the show. The caterwauling continued, but Snowball just sat.
Eventually, the interloper would begin a slow but determined slink toward Snowball, keening in a high pitched wail that suggested all manner of slashing and biting and general nastiness. Snowball just sat and waited.
“I can’t believe another cat has come to face the champion,” said Johnny Miles, our next door neighbor. “Who is this one? You seen it before?”
“Some big yellow tom,” I said. “We saw it hanging around the school day before yesterday. He’s a big boy.”
“Yeah, but Snowball ain’t afraid of him,” said Johnny. “Look at him. Cool as a cucumber, that one is. I just wish you guys had given him a better name. Snowball. Jeez. What kind of name is that for a fighting cat? Now, Frankenstein’s Dog! That’s a name.”
“Our dog’s name is Hamlet,” I said.
“Does Snowball come to you when you call him?” asked Johnny.
“No. He’s deaf, remember?” I said.
“Maybe if you yelled real loud, or beat a cymbal or something. Maybe he hears in high tones that we can’t.”
“I don’t think he can hear at any tone,” I said, although I liked the idea of getting a pair of cymbals, you know, for around the house. You never knew when you might need cymbals. For dramatic effect.
“I wish you would stop this before it begins,” added Amelia. She was a new kid to the neighborhood, and had a crush on my older brother, a peculiar affliction that made me distrust her.
“I tried to break up a Snowball fight once,” I said. “See this scar? And this one? And this one? And this one?”
“Don’t forget the one on your ear,” added Johnny.
“It was like being eaten by two wood chippers,” I said. “And if I did stop this fight, the stranger would just wait until tonight when we were asleep. Better he gets this out of his system now, when we can get him to a vet if we need to.”
“I just don’t think it’s right,” sighed Amelia.
Girls. When the yellow stranger was within a foot, Snowball lifted his head. The yellow cat attacked, but Snowball enveloped him in a blanket of white. Yellow fur and white fur flew up in the air. The yellow tom’s challenge became a scream of defeat, but Snowball wouldn’t let him go. When he paused to get a better grip, the yellow cat took off. Snowball stood there for a long moment, ears back, waiting for another attack that never came. After two minutes, he began to lick his wounds, and I casually walked over and picked him up. He tensed for a second, then went limp in my hands and purred. Everybody came over to congratulate the champion by scratching his head. Amelia came last. She looked at Snowball closely, held his massive head in her two hands, then looked at me.
“This cat is deaf?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said. “Has been since birth.”
“He’s blind, too,” said Amelia. “See how his eyes don’t move? He’s probably been blind all his life. Poor thing.”
Deaf and blind. And there we stood, deaf and blind as well, around Snowball. Our awe of his prowess was replaced by pity. I carried Snowball into the house, and vowed never to let him outside again, although The Dad said that wasn’t a good idea. Confinement was an insult to the disabled, he said. Let the cat be a cat, as far as he could be one, and that was actually pretty far indeed.
And so I broke that vow. I’ve broken others since then. Snowball sat in sunlight and moonlight like a fair, wintry hill, in silence and in darkness, waiting for the occasional random attacks he could never see or hear coming. And so we all sit and wait for the next revelation of a hero who isn’t godlike after all. But the attacks don’t hurt any less, just because we don’t see them coming. And like Snowball, sometimes we react to the attacks with a greater violence than is necessary, a counter offensive that does more harm than good.
But I did buy my cymbals. I use them all the time, and my neighbors wish my life, like everyone else’s, wasn’t so dramatic.