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Men I Have Loved

Heather Ross12 Comments

This artwork is part of the "Men I Have Loved" series, a collection of drawings that I have been working on since 2003 that 
combine traits of both the men and the pets that I have known and loved.

When I was an art student in San Miguel De Allende Mexico, I had a love affair with a homeless dog named Beso.  I didn't know it when I fell for him, but he was an infamous scallywag. Beso attached himself to a different blonde graduate student with a comfortable apartment every term, and for the fall/holiday term of 93, it was me. He was matted and flea infested, yet tall and handsome with deep, somber eyes.  Like the girls before me, I  tried to take him in and make him clean and good and house-worthy,  convinced that I could change him, fix him, that what we had together was different, special....  but he preferred to maintain the freedom to roam, dusk to dawn, with an imposing pack of homeless dogs that was known citywide.

Beso didn't live with me. He was a visitor, scratching at my heavy wooden door in the early early morning, smelling of trash and street and a nights worth of carousing. I would always let him in, give him a little scold, and let him follow me back to bed. I would tell him he could only sleep at the foot of the bed, but when I woke up he was always next to me, his head tucked under my chin. My weakness for him, as well as my ancient and drafty stone house, made it impossible to
push him away.  He would have his breakfast with me, then walk me to the studio or work, where he would  wait outside my classrooms and flirt with the girls or beg for pastry at the canteen. He loved taking long naps in the protected gardens in the old hacienda that was our campus. Afterwards, he would come back home with me for a good meal of chicken and rice and a small siesta, but he would always want out by dusk and be gone again until early morning. I would always try to convince him to stay, to keep him with me for company in the evenings, when i had a fire going and felt especially far from home, but he always grew restless, and always left at dusk.

On the day I left the city for good he stuck to me like never before , I think he knew all of the signs from all of the girls before me, and thought maybe one of us would take him with us back to wherever it was that we had come from, but I was going to be traveling for many more months and then returning to a cabin and a job in the State Parks where dogs were not allowed.. and so could not take him with me. We had a very tearful goodbye. I still keep a photo of him, and I have to admit that it is one of the hardest to look at.

I've since had many other love affairs with dogs and cats and horses and even a gerbil or two, but have never forgotten Beso, which I think is why, night before last, I found myself at La Guardia airport, waiting for the arrival of a dog named Lobo, and his cat.

Three months ago I stumbled across Lobo on the website of an organization called Stray From the Heart. SFTH places homeless dogs in loving homes. Many of their dogs come from Quito Ecuador, where a veterinarian named Linda literally picks animals up off the streets, administers necessary care (in Lobo's case, a badly broken hip), and finds them new homes in the USA. When I called STFH to tell them that I wanted to give Lobo a home, they told me that he had a cat. "They are extremely attached to each-other", explained a woman named Toni, and Lobo would be "extremely sad to have to leave him". At the time,TC was watching the olympic qualifying finals for men's swimming, and was completely
distracted, so when I asked him what he thought of taking a "kitty" as well (twenty seconds after someone had broken some sort of very important record) he was still caught up in the moment and agreed with me that this was an exceptionally good idea. We both pictured a tiny, scrawny kitten, nestled under the wing of our new dog, completely devoted to his protector and their new home. So there I was, some weeks later, waiting at the airport for my dog... and his cat. 

The flight had landed, and now we were just waiting for the pets to be unloaded. Ten of us, all waiting for pets plus
supporting spouses and friends, were standing at attention when a young woman, a seasoned baggage handler, came out from behind the conveyor belts and asked loudly "Who is waiting for the cat??"   "Me!" I announced, proudly. "THAT", replied the baggage handler, eyes wide and hands on hips, "IS ONE BIG M------- F------- CAT." And then, suddenly, there they were. A smallish, shy looking fawn colored dog, tail between his legs, and in the crate next to his, was Benito. The largest cat I had ever seen. Everyone seems to be settling in. Last night we all slept together, and I woke from a dream that I was playing volleyball and kept getting hit in the chest really hard with the ball to find Benito walking across me for probably the tenth time. Later I woke up again  to find him curled up on TC's chest. "how sweet." I said. "caaaan't breeeathe." was TC's whispered, labored reply. Toni had told us that Benito likes to place both paws on your chest, which sounded like a
really sweet little cat thing. He approached me on the sofa this morning and placed his massive paws on my chest, just as she had described, only as soon as I petted him, he curled up his big claws, clutching the fabric of my blouse and pulled himself towards me, angling his face so that his eyes met my own in a locked gaze. It felt less like a sweet cat thing and more like a I-am-being-roughed-up-by-a-raccoon thing.

Not that Benito could really do much harm, apart from accidentally suffocating one or both of us in our sleep. He needs to take the stairs one at a time and likes to have his food mushed up and served warm. He is, after all, ten years old. He is simply, as TC puts it, a big, fat cranky cat. He is also, we have decided, a pretty wonderful addition to our little family. Lobo seems happy here, especially when he is napping next to his cat. Our dog friendly neighborhood is surely, in the mind of a dog, some sort of parallel universe to them mean streets of Quito, where Lobo had to scrounge for scraps and dodge bottles and rocks that were thrown at him. The look on his face when I showed him the clean bowl of icey water placed outside the door of Williams Sonoma - just for dogs like him - was pure astonishment. Last night we walked with him to a restaurant and sat outside with him lying next to us. He stayed focussed on our waitress, hiding from her until he was certain that she was a friend. Tomorrow we are planning to take him to the dog park at the Chelsea Waterside Dog Park. They have a kiddie pool there. 

As for Lobo and Benito, I see now that Toni was right. The love between these two is more than apparent. Last night the two of them curled up next to me on the couch and as Lobo fell asleep, Benito groomed his brow with careful licks for a long time. Eventually, Benito fell sleep against him, with his head tucked under our dog's chin.