David Kubicek

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Runt of the Litter

Our nephew’s dog had puppies. My wife Cheryl and son Sean went to see them. They fell in love with the runt of the litter.

He was such a little thing, half Labrador and half hound dog. He spent most of the visit curled up on Cheryl’s chest, sleeping.

They wanted to adopt him, so they called home to ask my opinion.

“It’s fine with me,” I said, “but what do you think Whiskers and Kabella will think?”

Whiskers was our four-year-old blue-eyed gray and white tom cat. Kabella was our black Labrador, nine years old at the time.

“Whiskers will have to adjust,” Cheryl said, knowing that the cat didn’t care for dogs, barely tolerated the one we had. “Kabella has never had puppies. Maybe she’ll be a good mother.”

We had to wait a month before the puppy was old enough to leave his mother. During that time we debated possible names.

Cheryl suggested “Cuddles” because he liked to snuggle.

“With a name like Cuddles,” I said, “every dog in the neighborhood will beat him up. He’s already the runt. We don’t want to add to his troubles.”

We searched for a more masculine name. “Skippy” was proposed and just as quickly discarded.

I don’t remember how we settled on “Scooter,” but we agreed that it sounded butch enough so that the neighborhood bully dogs probably wouldn’t tease him.

Finally, we brought Scooter home. He spent the hour-long drive curled up on Sean’s lap.

Cheryl had over-estimated Kabella’s maternal instinct. Mostly, Kabella ignored Scooter, but if he pestered her too much she quickly put him in his place. And if he dared to eat from her bowl, she sent him yipping away to the living room where he cowered behind the couch.

Whiskers was indifferent to the puppy, but Scooter already had a fully developed bark-at-the-cat instinct. He would bounce around yapping at Whiskers, who was more than twice his size. Whiskers would sit serenely and watch this macho display. Finally, bored, he’d lift his paw and cuff Scooter on the side of his head. The puppy would fall over, and Whiskers would stroll quietly away.

Scooter didn’t stay tiny for long. Soon he was bigger than Whiskers, but he’d long since learned to get along with his adopted brother. Although Scooter thought of the cat as his buddy, Whiskers interacted with the dog only when he had no other choice.

Cheryl and I would sit on the couch and watch Scooter chase Whiskers down into the basement. After a moment of silence we’d hear thumping on the stairs, and Scooter would charge across the room and down the hall with Whiskers in hot pursuit. Scooter was playing, but Whiskers was serious; like Kabella, he was establishing boundaries. 

Kabella never got in touch with her maternal side. She was top dog in this house, and she never let this scrawny intruder forget it. They got along fine, but Kabella continued in her role as dominant dog even after Scooter had grown larger than her.

Whiskers also came to accept Scooter. As long as the new dog didn’t violate his space too aggressively, he was cool with it. Whiskers even tolerated an occasional rear-end sniff when he came in from outdoors; he understood that Scooter was just making sure he was the cat who belonged in this household, not an imposter.

Later, when Scooter was full-grown, we visited Cheryl’s family and met two of Scooter’s brothers. Cheryl’s sister had adopted them when they were puppies. We were surprised that both dogs had short legs and were a little chunky. They were closer to Kabella’s size than to Scooter’s.

The runt of the litter had grown into a lean, long-legged powerhouse who dwarfed his siblings. And Although Kabella and Whiskers challenged him from time to time, he had managed to fit in with his adopted family. 

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