The Weigels are a dog family generally and a cocker spaniel one specifically.
After years of telling me and my sisters they wouldn't get a dog, my parents brought home Goldie, an older cocker whose coat was more ginger than bullion, in 1994. Goldie came to our house from a family that had a bigger dog that would bully her around, so she was a bit reserved and nervous in her manner. But she was a good girl and a good companion that liked pets and treats just like any other dog.
When she died, we wasted no time in getting another cocker. In 2001, we got a puppy, a young boy with a light blonde coat. We named him Haley. Over the years, Haley proved to be a bit more rambunctious and playful than Goldie. He loved running around and rolling over. He could kind of play fetch, going after the ball, retrieving it, and then dropping it as he started to run back. I used to play a game where I would quickly bat the carpet between his paws with my hand and he would try to trap it. I'd then trick him and cover his paw with the other hand. When my dad mowed the lawn on his riding mower, Haley would dutifully run behind him for hours. He would always gently rest his snout on your lap during dinner to beg for leftovers, even though it never worked.
It sounds kind of weird to say, but Haley has such a look of contentment when he's happy and panting that it almost looks like he's smiling at you. He's an old man now, 15 1/2 years of age—that's 108 1/2 in doggy years. His back legs are starting to fail him, he's become incontinent, and he spends most of his time sleeping, but there are still times when he's feeling lively enough to give that same look.
Between the time we got Goldie and now, we never once considered getting a cat. It was never an option. In fact, none of my friends in the neighborhoods I grew up in even had cats. Not until middle school did I consistently hang out with a friend who had one—he had several, actually—and even then they mostly, in my recollection, left us alone.
I didn't live with a feline myself until I moved into a group house at the University of Maryland, and my first roommate there had a cat, Yay Yo. Yes, that was really his name. Yay Yo was an outdoor cat, and he would be gone for long stretches of time doing God knows what. Basically, he did whatever the hell he wanted for the most part, and that included when he was in our cramped little room. One day after class, when I was lying down for a bit, Yay Yo helped welcome me by jumping from my roommate's lofted bed to mine, landing directly in a, um, delicate place.
This experience introduced me to a longstanding stereotype that colored my perception of cats for years to come: They care only about themselves and act accordingly. Not only was I firmly "a dog person" at this point in my life, I was now anti-cat. And sorry, cat people, but the many cats I've met over the years did nothing to disprove this notion.
For years after that incident, I lived cat-free and happy. Until three years ago, when I moved into a house with friends that had a cat. That cat, Scooter, and I had something of an arrangement: I wouldn't bother her and she wouldn't bother me. Scooter's owners took care of the feeding and the playing and the litter box cleaning. She and I co-existed in the same space without really acknowledging it. This worked out incredibly well, and hey, it kind of softened my stance on cats a little bit. She wasn't all up in my business and pouncing on my junk, so cats can't be all bad, right? I wasn't intrigued enough to take an active interest, though.
It wasn't until I started dating my girlfriend that I faced a reality of living day-to-day with a cat that would demand my time and attention. The more time I spent with my girlfriend, the more her cat Maya developed the idea that I should be giving her affection, too. (As my girlfriend told me months later: "Love me, love my cat.")
Let's get one thing out of the way: Maya is a diva. A Turkish angora with piercing green eyes and a coat of long, fluffy, soft gray fur, Maya has a regal look to her, and the attitude to match. (And she's a BARCS alum!) She'll hop on your lap when it's least convenient as if to command "Pet me now!" And then, when she's tired of this, she'll bite you. Her meow can sound like a whine, even though my girlfriend insists it's not, particularly when she is hungry or thinks it is time for us to wake up in the morning. And there are times when she walks on me—sometimes stepping on my hair—in bed while I am trying to sleep, which is very annoying.
But I have grown to like Maya a lot, which was kind of imperative since my girlfriend and I live together and have for a year. I can't put my finger on the exact moment my Cat Grinch heart started to grow a few sizes bigger. I can, however, distill it to this: Maya showed me that cats can be affectionate, too, even the diva ones. Like when she licks my face in the morning after I wake up. Or when she curls up into a ball and sleeps between the crook in my legs. Or when she blisses out as if she's in Nirvana when I rub the underside of her chin. Or when she plops down on the pillow next to me on the couch and naps with her back up against me, letting me rub her fluffy belly. That's the best.