Caption

Man's best friend: Catfish's howling holds twilight at bay

Originally published Aug. 12, 1991

My dog Catfish, the black Lab, was such a quiet dog the first years of his life. Hardly ever barked, part of the reason being he usually had something like one of my shoes, a remote-control device or a piece of my furniture in his mouth.

As a young dog, Catfish chewed up two of my addresses.

But when he wasn't chewing, he didn't do too much barking either. He was either sleeping, chasing his tennis ball or salivating on my trousers as he stood beside me at the kitchen table watching me eat.

But Catfish is 8 now. Hard to believe.

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That's 56 dog years. Catfish is in the November of his years. Me, I'm the fourth of October.

I admit things bug me a little more than they once did. Once I could listen to a newscast without getting my blood pressure up. Now I rant at the screen, muttering such things as, "That's what's wrong with this country!" Over the past several months I have noticed the same sort of thing happening to Catfish. He doesn't rant at the newscast, but he has become noticeably more apt, suddenly, to bark out, run through the house willy-nilly (or milli-vanilli, if you prefer) and, simply, get himself in an utter dither.

Also he doesn't sleep as soundly as he once did. Often in the middle of the night he will awaken me with a howl from hell.

"What on Earth?" I will scream, rising up from sleep.

I don't know why I ask Catfish questions like that, because I am fully aware he can't answer me.

But I suppose somewhere, hidden away from reality, is the idea I will say to Catfish in the middle of the night, "What on Earth?" and he will reply, "It's the speech patrol, Dad! They've come to kill you for being insensitive to the gay-lesbian coalition in your last column."

Frankly I have no idea what Catfish barks at in the middle of the night. Perhaps he thinks he hears a squirrel in the back yard. The squirrel is Catfish's sworn enemy. He wants to catch one, I think, and tear it limb from limb for being faster than he is, which is the primary reason he's never caught a squirrel and never will, adding to his obvious frustration.

Catfish is given to barking fits in the daytime too. He barks at the bug guy. I think he wants to eat his hat.

He barks at the mailperson. He barks at the guys who, on Tuesday, come to get the garbage and make a lot of noise and hurt his ears.

One Monday he started barking at no target I could determine.

Then I figured, "He's barking at the very idea the garbage men will be here in less than 24 hours."

There's simply not that many tangible things around my house to send a dog into as many barking fits as Catfish has been having lately.

I think he has begun to bark at intangibles. Ideas, the wind, old memories of his swifter days, darkness turning into light and light turning into darkness.

I think he barks now at approaching old age, at the fact Alpo is now making a cat food, for God's sakes. At the fact things are changing so quickly around him he can't keep up with it all and that squirrels just get younger and faster every day.

They say if people live with a pet long enough, they will begin to resemble their pets. Maybe personalities grow together, too.

There's a lot out there that's getting younger and faster on me too; and baseball players are wearing earrings, for God's sakes.

We're both running toward twilight, I suppose, barking at a moon that was once our friend. Now, it simply hangs there and tells us another day is lost forever.

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