The first time I heard Scratch talk, I thought I was going nuts.
“Did you say something?” I asked and immediately felt like a crazy cat lady only with a dog. Scratch did one of those adorable head tilts in response.
Talking to my dog was acceptable as long as the conversation was one-sided and centered around basic communications like, “Do you need to go outside?” or “Want to go for a walk?” or the less essential yet at times irresistible, “Who’s a good boy?”
But I’d asked none of these things. Scratch initiated that first conversation and once I got over the shock of it, we had some good talks.
I’d just come home from a long and crappy day at work, crappy because any day working in HR is pretty much garbage. Please don’t tell me I am lucky to be employed. Or that if I hate my job so much I should quit. One time I was venting about work when my then-boyfriend suggested I go out and get a new job. I turned to him and deadpanned, “I hadn’t thought of that before. Thanks for the tip.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as if he’d really fixed poor broken me.
As mentioned above, my “then” boyfriend. He’s since been relegated to The Ex-Files. We didn’t have a big dramatic breakup. I knew he was allergic to dogs. I went to The Humane Society to get one.
I fell in love with the scruffiest little beige terrier mix with light brown patches and soulful eyes. He was curled up on a pillow in the back of the third kennel. When I walked by he came right up to the fence and poked his little muzzle through one of the hexagonal shapes of the cyclone fencing and, I swear, smiled. I didn’t even bother to walk through the rest of the facility.
I got Scratch during covid lockdown. The adoption specialist grilled me about what I planned to do with my “forever pet” when I had to go back into the office. She used the words like “permanent,” "ever," and “lifelong companion” several times, I think, to test my commitment. She also warned that dogs didn’t like being home alone and could become quite destructive.
“She didn’t say anything about you getting talkative,” I said.
Scratch yip-yapped then, excitedly like a normal dog. The two of us stood in the kitchen. Me on two legs, he on all four. His toenails clicked happily on the fake wood floors.
“Are you okay if we go out a little later?” I asked.
“I can hold it,” said Scratch. He was such a trouper.
I kicked off my shoes and hung up my keys on the hook by the door. My ex-boyfriend, who back in college did campus security and considered himself something of an expert, loved to point out all the ways in which I mindlessly put myself in harm’s way, like carrying my crossbody purse over one shoulder, talking on the phone while in the grocery store, or hanging my keys near the door where a burglar could easily, he said, break into my apartment and snatch them. I told him if a burglar could successfully break into my apartment he didn’t need my keys unless he planned to lock the door after stealing my ten-year-old laptop which, by the way, he could have.
“Dammit, Scratch!” I stepped into a puddle by the kitchen table. My socks soaked it up like a sponge, a sponge I happened to be wearing on my feet. “No wonder you were in no hurry to go outside.”
“Sorry, about that.” Scratch looked embarrassed and seemed genuinely contrite so I forgave him. Anyway, the floors were rented and only cheap vinyl made to look like wood so it didn’t really matter.
I walk-slid around more until I’d soaked up everything, peeled off my socks, tossed them in the sink, and ran cold water over them.
Scratch danced around my feet like I was the most interesting thing to happen to him all day. I probably was the most interesting thing to happen to him all day. Maybe it was guilt but I grabbed a dog treat from the jar on the kitchen counter.
“Sit,” I said.
“Just give me the damn treat,” said Scratch.
I tossed him a bone-shaped biscuit. He crunched it with far more enthusiasm than it deserved.
Scratch has what they call a “rough” coat. He looks like a wispy-whiskered old man in need of a shave. I find this look adorable for reasons that would require several years of psychoanalysis to adequately explain. Fortunately, I don’t have to explain.
I poured myself a glass of chardonnay. Yeah, I know. A single woman drinking a glass of chardonnay is a bit cliche but I’d had a bad day, as I said. Also, it was Thursday which was practically the weekend, and anyway the bottle was already opened because Wednesday hadn’t been that great either.
I carried my glass to the couch and sat. Scratch jumped up to snuggle in next to me.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“I am pleased to report that I once again successfully protected our domain from invasion.”
“You barked at the mail carrier?”
“Also an Amazon delivery guy.”
“I got a package?”
“No, that redhead down the hall. I think she has a shopping problem.”
“Redhead? Wait, I thought dogs were colorblind?”
“You also thought we couldn’t talk.”
“Touché," I said. Then raising my glass, added, “Salute.”
“Oooh, French and Italian in one almost-complete sentence,” said Scratch. “You’re so sophisticated!”
“If I need sarcasm, I’ll get another boyfriend,” I said.
Scratch mercy-thumped the sofa cushion with his tail until I stroked his ears and assured him I was only kidding about the boyfriend remark.
“I can buy myself flowers,” I belted out the Miley Cyrus hit, at least the words I could remember. Scratch picked up the next lines
“Talk to myself for hours,” he sang-howled. "Say things you don't understand."
We both absolutely cracked up. It felt good to laugh again. No man to scold me and blame me for tempting criminals with my very existence as a human occupying a female body. We were just person and dog and it was enough.
Scratch and I sat together in contented silence until I found the TV remote. Netflix had a couple good options.
Scratch nuzzled my hand.
“You know,” he said after a while. “I wouldn’t totally object to a house cat.”
Vivian McInerny is a journalist and writer who talks to dogs, cats and people. Sometimes they talk back.
About the Creator
A former daily newspaper journalist, now an independent writer of essays & fiction published in several lit anthologies. The Whole Hole Story children's book was published by Versify Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. More are forthcoming.