Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2008


Olympic Trials at the Purcell Petting Zoo

John Purcell

Illo by Brad Foster and photos by the author.

For those readers of Challenger who have yet to visit and peruse back issues of my zines Askance and In A Prior Lifetime, a brief preamble is necessary to understand and appreciate this article.

We have pets at home.

Note the plural “s” there. That little letter denotes that in our household in SouthCentralEastern Texas (otherwise known as College Station, for you geographic gurus), we have more than one pet.Cartoon: Sign says, "Beware of Dog" with note taped to it that reads, "And don't trust the cat."

Let it be known that we did not stop at merely owning just “one more” pet. Oh, no. At last count – not including our three children, all of whom still live at home – we have four dogs [Pulcinella, Timmy, Fossey, Roxanne], eight cats [Waldo, Toulouse, Marmalade, Cucumber, Riley, Alley, Diphthong, and Sissy Armadillo (yep, full name)], two rats [Frick and Frack, I think], four fish tanks [a couple dozen mollies, some betas, a few plecostamuses], and one very loud, annoying cockatiel named Sunny, who has finally stopped masturbating against his cage. (See In A Prior Lifetime #10 [April, 2006] for this story.)

That’s just indoors. If you step outside, you will find the wildlife that infests our little corner of the universe: uncountable - but cute - geckos climbing the walls, color-changing anoles, snakes, wood rats, wheelbugs, mole crickets, and various other insects that haven’t changed since antediluvian times. This article, however, concentrates merely on the domesticated indoor animals and the various shenanigans that naturally transpire when such a menagerie is collected.

This article likewise capitalizes on the upcoming Summer Olympics, thereby providing a rather unfannish link to the athletic world, something which most science fiction fans are blithely ignorant of or deliberately ignore. That doesn’t bother me; I have always been active in sports, and my family enjoys watching both the Summer and Winter Olympics on television whenever they come around. But many fans do have pets, so I feel vindicated enough to complete this article for Guy and the edification of Challenger’s readership.

Even so, the human endeavour of capturing the drama of athletic competition cannot hold a candle to the agony of victory and the smell of defeat when any and or all of our pets decide to indulge in any of their favorite activities. What follows is a brief synopsis describing what we call the Pet Decathalon (Petathelon, for short): an on-going collection of ten events of assorted domesticated lunacy that must be seen to be believed. Trust me; this text cannot do the actual events justice, even though I will try. These are truly spectator-friendly, interactive sports. We have from time to time seriously considered selling tickets in order to offset the cost of pet food and supplies. At least we should use our daughter’s cell phone camera to record some of these and then post to the Internet on our own website.

But enough of such wishful thinking. Onward to the events!

Event #1: Cat Wrestling

As the name implies, this is strictly for the felines in the household, and will break out at any or all hours of the day and night. The early morning bouts usually feature Toulouse and Diphthong, their rolling, biting, clawing, and screeching interrupted by mad dashes around the house, sounding very much like an indoor daily run of the Kentucky Derby at 5:11 AM. Late afternoons will find Marmalade pouncing on Cucumber (they are brother and sister, so they have a long history together of wrestling together), which gets really interesting since Marmalade is a 20-pound orange and white tabby, and Cucumber, a mostly white calico, is almost as large (16 pounds). Obviously, this is for the heavyweight crown, but no cat in the household dares take on Riley, our Maine Coon, who tips the scales at a whopping 26 pounds. Think C.M. Punk versus the Great Khali, and you should have an idea of what this looks like. Average duration of Cat Wrestling: varies. Usually there is no time limit.

Event #2: Count the Pets

Mostly confined to late evening hours when the humans decide to call it a night, this event requires the use of memory, mathematics, and logic to confirm locations of all cats and dogs to make sure that they are all inside. The rats are easy: there are only two of them (thank Ghu, and both female) and they’re caged. But the other four-legged creatures could be anywhere, so one can imagine how time-consuming this can be, especially when the cats have this habit of curling up tightly (see event # 6) in the strangest of spots they can find. Often flashlights are employed to look in corners, under furniture, inside boxes, on shelves, and so on, in order to locate the felines. The four dogs – needless to say – are easily found: they have kennels and beds, besides being creatures of habit, thus making their locations nearly 100% predictable. Cats, on the other hand, are quite

independently minded, and take great pleasure in making themselves as scarce as possible. Of course, we do have to check the backyard in the dark since both cats and dogs have this penchant for streaking outside whenever I am grilling dinner on the patio or any of the other humans are doing some type of yard work (see event #8). Average duration of Count the Pets: 17 minutes, give or take a few fish.

Event #3: Dog Tug-of-War

Apparently, only dogs are stupid enough to engage in this activity. But is a fun, energetic event. They really do enjoy pulling on chew toys with either a human or another dog attached at the other end. Just like the human version, one of the dogs will grab a suitable chew toy – preferably one of the larger toys or one with a string or long fabric strap attached – and run up to one of us humans, presenting themselves as “ready to rumble,” as Daniel likes to call it. The larger dogs – like Fossey and guest competitors Emily, Otto, and Angel – could pull your arm out of its socket, but the smaller dogs, especially Roxanne, will get into this event, too. The Dog Tug-of-War becomes almost a comical event when one of the large dogs competes against a small dog. Even so, Roxanne has since emerged as the current title-holder in this event, successfully defending against all comers, even large beasties like Emily – a golden retriever, pit bull mix (one heckuva combination, don’t you think?) – and Angel, who is simply a sweetheart even though this yellow Labrador puppy is roughly the size of a small storage shed. This reminds me, we need to get one of those…

This is a picture of Roxanne the dog, competing in the Tug of War

Oh. The longest Dog Tug-of-War ever held was betweenRoxanne and Emily in late May of 2008, lasting nearly an hour, with Emily repeatedly dragging Roxie back and forth around our house, at times shaking the persistent Boston Terrier like a rag doll, but Roxie never let go. Her teeth were clamped on one end of a squeaky rubber chicken (see Event #4 for a related activity) like the proverbial vise. Frankly, I’d hate to have Roxanne bite my leg; she’s one tough little dog!

Event #4: Extract the Squeaker

For canines only, this is the only truly timed event in the Petathalon. The objective of this event is to determine which dog can locate and rip out the squeaker part of a stuffed dog toy the fastest. It is a brutal, fast-moving sport, punctuated by a growling, dismemberment of the toy with wads of stuffing flying madly in the air. In the past, this was a more leisurely event with one of our small dogs lying down with said toy in their maw, contentedly chewing as he/she gradually fell asleep. Recent competitions, however, have seen the introduction of outside contenders – guest competitors, if you will – who have attacked this event with a vigor rarely witnessed outside of illegal cock fights. The current record holder is Emily, a golden retriever/pit bull mix that must be seen to be appreciated, who ferreted out the squeaker from a sizeable stuffed ducky in 18 minutes, 13 seconds (12 June 2008). Emily was the first dog to break the 20-minute barrier in this category, which is basically on a par with Roger Bannister’s breaking the 4-minute mile way back in 1954. It was a stunning performance, perhaps only to be exceeded when Otto – our next door neighbor’s Rottweiler – makes his next visit to participate in the Petathalon.

Event #5: Sneak the Cat Turd

Mostly contested between Fossey, Timmy, and Pulcinella (and lately Emily), this is probably the most disgusting event of the Petathelon. It is what I have termed “Extreme Pet Athletics” and is definitely not for the squeamish. The objective of this competition is exactly what the title implies: which dog can purloin a nice, yummy chunk of cat poo from a litter box without being detected by a human judge? We have noticed that now the dogs are working in tandem (one dog, usually Roxanne, distracts the judge with a rousing bout of Event #3 while one of the other canines is head-and-neck deep in one of the three litter boxes in our house. (When you have eight cats, multiple litter boxes is A Good Idea.) Even with the judge distracted, this event still requires a certain amount of stealth. The Current record-holder for the sneakiest turd rustler is Fossey, and how a 42-pound Burnese mountain dog can surreptitiously snag and devour a cat turd is beyond human comprehension, but she routinely does it.

As the above description denotes, this is mostly an indoor competition, but there is an unofficial outdoor version mainly considered in tandem with Event #9, Digging a Hole.

Event #6: Tightest Ball

As mentioned in the Count the Pets Event, this particular contest is mostly confined to the cats, who like to combine Events 2 and 6, thereby creating a conundrum for the judges, who must decide which event takes precedence or has already been completed. Since the larger cats (see event #1) are by default excluded here, the winner of this event flips around between Toulouse, Diphthong, Alley, Pulcinella, and Roxanne. Even our oldest dog, Timmy (a 14 year old miniature collie) gets in on the act, although he limits himself to the dog bed in the master bedroom. Cuteness, naturally, becomes a major judging criterion here, so the competition is fierce as these cats and dogs squirrel themselves into the smallest balls of fur, wedging themselves into corners, inside boxes, laundry hampers, baskets of clean clothes, cupboards, shelves, and so on, eliciting the appropriate “oohs” and “aahs” from the spectators and judges. The Tightest Ball event is, not surprisingly, the most photogenic competition in the Petathelon.

This event is one of the three events that are simultaneously competed in by the same animal: Roxanne, our Boston Terrier. The other two this multi-talented dog covers are Events #2 (Count the Pets) and #7, which is described next.

Event #7: Loudest Snoring

Roxanne, that aforementioned Boston Terrier, is the reigning 2-time champion of this event. Ever since she wandered into our life – dragged is more like it, since our then-16 year old daughter Josie “found” this poor waif roaming the bogs around Lake Somerville early last November – Roxie has displayed her uncanny ability to rattle tea cups and bric-a-brac shelved two rooms away while sleeping. She also can snort, grunt, and grobble (a combination of grunting and wobbling) while participating in Event #2, the Dog Tug-of-War. Fossey (breed Burnese Mountain Dog) used to win this event hands down, but little Roxie uses her barrel chest and sizeable sinus cavities very effectively to project her snoring. We do concede to knowing the fact that the Boston Terrier breed is well-known to suffer from breathing difficulties such as asthma, but Roxanne has been checked out by our vet to be very healthy, indeed, with many years of competitive action ahead of her. Thus, Roxie is the queen bee of pet snoring in our house. Long live the Queen!

Event #8: The Door’s Open!

Another cross-over event, this one is where cats and dogs – especially Waldo, Toulouse, Marmalade, and Cucumber, sometimes even Pulcinella – will lay in wait for someone to open the sliding doors to the patio and then shoot out at near-lightspeed into the backyard. Waldo is the only cat allowed to go out the front door, but that limitation does not deter Toulouse, who can deftly avoid legs, feet, and snatching hands to dart out into the No-Man’s Land that is our front lawn. (Otto, our next door neighbor’s Rottweiler, is sometimes lounging in his garage with his owner, always with an eye open for the random cat that wanders by – but Otto does leave Waldo alone ever since he received a vicious right hook across the chops last year.) Toulouse has obviously not read the fine print on the regulations for this event, no matter how many times we try explaining them to him (See Event #10).

Event #9: Digging a Hole

You could say this competition is strictly for the dogs and be 95% accurate. That remaining five percent is reserved for our cats, who do frequent the backyard every day – mostly on lengthy yard leashes that enable them to cower in darkened corners or in shady areas to avoid the Texas summer heat. (Don’t worry; we never leave any of our pets out for more than five to ten minutes during the summer here because it is simply, well, beastly hot.) Still, the dogs will dig holes in the yard from time to time, mostly in an attempt to get into the neighbor’s yard – where Otto barks incessantly - or to bury the rare steak bone they will receive as a special treat. The other reason our dogs will dig in the backyard is to access the cat turds that have been buried when the felines feel the need to defecate while they are roaming the backyard. This provides an extension of Event #5, but since there is no real competitive edge required to “sneak” these cat turds, Event #5 remains strictly an indoor sport. That still does not stop the dogs from sniffing out these delectable cachets of feline morsels left in the backyard, which results in our yard looking somewhat like a miniaturized 24-hole golf course.

Event #10: I Don’t Speak English

In this day and age of massive immigration to America, there is an obvious language barrier that confounds native English speakers with the non-English speaking immigrants. In athletics, especially at the Olympics, this contributes to the pageantry of international competition and cooperation.

But all that has nothing to do with the animals competing in the Purcell Petathalon. Unless, of course, one takes into consideration the time involved in explaining the rules to the gathered menagerie.

This is how Event #10 works. Every once in a while one of our animals gets a wild hair up his or her ass, and the resulting chaos wreaks havoc underfoot. This “wildhairuptheassitis” can have catastrophic results or be a doggone nuisance to the humans who happen to get in that animal’s way, and the usual means of addressing this condition is to yell loudly at the offending critter to “knock it the smeg off!” That phrase will stop the offender in his/her tracks, who then looks at you with that “what? I don’t get it” look on their face. At other times, when one of the cats begins to meow insistently and loudly at the patio door to go outside, they are told in no uncertain terms that it is either A) raining outside, B) too hot outside, or C) you just came inside, you smeghead. A look of total befuddlement results, almost as if the cat in question doesn’t understand what you just said.

We do know, however, that our pets do, in fact, speak English. An excellent case in point is illustrated by a photo you will find on the Challenger website. Waldo will sometimes leap up on the kitchen counter next to the sink and start splashing in the water, or licking plates and bowls, only to be told – you guessed it – “knock it the smeg off!” The picture was taken moments after being so admonished by Penny, our oldest child (age 23). You can see by the expression on his face that Waldo Just Doesn’t Care.

This is a picture of the cat, Waldo

Interestingly, this is the only event that Sunny, the cockatiel we have owned for nearly twelve years, can enter. He can be a particularly worthy opponent in this event, especially when he cranks up the volume to chirrup and sing when someone is vacuuming (Sunny seems to have this thing for our Bissell canister vacuum), or while Valerie and I are attempting to watch Jeopardy. Loud admonitions (“Shut the smeg up, peckerhead!”) and flying ammunition in the form of pens, pencils, magic markers, and the like doesn’t deter Sunny from regaling us with his late-afternoon cockatiel arias. At least we find some consolation in the fact that Sunny is not masturbating during Jeopardy. Talk about distracting…

() () ()

So there you have it. That’s the run-down of the ten components of the Pet Decathalon held on a daily basis here at the Purcell Petting Zoo. Needless to say, this is almost a 24-7 competition requiring someone to be awake at all hours of the day and night, ready to grab for the camera and/or stopwatch at a moment’s notice. It also entails us mere humans to be extremely careful where we step and sit, or else we will be sucked into whatever jackassery our pets are up to at any given moment.

And you were wondering why sometimes I sob quietly into my pillow at night…



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