Sunday, June 18, 2006

The dog lady

She lived in a house on Essex Street in West Footscray during the 1970's. She was old enough then that I doubt being that specific now will cause her any harm.

Dog and cat ladies seemed much more prevalent in the 1960's and 1970's than they do now though I suspect that has as much to do with the amount of time I spent as a kid rambling through the suburb sticking my nose into any and everything as with any supposed decline in numbers during my adulthood. The simple fact is that if I jump into my car and drive 40 KM's to work I'm not going to see as much detail as I did when tramping my way on foot to school.

I also suspect that my own household sometimes skates perilously close to a state resembling cat ladyhood. At one point Sue and I had 6 cats; we've had 5 cats living here with us in Phoenix plus an uncounted number of strays who regularly help themselves to a meal. It'd be in the region of a dozen.

In the very same condo block, 15 or so flats away we have a genuine cat lady; she must have a dozen or more cats living inside and when one approaches the olfactory evidence can become overwhelming, especially in this heat.

And there lies the rub. As a confirmed cat lover for more years than I care to admit to I can only applaud those who offer the stray a meal or a home. Yes, I know that Malthus applies but I can only do so much. If the stray becomes a part of our household a visit to the vet is in order; if not *shrug*. Arguments along the lines of 'feed em and you only encourage em to breed' seem, to me, to inhabit the same moral sphere as arguments about 'if you could travel back in time, would you kill Hitler?'.

On the other hand, if you're going to feed the strays and have multiple pets yourself that carries with it some responsibilities regarding public hygiene. Cat crap needs to be picked up.

In 1977 I worked for Trident TV rentals as a travelling repairman. Pretty cushy job most of the time. Yes, one had to put up with the person who insisted I had to be there by 2 and the set repaired by 3 so they could catch their favourite soap opera. One made a good faith promise to try ones best but things could and did delay me and then I'd have an angry customer upset because she'd missed the details of Bonnie's pregnancy. Never mind that the next week of episodes would rehash the subject.

But the great thing about working for a rental firm was that the maintenance was part of the contract; no need to do the billing and make sure I picked up the cash. If you've never had to extract the service fee plus a labour fee plus parts from an impatient customer OD'ing on soap opera or sitcoms count yourself lucky; you get to see the dark side of humanity!

One of my regular customers was the dog lady aforesaid. Regular in the sense that back in 1977 consumer electronics was rather more fragile than it is now. Back then it was nothing unusual to require two service calls a year to keep a set going; these days I'd guess that better than 99% of electronics works without missing a beat until it's time to scrap it.

The dog lady had about 20 dogs in her household and you knew it whenever you approached closer than 10 feet to her front door. I knew nothing of this on the first call; I walked in and almost choked from the smell of urine and faeces. Fortunately it was a very easy repair and I was out of there within about 10 minutes.

A few months later, in the middle of summer, I had to go back. Made a crucial mistake; that of imagining I could hold my breath long enough to get in, do the repair, and escape. 90 seconds into the call, well, you guessed it, filled my lungs to capacity with that odour. Yuck.

Around her lounge room were a few dozen empty paint tins. I really ought to have realised[^] their function but I didn't until she suddenly raced across the room, shrieking, to grab a dog and hoist the poor bugger over one of the cans, so he could pee, if not in peace, at least without scolding after the event.

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