When You’re Such a Small Animal

Katie and Audrey

Katie and Audrey

“It’s awfully hard to be b-b-b-b-brave, when you’re such a small animal.” ~ A. A. Milne

I wrote a few days ago about Tony’s sense of humor.  Today I want to talk about another thing I loved about him.

Tony loved animals.  We had two cats, Audrey and Katie, and he adored them.  He and Audrey, in particular, had a bond unlike any other I’ve seen.  He would lie on his stomach with his arms propped in front of him, leaving a little nook between his arms and his chest.  Audrey would run over to him, climb into that space, lie down and push her feet up against his arms (we always said she was curbing her wheels) and just purr.  She would sometimes knead his arms, or if he was lying on his back she would lie in the crook of his arm and knead his armpit.  (Yes, she was a little odd.)

In a lot of ways, Tony and Audrey were similar creatures.  Both craved affection; both feared many things.  Even toward the end of Tony’s life, when things were the most difficult, seeing Audrey curled up with him always made me happy.  He used to sometimes say that he wished Audrey were the size of our apartment.  I think he wanted that because he knew that she’d protect him.  One time a raccoon came right up to the sliding door in our living room.  Audrey, who ran every time the doorbell rang, puffed up and hissed and protected her territory.  Tony felt she was protecting him, and maybe she was, in a way.  Maybe she sensed his vulnerability.

It wasn’t just cats.  I cannot think of a single animal whose life Tony did not respect, except maybe himself.  That’s strange, isn’t it?  That he could have such reverence for the lives of spiders and snails and things, but not for his own.  I remember one time we were out for a walk and someone had been down the sidewalk before us, smashing snails.  Tony was so sad for them.  They were defenseless and someone had needlessly killed them. 

For most of the time we lived in San Diego, we were zoo members.  The San Diego Zoo is world-famous, and justifiably so.  Before I met Tony my memories of the zoo were simply those of walking from display to display.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy seeing the animals, but going with Tony taught me a whole new way to see them.  He would stand for long minutes, observing, and what I learned from him is that if you do that?  You don’t just get a quick snapshot of a lion or a gorilla, you get a glimpse into their lives and behavior.  One of the last scripts we wrote featured a character who was an expert on animals’ sexual behavior, and I think Tony had more fun researching that character than any other, because he learned so much about animals, himself, while doing it.

While he loved all animals, I think Tony had a special fondness for old animals, small animals, particularly defenseless animals.  He identified with turtles, maybe because he spent so much time wishing he could hide from the world.  I think that was why he loved snails, too.  We would sometimes see a woman walking a very old dog named Jenny when we were out for our daily walks.  Jenny had some kind of non-contagious skin condition, and her owner loved that Tony and I would pet her when so many others wouldn’t.  I know he would have fallen head over heels for my sister Laura’s old rescue dog, CJ, but he never got to meet her.  Every time I look at CJ’s sweet face, I think of Tony and imagine how he would have loved her.

I think Tony felt, himself, like a very small animal in a world full of very big, scary ones.  A mouse in a world full of mouse-eaters.  He was not physically a big person, and somehow the lack of physical size was something he internalized.  He felt small and scared and alone.  I think that if there’s a heaven, Tony’s heaven is full of animals.  I think that, like him, they are the ones who felt scared when they were in this world.  I think he knows them all, and names them, and loves them.  And I think they love him back.

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