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Ken White

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A Crowded, Wet and Hairy Bed

Posted: 08/15/11 12:01 PM ET

5:30A.M. or so, the pain begins. A heavy pressure, an unexpected weight, making it hard to breathe; laborious, must work to fill my lungs against the pressure pushing down on my chest. Then the sound begins. A quiet but persistent rumbling right by my ear. The disquieting sense of sandpaper rubbing, rubbing, rubbing against my closed eyelids, and then a growing awareness of moisture running down my cheek.

What awful malady am I suffering? The loving attention of out of control pets, that's all. I thought those of you bothering to read my blog might like to know something about the animals who let me share their home with them: the work I took home with me and that stayed. A glimpse of how I start most mornings is as good an introduction as any.

It's 75 pounds of Archie on my chest who starts this off. Big and distinctive (ok, perhaps funny looking) with wild-man, black and white hair curling in every direction (Old English Sheepdog mix? who knows?), our big dog has come a long, long way since first rescued by a Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA humane officer. One of the first graduates of a formal behavior program, Archie was initially so aggressive to strangers that we really didn't know if he could be placed into a home. Our professional behavior staff took him on as a special challenge, and here's the result: asleep quite literally on top of me, weighing down my chest.

Why not move him off? Well, I think of how he started, how scared he was when we first met him, and how that fear showed itself as aggression (the "I better bite you before you hurt me" approach which tells of prior abuse) and I frankly just can't bring myself to disturb him.

And the rest of it? Tsimmes, our "big-boned" Red Tabby, is sitting next to my face, purring loudly in my ear, licking my closed eyelids until I open them. Sometimes, if I try and wait him out, that licking gets so furious that it's -- well, how to put this -- it's happy cat spit running down my cheeks. Eeww, I know, but he's just so loving.

Tsimmes was an unwanted stray kitten, now a very wanted and loved cat. With a crooked tail shaped like a question mark and a head too little for his body, we thought he'd outgrow his awkward adolescence and turn into a beauty. All cats are beautiful. Well, almost all. He's still awkward although no longer a teen, and a real case for beauty being a lot more than skin deep.

When Tsimmes has done his job well enough that I'm ready to climb out of bed, Archie usually swipes his big pink tongue across the both of us with a happy good morning. I look over to find Carolyn, my wife, struggling for space and some extra moments of sleep, sandwiched between Frida (the Papillion-Beagle mix) and Isabelle (if Tsimmes is fat, Issy is fatter, but just as sweet). It's a busy, busy bed.

Isabelle was an underage kitten raised in one of our foster homes until she was old enough to return for adoption. Frida is one of the seven pups my family raised at home, their Beagle mom practically exploding with pregnancy when she came into our shelter requiring an emergency C-section.

A pregnant stray dog's life saved, along with her babies, through the intervention of the shelter's veterinary medical team. Two once unwanted underage kittens, raised by volunteers committed to helping save as many lives as possible. An abused dog, rescued by humane officers, his hurt psyche healed by professional behaviorists.

Four wonderful animals crowded with us in the family bed. So many, many more wonderful animals in the shelter. Guess I just need a bigger bed.