My computer consultants, Cesare and Pellegrino
Thanksgiving has put me in a reflective mood, so I thought I'd use the cheap excuse of Red Room's photo contest to wax nostalgic.
During a nightmarish period in the 1990s when my partner of 20 years and many of my friends were dying of AIDS, I engaged in maladaptive behavior that I later found out other people in my hopeless situation sometimes do as well.
Since I couldn't save my partner or my friends from a plague that had a 100 percent mortality rate at the time, I began rescuing stray kittens abandoned by their feral mothers in the alley behind my condo in West Hollywood.
The abandoned kittens were newborn and I hand-fed them using a miniature baby bottle filled with extortionately expensive kitty formula. Pet food manufacturers know we childless pet lovers will pay any amount for the sustenance and comfort of our four-legged child-surrogates.
The kittens grew up thinking I was their mother, since I had bottle-fed them, and many of them turned into adult cats as affectionate as my dogs.
The only downside was that the kittens often became confused and tried to nurse on my chest. That reminds me of a line from the '60s film, Bedazzled, when the devil, played by Peter Cook, asks Dudley Moore that if God is all-knowing, why did He gave men nipples.
I took over the cat rescue mission from a neighbor in the building, actor Elliot Gould's eccentric mother, who was in her 70s and found it increasingly difficult to do hang out in the alley searching for kittens that would be dead within a day of birth since their mothers didn't hang around.
I enlisted the help of parking attendants in my condo building. Whenever they found a litter, they would knock on my door, and I'd rush out with a blanket and a cardboard box.
After I fostered then adopted the cat of a friend who had died of AIDS, word got around that I was a soft touch. Desperate friends of friends of friends, strangers who were dying, began contacting me with a plea to take in their pets. Anybody who already loves animals couldn't have refused. Or at least I couldn't.
For a while, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, I was sheltering 17 cats and dogs in my home. All orphans of the epidemic. I was afraid I might have the obsessive-compulsive disorder called hoarding, except I lacked one of the defining traits of the disorder. Hoarders refuse to give up whatever it is they're hoarding.
I did not want to live with 17 animals, and although it took me more than two years, I eventually found homes for all the orphans. I became relentless in finding new homes for them. I would accost women in the pet food aisle at the supermarket and ask them if they wanted another cat or dog.
That often worked. And since this was West Hollywood, none of the women thought I was using a cheap pick-up line.
I'd also stand outside the supermarket with a huge box and a sign that said, "Kittens - Absolutely Free." Along with a kitten, adoptive "parents" got a starter kit with a tiny bottle, a can of kitty formula, written instructions and my business card.
I told the adoptive parents to phone me if they changed their minds, and I'd pick up the orphans - no questions asked or guilt induced.
A dog trainer said the biggest mistake pet-owners make is treating their animals like little people in fur coats. I thought, "But they ARE little people in fur coats!"
I took the above photo of Cesare and Pellegrino with an El Cheapo digi-cam during the early days of digital photography.
I'm not submitting the photo for Red Room's contest. I'm not delusional. I don't have a great "eye" for composition, etc. (I got a B in college photography class.) That's why I became a writer instead of a painter or screenwriter.
The snapshot is far from great art, but that doesn't stop me from treasuring it, especially because Pellegrino and Cesare have gone to quadruped heaven.
This post is turning into a bad remake of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, a 1948 satirical novel about obsessive pet lovers and pet cemeteries in Los Angeles.
Pellegrino and Cesare and my other cats used to sit in my lap, at my feet or on top of my computer monitor the entire time I wrote lengthy books. I came to think of them as my collaborators, not my pets. They were a calming influences and great to pet while temporarily paralyzed by writer's block.
I mentioned in a previous post on Red Room that Freud believed dogs reveal true character, not only their owners, but anyone they meet. The psychoanalyst had one of his many chow-chows sit in on therapy sessions because the dogs had a calming effect on patients.
Sigmund Freud with one of his physician's assistants
My dogs had that therapeutic effect on me, as did my cats who thought they were dogs or at least acted as affectionately.
Another photo that will never win a contest
Marshmellow, my hyperactive American Eskimo, THE most affectionate dog since Lassie
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders