It started the day Helmut killed Esther, in cold blood, and in very cold weather. So cold, in fact, that we arrived home after a weekend at Grandma’s to frozen and cracked water pipes in the basement, and no water in the house. Even before bringing in the suitcases, Dad started a fire in the woodstove, in the hopes that the heat would begin to thaw the pipes. He stoked up the fire good and hot, and within minutes the house filled up not with the heat we craved, but with thick, suffocating, black smoke. Apparently the chimney flue had chosen that moment to quit functioning.
In the ensuing chaos of gagging and rushing to open windows and doors to let out the acrid smoke, Esther escaped, and Helmut killed her. Gagging and coughing immediately gave way to wailing and tears, and even Mom, who never cared for cats, had the grace to shed a few tears also.
Several months later, we returned to the house one afternoon to discover thirty still-warm but most definitely dead chickens, in a neat trail from the door of the chicken coop to the front porch. Mom immediately decreed that our half-wild Weimaraner would simply have to undergo Intensive Training, thus sealing Helmut’s fate.
In order to implement Intensive Training, we needed to collect a few simple tools for the program. Our youngest sister Sarah volunteered a Shamu the Killer Whale stuffed animal, about the same size and color as our new black and white kitten Pierre. Mom pointed us in the direction of a solid oak Louisville Slugger softball bat, but Dad, who at this point was the only one in the family with any benevolent feelings toward the dog, encouraged the use of a hollow plastic Whiffle ball bat instead.
Intensive Training was quite a simple concept, really. One of us girls, armed with the lightweight bat, would lie in wait behind the bushes while another sister would toss the stuffed animal out the front window and onto the porch, and a third would meow piteously from behind the open window. The moment Helmut leapt to attack, the Whiffle bat sister would spring from the bushes, cracking the hollow bat down across the poor dog’s head or back, or whatever part of his anatomy was closest. I really don’t think that the lightweight plastic actually hurt Helmut that much, but the sound of the crack was enough to make any dog think twice about attacking.
As I recall, it only took about two weeks of Intensive Training for Helmut to learn to respect a fuzzy, black and white stuffed whale, but no one knew if he could pass the real test of coming face to face with the cat. We soon found out.
The whole family was relaxing with popcorn and lemonade on the front porch one lazy summer evening. Fireflies sparkled in the soybean field beyond the house, crickets were fiddling in the flower gardens, and Helmut was crunching up the June bugs that were clinging to the screen door. Suddenly, and without any apparent provocation, he ran to the corner of the porch, and with a very nervous look in his eyes, jammed his nose into the railing. Not understanding his strange behavior, we tried calling him, even offering him popcorn and other goodies, but to no avail. Then we heard the meow. Pierre had found a kitten-sized hole in the window screen, and had crawled out to join the party on the porch. Helmut’s two weeks of Intensive Training had taught him to flee from a back and white meow, or else suffer the consequences. Apparently he was tired of the crack of the Whiffle ball bat. The Intensive Training had worked!
But Helmut was a dog, and a Weimaraner at that, and he couldn’t stay out of trouble for long. With small, domestic animals off limits, he began to take an interest in Mom’s flowerbeds. Never one to let an animal get the best of her, Mom armed herself with an arsenal of tiny firecrackers, and began a second round of Intensive Training. But that is another story, best saved for another day.
This post was originally written on 2-19-05, and is dedicated to Mom, the mastermind behind Intensive Training. It not only saved the lives of many generations of cats, but literally saved Helmut’s life too!