One Cat, Five Dogs and the Fur That Flew!
How My Cat's Hero Award Created a Surge of Cattiness
One day back in May of 2012, I faced a dilemma. I was scheduled to be in two places at the same time. Location #1 was the Northwest Christian Writer’s Association’s Conference held in Redmond, WA where I planned to shop a book proposal to a literary agent. Location #2 was the 2012 PAWS Community Hero Pet Awards ceremony held on Bainbridge Island, about 30 minutes from the conference. My cat, Cheeto, had won an award and was to be honored for his work as a “target cat” at a hoity-toity ceremony / fundraiser.
Cheeto had a “job.” He was trained to lay in a crate quietly hidden in the forest, without meowing, as we trained cat detection dogs to find lost cats. Recently featured on three different TV shows, Cheeto won this specific award in a roundabout way. My chubby cat had helped to train a search dog named Harley who in turn found and saved the life a lost cat. Harley found the nearly dead cat (named Norm) three days after his collar got stuck under a hot tub in 100-degree weather. You can watch a video of Cheeto at a dog training session in my previous Substack post “What is a Target Cat?”
At first, I planned to send a volunteer in my place to accept Cheeto’s award. But as the day grew closer, I felt an ache in my heart. I wanted to be there, too. When I voiced my dilemma on Facebook and asked for advice, one friend piped up and said, “Writer’s Conferences come and go-when have you ever heard of a cat winning an award?” So, I compromised. I attended the writer’s conference in the morning and in the afternoon, I left Redmond, drove to Seattle, picked up my friend Sharon (who had Cheeto), and we boarded the ferry heading to Bainbridge Island.
This was a red-carpet event held at a beautiful Golf & Country Club. There were six categories with six Pet Hero winners. Cheeto had already won the Companion Animal category (we were there to receive that award), but there was a seventh award up for grabs that had captured my attention. It was the People’s Choice Award where everyone who attended the event would be asked to vote for their favorite of the six nominees. All of the other nominees besides Cheeto were dogs. The event planners had created a poster for each of the nominees that described their work and why they had won their award. These posters were what the attendees looked at and used to help them decide who they wanted to vote for.
As I stood in front of Cheeto’s poster taking a picture of it (photo above) I overheard a conversation taking place behind my back that went something like this:
Woman #1: “Who did you vote for?”
Woman #2: “I voted for Tucker.” (Tucker was a black Labrador trained as a whale poop detection dog. I am serious. Tucker was a conservation dog who rode at the stern of a whale conservation boat while his handler would watch for him to excited when he detected whale poo. I surmised that if my dog Kody-the-poop-eater ever heard of this career she’d gladly apply for the job!)
Woman #1: “I voted for the cat.”
Woman #2: “Yeah, but he doesn’t really do anything.”
I was shocked. I was appalled! Cheeto “doesn’t really do anything”? COME ON! Had they ever tried to train a cat? And just how hard could it really be to train a dog (like Tucker) to sniff out the horrendously powerful, rank mixture of aquatic dead fish combined with fecal smell squirted from a whale’s anus? My cat had done something that had actually saved another cat’s life and, Cheeto was featured on Animal Planet because of it. Could they say the same about Tucker’s whale doo-doo-sniffer work? I didn’t think so!
If those dog lovers (which I happen to be myself) ever tried to train a cat to do anything, they’d appreciate my “working cat” and vote for him. After hearing that woman’s comment, I realized we were in trouble. Before I knew it, I had morphed into this competitive, conniving, mentally unbalanced soccer mom who was determined to see my cat beat all of the dogs who were vying for the same coveted “People’s Choice Award” that I felt my cat deserved. And since I’d given up a chance to meet with an agent at that Writer’s Conference, I was determined that Cheeto WAS going to win this award!
I figured I had likely already bagged the votes of all of the cat lovers since every attendee knew ahead of time the six nominees. So I devised a plan to capture as many dog lover votes as possible. I took Cheeto to the entrance and while he laid on the red carpet, I began to greet all the arriving guests. I handed out Cheeto’s baseball trading cards to everyone who entered and bragged, “Vote for Cheeto, he was on Animal Planet!” I don’t think the dog handlers inside the event knew that I was out at the entrance trying to steal all of their dog votes. I didn’t care. This was cats vs. dogs. This was WAR!
I even pulled out freeze dried salmon treats and tried to get Cheeto to sit up and wave, something he would do at home but apparently not while on a red carpet. I figured if dog people could see that a cat had a brain and could even be trained to do a trick, maybe they’d cross over and vote for one. Maybe his performing a cute trick would be seen as him actually “doing” something. But Cheeto refused to wave. He just laid there like the fat cat that he was, allowing dog votes to slip away.
Ultimately, the time for the awards ceremony arrived. But before they announced the coveted “People’s Choice Award” they gave out the, lesser awards. A police K9 got an award and then a three-legged therapy dog got her award. When they called Cheeto’s name, I picked him up and he relaxed in my arms like a sack of potatoes. When he became limp like this, his back legs would splay apart, his head would hang back, and he looked hysterical!
I hammed it up on the red carpet as I carried him like this, twirling in a circle just like a model would spin, as I held my limp, 21-pound-flubber-bellied cat. The audience laughed and I even stopped for a few people to take his photo. Before the presentation the event planner had asked all nominees, “If your pet were to come back as a famous person, who would he be?” and I answered “Cheeto would come back as Jackie Gleason because he is big and keeps me laughing all of the time.” At the podium, Cheeto received his plaque and an Olympic-style medal attached to a red, white, and blue ribbon that they draped around his neck.
Afterwards, we waited another five minutes and they announced the overall winner of the People’s Choice Award. It wasn’t Cheeto. And it wasn’t even Tucker-the-shit-sniffer. No, it was that three-legged therapy dog named “Kitty Kitty,” given that name because she was born on April Fool’s Day. So Cheeto, the lifesaving cat, was beat by a dog whose job was to sit and let nursing home patients pet her—big deal! As if being petted at nursing homes is “doing something” more important than saving other cats lives. Sheesh!
Here’s the video of me carrying Cheeto down the red carpet to accept his reward. All I can say is that when it came to capturing the hearts of the audience that night MY CAT WON! And I think I can live with that.
Life is too short to not brag about your famous cat!
By the way, the next memoir I plan to publish here in my Substack (after my dog memoir Pet Tracker wraps up) will be a sequel memoir called Cheeto Wheeto, a cat memoir filled with epic bragging.