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When a pet adopts us there is nothing to be done about it

Thomas Stearns Eliot was rightfully concerned about the painful mix of memory and desire when he wrote that April is the cruelest month.

But the poet, known fondly as "T.S." by "The Waste Land" fans the world over, would have no doubt agreed the scariest month has to be October.

And it has nothing to do with the ghouls, ghosts and goblins that haunt us each Halloween.

October is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" month, a time when we humanoids are encouraged to open our hearts and homes and take in a homeless hair ball.

The scary part? Those of us who inhabit a crowded "hair-um" live in daily fear that our significant non-furbearing other will find a way before the month is out to squeeze yet another canine or cat into our humble abodes.

Mr. Eliot was a cat man at heart, judging from his cat poetry which was turned into that wonderful Broadway musical of feline fame. But dogs also captured his fancy, as they play a supporting role in his "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats."

If you part the fur in his pet poetry, you sense he lived on the hairy edge of fear. He knew that adding one cat or dog could tip the balance, sending you down into Dante's "infurno."

Don't get me wrong. I want people with good hearts to adopt dogs as well as their furry little clawed buddies. It is good for both biped and beast.

Indeed, every time I go into a shelter, I want to leave with a cat under each arm and a leash in each hand with a pooch attached. And try not to think of the pleading eyes of those left behind.

Of course, one needs to adopt with their eyes open, knowing full well that no good deed goes unpunished.

In our fur-lined home, my wife already has more than 200 pounds of dog and nearly 100 pounds of cat in stock. No, we're not talking ground round here. Geez, that is really disgusting.

At last count, our domestic herd includes mongrels Waldo and Harpo and nine cats of every color and creed, although the feline population could be 10. It seems to me there is a little furry creature I don't recognize sneaking about the place.

"All we have is nine cats — honest," Maureen assured me. "Besides, you always say 10 cats is catamount, er, tantamount to hoarding."

"There are those who already think of us as mad-dog cat collectors," I replied, fighting bad pun with bad pun.

All of our furry fellows come from a shelter, a rescue group or a friend who saw an animal in need and called Maureen.

There were also a few walk-ons who made the team. They simply walked up to our door and scratched.

Yet there appears to be a happy equilibrium that T.S. would have appreciated. I wouldn't be surprised if Granny, our 20-something cat who moves slowly about the house, one day starts belting out "Memories."

But the inn is definitely full. One more furbearer would upset the animal cart.

"Just promise me we won't get another creature right now, particularly one with long hair," I told Maureen, adding, "Remember, not everyone enjoys flossing with animal hair."

"That was completely unintentional, sweetie," she said.

She was referring to the infamous sandwich incident which occurred last October when she packed us a lunch to take to work. It was a pleasant day. I looked forward to lunch outside in the fine autumn air.

Unbeknownst to yours truly, our long-haired cat Odie had apparently sauntered past while Maureen was preparing the sandwiches that morning. Naturally, she bent down to pet and snuggle him.

Unfortunately, he was in his shedding stage, a period when he leaves large clumps of hair behind. My wife, who is not physically hygiene challenged, forgot to wash her hands before returning to my sandwich.

I happily bit down on the sandwich later that day, innocently enjoying the moment. The next thing I remember was the sound of someone — me — trying to hack up what must have looked like a wet kitten to shocked passersby. They would skip their lunch that day.

"Oh my God! You actually coughed up a fur ball!" Maureen recalled before lapsing into a series of gasping giggles.

Once she regained her composure and wiped her eyes, she insisted once again that it was all an unfortunate accident.

But I am haunted by fearful doubts come October.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.