Vineyard pets and their quirks

Jackson loves television commercials, especially one for Beggin' Strips. — Photo Courtesy of Cathy Walthers

My cat, Lily, has a couple of out-of-the-ordinary habits. The first is her extreme preference for drinking water from a running faucet. Sometimes, to the amusement of visitors who might be rinsing a plate in the kitchen sink, she’ll race over, leap to the counter, crawl beneath their arms, and start lapping away at the running stream. When she’s thirsty and no one is at the sink, she’ll plant herself at its edge and get mouthy at you until you come over and turn on the tap. Either that or just stare you down until you do same.

Cats drinking from running taps is not unheard of. (There is, for example, a popular YouTube video of a cat that sticks its entire head under the stream of water and drinks the droplets that run off its fur and into its mouth.) I figure it’s some kind of throwback to cats’ ancestors’ lives in the wild, where moving water in creeks and brooks was a likely thirst-quencher.

But Lily does something else that I’ve never heard of. It involves “Mr. Furry” – her stuffed mouse.  (Actually, there have been multiple Mr. Furrys over the years). Covered in real fur, Mr. Furry is as close as Lily – a West Tisbury indoor cat – can get to genuine prey. Whenever I break out a new Mr. Furry, Lily goes wild, tearing around the house with it for a good 10 minutes. But inevitably, and usually within a half an hour, I find it in the same place: the downstairs bathroom john. Her motives are a mystery. Perhaps she’s trying to drown it? Or wash it? Or perhaps she’s decided she’s killed it and wants to dispose of it neatly. Or maybe she’s figured out that this Mr. Furry, like all his predecessors, is a fake piece of crap, so she’s putting him in the crapper. Who knows?

I polled some other Islanders to see whether they had pets with quirky habits, and in most cases the answer was yes. Here is a sampling of what I learned.


April is a six-year-old toy poodle owned by long-time seasonal Vineyard Haven residents Tom and Melissa Rogers. Whenever a doorbell rings on the television, April races to the front door and barks like crazy, positioning herself on the staircase landing opposite the door so she’s at eye level with the handle. While this on its own is somewhat quirky but not unknown in the dog world, what makes April’s case exceptional is that April does not live, nor has she ever lived, in a house with a doorbell. The only doorbell April has ever heard has been on the television. What gives? Has knowing what the doorbell means become a genetic trait in dogs? Or has April learned what it means from paying close attention to TV shows?


Another dog with a TV habit is Jackson, a five-year-old English Shepherd owned by Chilmark year-rounders Cathy Walthers, David Kelliher, and their son James Kelliher. Jackson especially enjoys commercials with animals in them. Any and all animals interest him, be they other dogs, cats, lions, or ducks, though he’s especially fond of an ad for the dog treats “Beggin Strips,” since that one features both dogs and treats.

“If Jackson is in another room and hears the jingle for one of the ads he likes, he runs into the TV room to watch it,” says Ms. Walthers. Also, she adds, he’s developed a new habit of running in circles whenever he hears clapping and cheering on the television. “During football games, he drives us all a bit crazy.”


Leuco wants to be in the circus. A five-year-old Portuguese Water Dog owned by Nicole Galland of West Tisbury and her husband, Billy Meleady, Leuco never fails to obey the command “jump!” But such encouragement is unnecessary. Leuco hasn’t met a playground swing she didn’t want to bound over, or a tire swing she didn’t want to shoot through, “especially if there are people watching,” says Ms. Galland. Leuco adores jungle gyms, racing up the ramps or stairs, traversing their upper walkways and tunnels, and finally, taking the slide down, only to double back to the beginning to do it all over again. “And again, and again,” says Ms. Galland, “until I stop her.”

On walks, Leuco creates her own obstacle courses, leaping up onto high sea walls, climbing small ladders onto docks, jumping over anything and everything. One of her favorite found props is a discarded staircase lying on its side on one of her beach walks. Though there is plenty of space to walk around it in the sand, Leuco runs over it from one end to the other, lifting her legs high to clear the protruding steps like a football player training on the tires.

But Leuco isn’t all boundless enthusiasm. When she senses that her owners are about to leave for awhile, she goes on a hunger strike. If they give her dinner before leaving, she won’t eat it until they return home, even if it’s several hours later. It’s the same when they try to distract her with a treat. “She takes it in her mouth,” says Ms. Galland, “looks up at me with accusing eyes, and then drops it to the floor with a disgusted toss of her head. She won’t eat it until we get back. I think she believes that her refusal to eat is the magic that forces us to return.”


Unlike Leuco, a certain yearling guinea pig in Vineyard Haven never refuses to eat. The rodent, whose owners prefer to keep his identity secret, especially loves lettuce. An observant creature, he has figured out the sequence of events that lead up to his being given a snack. So now, every time someone in the house opens the refrigerator, he starts squealing – “Wee! Wee! Wee! Wee!” He can’t see the refrigerator, but he’s learned the sound it makes being opened, and he won’t stop squealing until he gets some greens. Evidently he also did this when he was at the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown before he was adopted by his family. Refrigerators may not all sound exactly the same when they’re opened, but they must sound similar enough for a lettuce-loving rodent to make the connection.

Owl and Honey Bunny

Owl, a 14-year-old female cat belonging to Mark and Kim Baumhofer of West Tisbury, has recently taken a shine to the family’s 8-year-old female rabbit, Honey Bunny. The Baumhofers first noticed

this blossoming affection last Christmas when a guest was staying in the den, where Honey Bunny’s cage normally resides. When the rabbit was moved to a daughter’s bedroom for the holidays, Owl started hanging out on the bed in that room. After Christmas, when Honey Bunny moved back to the den, so did Owl. When the bunny is let out of his cage to stretch his legs, Owl often goes into the cage and curls up to sleep. At other times, the rabbit will hop up onto one of the den’s two armchairs, and Owl will hop up onto the other, “and they sit there like a couple of old grandmothers all evening,” says Kim Baumhofer. One has to wonder whether a cat named “Owl” might have something of an identity crisis; perhaps she’s decided that she’s neither – she’s a rabbit.


Carhartt, the Baumhofers’ eight-year-old Boxer, started out as Mark’s dog, going to work with him every day, following him around the house in the evenings. When Mark, a builder, first got a job to which he couldn’t bring Carhartt, the dog stayed home with Kim. When Mark came home at night, and both he and Kim were in the same room, Carhartt was

there with them. But when one member of the couple went upstairs and the other stayed downstairs, Carhartt was torn. He solved the problem by settling down on the landing half-way up the stairs, and remaining there until one member of the couple joined the other on either floor. Now, when Mark can take the dog to work, Carhartt becomes Mark’s dog again, but when Mark’s at a site where Carhartt can’t go, the dog “turns to the Kimmie side,” says Mark, dividing his loyalties equally by waiting on the landing until both Baumhofers are on the same floor, and also by spending some part of each at-home-with-Kim day sitting outside staring down the driveway, watching for Mark’s return.

Readers: Got a quirky pet story of your own for a future All About Pets? Write to Laura Roosevelt at