In our own backyard... How much is that doggie in the window?

I was walking through the toy department of a local store a couple of days ago when I heard two distant "meows" coming from somewhere very nearby. Startled, I looked up and down the aisle and all around me. And then, it came again - a tiny "meow"...

I was walking through the toy department of a local store a couple of days ago when I heard two distant "meows" coming from somewhere very nearby. Startled, I looked up and down the aisle and all around me. And then, it came again - a tiny "meow" from somewhere vaguely in the proximity of my feet. I glanced down just as two life-sized, boxed toy cats swiveled their heads in unison, blinking their eyes and nodding their heads before emitting another chorus of plaintive meows. They sounded so lifelike it was utterly uncanny.

Next to them was a shelf full of larger boxes bearing life-like reproductions of happy-looking golden retrievers. And on the shelf above them was an even larger box containing a realistic-looking pony, along with a variety of other dogs and cats.

All of the toy animals were designed to look and sound as much like the real thing as possible, and they darn near did. But not quite.

I couldn't help but think of the "real thing" I'd seen last Friday night at the Friends of Animals annual Beastie Bash fund raiser event. A handful of homeless, half-grown kittens were on hand and available for adoption, and during the popular "Mutt Strut" feature, the announcer told the stories of pets adopted from the animal shelter as proud owners paraded their new best friends around the room.

I couldn't help but be struck by the irony of the life-like "pets" showcased in the toy store - some of them advertised at well over $100 - as opposed to the real life animals from the local humane society.....


"Incredibly lifelike pup responds to your voice with realistic motions and playful puppy sounds!" stated the packaging on the golden retriever on the toy store shelf.

"Abbie was found wandering by the river in Cloquet and was so thin she wasn't given much of a chance at life," read the biography of a friendly looking dog making the rounds with new owner Linda Towne at last Friday's Mutt Strut. "She had swollen eyes and was terrified of people - so frightened she would not eat. She finally took food from Linda Towne's kids, and that is where the bond started. Abbie just loves kids! She is still wary of adults, but she will give lots of kisses to all the kids in the neighborhood."

The label on one of the make-believe pups in the toy store boasted, "Lifelike puppy pet wiggles, cuddles and really rolls over when you rub his belly!"

But then, consider Buster, a real life shelter dog now proving to be a life line for his new owner, who looked on from his wheelchair during the Beastie Bash.

"Buster is about 3-1/2 years old with a mixed breeding of shepherd and anyone's guess," related the dog's adopted owner. "We had been talking about a dog for about 5 years but could never agree on what type of dog to get. One day....we stopped at the shelter and looked at several dogs, but either they didn't like my wheelchair or wanted to jump on me and run around the chair. We had looked at what we thought was every dog in the shelter when a volunteer showed up from a walk with Buster, so we decided to give him a look. Buster come over put one paw on my foot rest and laid his head in my lap as if to say, 'Here I am - all yours. Just take me home.' Buster is currently being trained to be a service dog to assist me, and while not completely finished in the program, he is doing very well."

And what of the two cats that "spoke" to me in the toy aisle the other day?

"This adorable feline is no ordinary kitty!" exclaimed the writing on the packaging."Give your kitty cat lots of love and affection by petting its soft fur. Then watch your lovable companion come to "life" as it opens and closes its eyes, moves its head and ears, swishes its tail and even 'purrs!' Play with your animal companion and you'll be best friends!"

Tux, a hefty, affable black and white rescue cat was the hit of last Friday's Beastie Bash, as he languished in the arms of person after person.


"Tux was rescued along with 15 other starving cats from a house in Mahtowa," detailed the evening's announcer. "He barely survived his harrowing ordeal until he was adopted and nursed back to health by the staff at the FOA and loving "parents" Bonnie and Jim Pasek. Tux and many of the other cats had contracted a deadly respiratory disease that required intravenous and force feeding until he fully recovered. He was the sole survivor. He is now the 'manager' of Necessities Salon and living happily in Cloquet."

A furry little faux puppy gazed endearingly out from its box on the toy store shelf.

"Pint-sized puppy figure has an animated head and comes with a stylish carrier for tons of pooch-friendly play wherever you go," read the tag.

It took two people to haul Pippen, the black lab, around the room during last Friday's "Mutt Strut" because he kept wanting to go up to people and lick their faces.

"Pippen is one happy-go-lucky big black lab mix," related the announcer. "He is 110 pounds of playful pleasure. Pippen's mother was left tied to the door knob of the Friends of Animals building. He is now three years old and is one protective dog for the Longseth family, with more character than a high school musical."

The range of life-like pets for sale in the toy store was impressive, and each of them was capable of doing all sorts of remarkably lifelike things.

And though they're no doubt carefree, don't have to be walked or vaccinated and will never leave a puddle in the middle of your floor, there' just one thing they can't do that the others can - love you back.

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