Ashland author casts pets as teachers, philosophers

In Tony Mozingo's earliest memory he is lying on a sunny bed between his mother and father with a black cat named Midnight. That's as it should be. His life has been full of cats.

As has the life of his wife, Marilyn, whose childhood photos are full of kittens. When George and Marilyn married at 21, their first acquisition was a pair of kittens. Over the years they've had a long parade of cats and one very smart border collie, which is no doubt redundant.

The Mozingos moved to Ashland in 2006, several years after Tony retired. One thing led to another, and he found himself writing about the pets that had shared the couple's life.

The result is "The Mozes Staff," a humorous memoir that casts the Mozingos' pets as philosophers and teachers to their humans. Tony Mozingo has completed re-writing and is seeking an agent to try to sell the book to a publisher.

An avid reader with a lively interest in philosophy, he recounts deep conversations with the likes of Bonnie the border collie, the only canine member of George and Marilyn's otherwise all-feline "staff." In Mozingo's mind's eye, Bonnie used to talk to him about the nature of God and humans and collies.

"There are three keys to the good life," he says. "Seeking truth, acting virtuously and sharing love."

Without revealing all Bonnie's secrets from the book, he says she graduated from doggie obedience school in two lessons and taught him about the bonds between dogs and humans.

Mozingo, 64, grew up in Virginia, majored in geology in college and had skills the FBI considered suitable for a career in forensics. He became a field agent, worked his way into middle-management and wound up working in Soviet counterintelligence in the 1970s and '80s.

Cats came and went. The Grey, The Old Buddy, Sam, Fang, Molly, Peggy Sue, Moses, Pistol Pete, Ricochet and Purrington.

"If you take time to learn them, cats have individual personalities," Mozingo says.

Moses was virtuous. It seemed to Mozingo that Moses had Socratic dialogues with kittens. Old Buddy was an ancient warrior. Ricochet, perhaps like many cats, aspired to the stage. Peggy Sue was convinced she was a descendent of the last cat of the Romanov Dynasty — Aleksandr Pusskin.

As the Mozingos joked about having staff, they got Purrington as a butler. But he always seems to be mulling such weighty topics as the nature of time. It was from Purrington that Mozingo learned that cats have no concept of linear time. They live in the moment, like a spiritual guru, or an Einsteinian spaceman dwelling in a black hole-induced warp in the fabric of spacetime.

Pistol Pete was killed by a bobcat when the Mozingos lived in San Francisco. Moses and Bonnie joined Tony one day as he sat under some eucalyptus trees nurturing a burning hatred of the bobcat.

"You know, Mosey, losing Petey has just been eating my heart out," Tony said.

He partly blamed Mr. Lucky, a gray tiger-stripe cat Petey had palled around with. After a time Moses seemed to George to suggest — in cat language of course — that Tony let the thought go.

Bingo. What popped into his mind next was the austere Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic who wrote about duty and free will and cautioned against the trap of desire.

Mozingo says we're stewards of our pets, and responsible to them right up to and including the moment of death. Pets like Moses and Bonnie underscored this belief.

"Disease could not rob Moses of his goodness," he says.

He even invented a sort of doggie heaven called The Great Pack, where Bonnie will find her reward.

Is it possible that even our furry friends on some level find that the unexamined life is not worth living? Or are self-consciousness and reflection uniquely human?

Who knows? But Mozingo wrote a poem hooked into such questions. It's in the book. It begins like this:

If I were a linguist/I'd learn to speak Dog./I'd cry in Crowese/I'd haggle in Hog./I'd libel in Lizard,/Speak frankly in Frog./And all of God's creatures/Would be quite agog!

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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