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This #8216;blended family#039; always brings a smile to my face

If you had told me 20 years ago I'd be living with a husband and four cats, plus three dogs and a couple more cats outside, I would have been surprised.

I didn't realize back then just what a Grade-A, certified pet lover I would evolve into.

I may not come home with groceries for Benny and me, but rest assured, the pets will get their kibble. After all, you can't neglect your babies, and I confess that's what my fuzzy bunch of mixed breed companions are.

When I come home in the evening, I know there will be a trio of figures waiting just down the road for me. I toot my horn as I pass Mama's house. A shaggy black and tan dog appears in the distance, wagging his plume-like tail, a smaller, sleeker black canine wriggling beside him. A lumbering yellow dog, roughly the size of a miniature pony, brings up the rear.

Rascal is a sweet-tempered, handsome German Shepherd-Collie mix. Tutie, ever bright-eyed, exuberant and affectionate, we like to call our genuine Alabama Leaping Dog. This speedy hound could have been a hit in the circus.

Junior has the handsome head and soulful, seal-like brown eyes of a yellow lab; unfortunately, he also has the brain of Jethro from &#8220The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Tutie, still pretty much a pup, invariably tries to climb in the car with me, lavishing me with kisses.

Junior, a perennial pup, rakes me with his giant paw while Rascal, polite as always, simply smiles and wags his tail hopefully.

Funny how I can be tired, achy and a little depressed at times, and those three can still put a smile on my face. Oh, I know they're anxious for a treat, but I also firmly believe they're mighty glad to see their mom.

If I am lucky, a cool character named Cheeto, our good-looking orange tom, will be casually lolling in the planter box, also awaiting my arrival (he's happy to see me, too. He just isn't going to get all disgustingly dog-like about it).

Through the dining room window, I glimpse a lovely calico cat inside, the almost-perfect feline we call Callie. If there were Girl Scout troops for cats, she'd win all the merit badges.

Callie is a mere stripling compared to the venerable Ginger, who showed up on our doorstep in Dayton, Ohio in the late ‘80s. She's stone deaf and a little creaky these days, but she hasn't lost her feline charm.

Long-haired, haughty Puddin' has beautiful, big green eyes and tufty ear hairs I love to tweak. Despite her sometimes snooty demeanor, Pud can be terribly sweet when she chooses to be. With her smooth, steady purr and comfortingly well-cushioned figure, she's a divine napping companion, like an extra pillow.

Thumper, our three-legged black and white cat, is a roly-poly creature with a Hitler mustache and a much friendlier personality since we had her &#8220fixed.”

I used to suspect she was always plotting to kill us in our sleep; now she just seems to want to rappel herself up the side of the bed so she can sleep with us.

In the back yard, another tomcat reigns, albeit a very different character than Cheeto. T.W. is a rangy, wild-looking, semi-long-haired cat who talks to us with his constant, woeful cry. Benny calls him &#8220Mr. Lonely.”

T.W. would love to be an inside cat, but his propensity for licking our skin raw and kneading our side until we bleed

– you could call him ferociously friendly - nixes that. He's weird, yet strangely appealing.

That's our &#8220blended family,” largely castoffs who each appeared one day looking for food and a little affection.

They've managed to receive quite a lot of both.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at angie.long@greenvilleadvocate.com.