Two weeks ago our topic was how animals show up in clichés. Here’s another: “They fight like cats and dogs,” meaning constant, loud and sometimes violent squabbling, like what I experienced growing up. (The baker laughed but said he couldn’t fit “celebrating 60 years of marital strife” on my parents’ anniversary cake.) While there may be some truth to it we all know dogs and cats don’t have to be enemies.
That kernel of truth is based on both species’ hard-wired behaviors, although that is a generalization. Most dogs like to chase most things which run from them, and most cats wisely run when chased. Most cats seem to enjoy subtly (at times not so subtly) teasing from a safe distance, while most dogs have a short fuse when teased. That said, dogs and cats can of course be great friends. Our 80 pound Peaches, among the sweetest animals who ever lived, took to a mom cat and her kittens so much it was obvious she would have been a wet nurse if she only could. An image I’ll never forget is a blissed-out Tsimmes, our very silly red tabby, sitting between Archie and Frida, each dog licking one of his ears. In none of these cases was anything required beyond the individual animals’ sweet natures. In many situations, however, human attention and care at the time of introduction is what it takes to set things on a right path.
Both animals should feel secure before they meet each other, and that first meeting should occur with each on a separate side of a closed, solid door, and that’s for at least a couple of days. When the mood evolves to “curious” rather than “intense,” as it will eventually, the next steps require control. Control the dog on a leash. Observe – and gently correct – anything which feels aggressive: gently, please, since anything loud and sudden from you will only ramp up the tension. Take the time to get this all right, praising what’s praise-worthy, recognizing that it will be weeks or even months before it’s safe to leave the two together. But had my parents only approached things more slowly, their marriage might also have been less tumultuous in the end. Just sayin’….