Every weekend’s end I get a bit down in the dumps. And we had quite a bit of rain down in the DC area this past weekend, so I couldn’t help but feel much of it had been squandered, especially as a good number of my friends took it upon themselves to do an Ironman race on Sunday, which includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile mike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.
Meanwhile, I slept until noon Sunday and the dogs honed in on their puzzle skills.
But, I did do one thing of worth on Saturday afternoon, when I attended a workshop hosted by Your Dog’s Friend and Lennea from Next Best Pet. YDF is a very cool non-profit in the DC area that promotes positive training methods, helps people in the area find a reward-based trainer near them, and offers free resources and workshops to the community like the one I attended.
This Saturday’s subject was on multi-pet households, and I was inspired to go out when I heard there would be some talk of dogs and cats. This, admittedly, is a topic that I need help with. With all of Balton’s other issues and training needs, we have spent the last 10 months managing safely, but not really being consistent in helping my two cats develop a peaceful coexistence with him.
Some people are surprised to learn I have cats, probably because I don’t overshare about them in the borderline unhealthy way I do my dogs. But, I actually had them before my work with dogs ever started.
Oreo, the only other lady of the household, is estimated to be about 11 years old now (because she was estimated to be about 5 when I got her). Rescued from a hoarding situation and living with about 40 other cats, she and her housemates were sort of a special project rescue from a few volunteers at Summit Animal Rescue Association in NJ in 2006. 40 cats in a repossessed home that were all going to get put down without adopters or fosters is a perfect setup for a sucker like me.
She was an incredibly grittish and skittish kittish when she first came to me, likely from some neglect in her time as a hoarded pet. She was bound and determined to hide and not be found. I had a small duplex at the time, so there wasn’t much square footage to hide out in. When under the bed and in the closet didn’t work for her in terms of feeling safe, she hid out behind the stove instead. I panicked at the notion I had lost my newly adopted family member for a good day and a half as I tried to find where she had nestled herself. She has mellowed like a fine wine in her old age and despite her quirks and a few lost teeth over the years, she remains a faithful companion who has come with me on every road traveled since graduating college.
Meeko was adopted as a kitten from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington at about 5 months old. I had just moved to DC and at his time of adoption, I had no friends, a job with longish hours, and my then-boyfriend-would-be-husband had ditched me for 3 months while he traveled for work over seas. This combination of variables led to me to think it would be a perfectly reasonable and rational decision to go and adopt a friend for Oreo (yes, I deflected my emotions to the cat and used her as a scapegoat – “ohhh, hey I’m having a quarter life crisis here, the CAT needs a friend”).
He was cute and fluffy, and reminded me of a small raccoon. And so came his name, from the raccoon in Pocahontas.
Perhaps I should have realized in giving him the namesake I would open myself up to a life of troublesome shenanigans.
Meeko is sweet, snuggly, entertaining, and exhausting. Unbeknownst to me when I signed his adoption contract, he came equipped with bonus features – terrible skin problems from a prior flea infestation, (specifically, ringworm, which he passed onto me while we were treating it), a bronchial infection (which I feel pretty certain he passed along to me…or I had just developed health problems in the months which followed from the DC area’s poor air quality), and a penchant for getting into places he shouldn’t, waking me up in the middle of the night because he had nothing else better to do, and getting up in everyone’s space. Very outgoing and playful, the more laid back Oreo was not a fan and I’m pretty sure hated me for a little while. But, they have since learned to coexist peacefully and actually behave like siblings. It does includes a good once in awhile whooping from Oreo when her adolescent counterpart steps out of line by her standards, but you’ll more often find them like this nowadays.
When Ollie came into the picture, both cats were pissed. It was a long time before they came around, but a lot of build in shelves, a finished basement, and a baby gate to the bathroom allowed for the cats to have their own space. Also, Ollie and the cats were the same size, and somehow his big dog/little body attitude quickly wore off its bluster for them. So, it took probably close to a year, but eventually they got to be able to hang out.
Course, they still have their moments, and Ollie has assumed responsibility for educating all our previous fosters on how to verbally assault the cats with lots of obnoxious barking. Our new home has less build-ins, but they retain a downstairs living space that is off limits to the dogs unless we are downstairs to supervise, as well as a baby-gated laundry room.
We have kept our eyes wide open when it comes to life with cats and foster dogs since it took a long time to get to a good place with Ollie. But, given Balton’s other training issues, I admit that fostering a solid dog-cat relationship has been less of a priority. Balton, for his part, is not cat aggressive, but he does see them as play things. Or small dogs maybe? I’m not sure, but he is exuberant. He chases and scare the crap out of Meeko, and one time caught Oreo under a side table, stuck his butt in the air, and started barking at her. Now, this may sound like an aggressive encounter, but the tone of his bark and his body language was asking her to play with him as though she was a dog. Mostly, his inter-species social skills are just terrible. Nevertheless, it provides context for why the cats hate him Further, because Balton is also significantly larger than Ollie, and by default has a bigger bite should things not go all that well, we need to monitor their interactions much more closely. By and large, we’ve done really minimal exposure between the dogs and cats, and mostly just kept them separate for the last 10 months.
So, I hang my head in shame to tell you we’ve been a bit lazy in the whole peaceable animal kingdom stuff. I also regularly feel a twinge of guilt for opting to keep a dog when neither he nor the cats were 100% copacetic with each other – but my intentions have been good and I am aiming to improve things in my own little animal kingdom. Saturday’s session was a good start. I was given some encouragement when I explained my situation, what safety parameters I have put in place, how I have lots of treats and a leash with Balton when I do meetings, etc.
Lennea recommended I do more with the cats as far as their training, and build some more positive associations between them and the dog. To some, the idea of cat training may seem laughable, but I am told they can indeed be clicker trained, so anything is possible! Playtime and treats in the dog presence were a couple of other counter conditioners recommended.
Inspired to start on a new foot, some catification enhancements will also be forthcoming so that the critters have some more perch and safe hiding options that they can look down on the big dog, and be inspired to leave the laundry room when he’s down there. I also decided to bring the kitties a catnip scratch mat and string toy after the event as a “we’re all in this together” peace offering of sorts. I think it went over well.
Stay tuned for further developments as we work together to follow Tim Gunn’s sage advice.