To begin with: I am very aware of the fact, that some cats or dogs better should be kept alone. But many of them can be kept easily with fellows or even other species.
I never thought I would share my home with cats and dogs. Cats? Sure! Dogs? Maybe. But both?
A former colleague once showed me a photo of her two cats sitting happily on a garden wall, and mentioned her two dogs in the same breath. “And your cats and dogs get along?” I asked, a little bit confused.
She explained that her dogs were strays from Spain, and added “Especially the strays are well known for their good social behavior.”
I still thought this must be the exception that proves the rule, and forgot about it. Until we met Janet, and with her many people who are involved in animal protection. We learned, that many of those people kept both cats and dogs. They encouraged us to try introducing Janet to our cat-ruled household.
The first important test took place at the shelter. Janet (and later Sam) were braught to the shelter cats. Janet didn’t even bat an eye, so my husband asked: “Did she see the cats at all?” The head of the shelter confirmed that she indeed had seen the cats, and that we could go on and introduce her to our cats at home. Sam reacted more hectic, but not aggressive.
Then things got serious, and we took Janet home with us over night. We were told that we never were allowed to leave cats and dog alone at the beginning – an understandable advice. If one of the furbabies – cats or dog – showed aggressive behavior, we should by no means tolerate that and make loud noises. And finally: We humans should be relaxed and calm! Very funny… we nearly peed our pants.
Well, Janet knew what to do from the start. She avoided making eye contact with the cats and was careful not to get in their way. Sammy and Jackie didn’t even hiss once. We made sure the cats kept some of their privileges: The couch in the living room and the bed are forbidden for the dogs. Very soon, things were back to normal. A new pack had been formed.
When Sam joined the pack, everything was more hectic, even though the cats had learned dog-speak from Janet by then. He wanted to play with the cats and barked at them. We made it clear to him from the beginning, that we would have none of that. And he quickly got it: A hissing cat is not a happy camper! But nothing really bad happened, no scratching and biting, and soon everything was quiet again.
When we want to take the cats to the vet, things get complicated. Both dogs become very agitated and try to get between us humans and the cat carrier, so putting the cats into the carrier is tricky. When we are back, the dogs wag their tails and insist on sniffing the cats. They are obviously happy that the pack is united again. Needless to say, the cats are not so happy about this commotion.
When we see other cats on our walks, or an unfamiliar cat crosses the terrace in front of the living room, the dogs start barking. They are very aware of the fact which cat is part of the pack, and which isn’t.
The velvet-pawed members of the household reacted very differently to the dogs. Sammy, the old cat, didn’t mind at all the dogs lying next to her. Jackie prefered to keep the dogs at a distance, and does so until today. Sam’s barking upsets her, even when he isn’t even near. But Jackie and Sam give each other headbutts, I am very impressed by Jackie’s bravery: Sam stands about 63 cm high at the shoulder. One thing is very clear: Jackie is the leader of the pack, who cares that she is also the smallest.
This may be a very small part of the mosaic, but we know many of those stories. The aggressive cross breed, who had to leave his family and found a new home with a bachelor and a cat. The Rottweiler female dog, that had worked as a guard dog for eight years and now lives with a single woman and two cats. We met a volunteer at the shelter who told us that she always took in cats and dogs from animal welfare. Maybe it took a few months for cats and dogs to get used to each other, but they always did finally.
My point: One prejudice against shelter animals is their alleged bad social behavior. And of course they may be influenced by their past. If there is a safe way to rule out behavior problems preemptively, i.g. how a dog gets along with cats, do so. Initial problems should not be overrated – if the humans stay calm, the animals often follow their lead. Good social behavior is frequently mentioned as a reason why people get a pup from a breeder. Not every breeder spends time and effort on exposing the puppies to enviromental stimuli. And a puppy has to be trained, too. Adding a furry member to the household always means work.