When you stay with someone’s dog, it can be challenging. You’re sleeping in a strange place, you have to trek back and forth between your home and theirs, and you have an extra animal on the bed so you end up sleeping in uncomfortable contorted positions in order to accommodate everyone. Those are my concerns. But Cinder has always had her own. How to behave when the house you are staying in has a cat, as well as a dog?
Because I’ve been dog sitting for so long, I don’t worry about this stuff much any more. I have a routine down and the dogs we stay with are like members of my family. We’re staying with Feather this week. One of my “Pink Ladies,” Feather is a six year Golden Retriever whom I’ve been walking since she was a puppy. I know all of her habits, both good and bad. I know that when I wake up in the morning, she will be sitting on the bed just staring at me with her intense brown eyes, that she will find it necessary to sit on my foot at every opportunity, and that she takes forever to find that perfect spot to pee. Because she is well-behaved, I sometimes bring Feather to my place for her stays, but we can’t do that this time. The cat that Feather’s family has now is ancient, so the owners requested that we split our time so Gaby would have company rather than me just stopping in to feed and check on her.
When we first began staying with Feather, Cinder freaked out whenever she saw Gaby. She’s always been highly excitable when it comes to cats. Unlike my last dog who’d actually lived with a cat in peaceful coexistence, Cinder was a rescue so I didn’t know what her frame of reference was when it came to cats. We’d had one who lived next door to us in Miami. The cat would walk along the fence of our yard, taunting my dogs and practically begging them to chase her back and forth. They were happy to oblige. Then one morning, after we’d just come back from an early morning outing to the beach, I noticed that the cat had come into our yard. The dogs hadn’t noticed, since I was hosing off their sand and grit, so I willed the cat back over the fence. For some reason, this didn’t work. When Cinder spotted the cat, all hell broke loose. She dashed across the yard, caught it by the neck, and flung it against the fence. I think my heart stopped when I saw the cat lying still in the bougainvillea. Miraculously the cat was fine. It somehow got up and scrambled back over the fence, never to be heard from again. I checked with my neighbors who said the cat was uninjured.
Needless to say, I have been a little leery of Cinder’s interaction with cats ever since. Thankfully, Feather is the only dog I stay with who has a cat. When we had our first stay, I kept the french doors between the back and front of the house closed, and then at night I would barricade us into the bedroom with Gaby safely on the other side. Cinder would lie on the bed, shaking, unable to sleep. “There’s a cat out there,” she seemed to say. “Shouldn’t we do something?” While I understood that there was some instinctual cat/dog stuff going on, I still tried to explain to Cinder that Gaby was our friend.
Over the years, I noticed a subtle shift in Cinder’s behavior. She still found Gaby immensely fascinating, but she no longer seemed to view her as an enemy. I would leave her leash on and let her walk over to Gaby and have a sniff, always prepared to pull her away if she got in Gaby’s face. I didn’t want Gaby to swat her and then have a blood bath on my hands. I still would keep Gaby and Cinder separated when we there, but I could see that while Cinder still found Gaby intriguing, she no longer found her a threat.
During the stay this week, Cinder and Gaby reached an accord. Perhaps it’s because they are both in their dotage now, but Cinder went up to Gaby, gave her a sniff, and then walked away to take a nap on the couch. At first, I wondered if this behavior was some diabolical plot that Cinder had hatched to lure me and Gaby into a sense of complacency before she attacked, but this wasn’t the case. Cinder had finally accepted that Gaby was part of the household. I was able to leave all the doors open and Gaby even slept in the bedroom with us. It felt a little like slipping down the rabbit hole to see such odd behavior from a dog I thought would never be friendly with cats, but it was a pleasant surprise. Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Of course, I still slept in a contorted position and awoke to Feather staring at me, but you can’t have everything.