We have 9 cats and a small dog who all live indoors with us. Contrary to what you’d think, our living situation is surprisingly clean and harmonious. The dog never attacks the cats, and vice versa. The only fights (if you can all them that) occur when one animal wants to play, and the other one doesn’t. There’s a bit of hissing and paw-slapping, but nothing major. And since our newest kitten stopped pooping under the futon, we’ve had no nasty floor accidents.
We never intended to have a house full of animals, but I’m pretty happy about it. It’s so nice to wake up to a smiling, tail-wagging dog and a bunch of cats who can’t wait to cuddle and say, “Hi! Glad to see you again!” Sure, it requires extra work, maintenance and money – but so do many other things in life that are worth having.
When people hear about our menagerie, the first thing they say is, “Wow! How did you end up with so many animals?”
Well, I’ll tell ya. Here’s the timeline:
1. 1998: We decide we want a cat, and in December of that year, we bring home Oreo from a local animal shelter. She acts as though she’s been living with us for years, and makes herself right at home.
2. 1999: Hubby surprises me with Skippy, a little brown dachshund pup. Long story short, he ends up as an outdoor dog because he won’t stop peeing and pooping on everything in sight. We’re both working outside the home at this time, so little time or energy is spent on training. I feel bad about this sometimes, but it is what it is. He does an excellent job as a guard dog.
3. Various other cats and dogs come and go. Some are rescues, some we get on purpose from shelters or family members, some are ferals we care for, and some are neighbors’ pets that choose to hang out at our house once in a while. Many come and go during this time, usually staying no more than a year or two. Some disappear, some die. One is poisoned by a cat-hating neighbor. We usually have no more than 2 cats in the house at any given time.Oreo and Skippy are our only permanent pets until …
4. 2006: My sister asks me to take in Scotty, a beautiful little golden long-haired mutt she rescued and trained. She doesn’t have the room or time to care for him, so he joins Skippy in the back yard. Skippy is thrilled to finally have a full-time companion.
5. 2008: At 4:30 am, I hear a loud yowling in the back yard, and go to see what it is. It turns out that Skippy and Scotty have treed a tiny kitten by our deck. He’s unharmed, thank goodness. I remove him from the tree, cuddle him to my chest, and make the “mama cat” sound. He starts purring immediately, and in short order becomes our newest permanent resident.
6. 2010: Skippy dies and is buried in our back yard under a tree. Scotty becomes an indoor dog. Thanks to my sister’s training, he behaves very well and doesn’t bother the cats.
7. 2011: A young female cat shows up at our house after new neighbors move into the Section 8 house next door. Over time, it becomes painfully clear they neglect her and consider her nothing more than a living toy. After months of loud fighting, drinking, drug use, police/probation officer visits, trashing the yard and long absences (leaving the cat on her own outdoors), the neighbors finally get evicted.
I hide the cat (now pregnant by a feral male we care for) in our house until they finish moving out and leave for good. We decide to keep the babies for 6 months to assure proper socialization, have them spayed/neutered and find them all good homes. In August, 5 kittens are born in a big carrier in our living room. I’ve accepted the fact that they’re all going away soon. I’m not happy about it, but at least we’ll be giving them a good start in life. A year later, they’re all still with us.
8. 2012: I hear yet another feline yowl from the back yard. I look out the kitchen window to see a tiny black kitten on our deck. His mother, an all-black feral, runs away when she sees me, leaving the kitten behind. I go out on the deck, extend my hand, and make the “mama cat” sound. He comes to me immediately. Hubby isn’t happy to see a new cat in the house, but all is well when we find him a good home with one of hubby’s coworkers.
2 days later, I go to the overgrown back yard to cut brush, and find 3 more all-black kittens hidden in a tangled thicket of dead plants. I capture all 3 and put them in a carrier in the bathroom. Again, hubby isn’t pleased, but easily finds good homes for them thanks to his networking skills. While he gets the word out, I cuddle, feed and play with the new babies, who are all old enough to eat solid food.
By the time their new guardians arrive a few days later, the kittens are tame and used to the dog and the other cats. 2 of them leave, 1 stays behind with hubby’s blessing (I was very surprised by this). He says, “You can’t keep bringing kittens home! This is the last one! No more kittens!” I point out that *they* came to *us*, seeing as they were all conceived and born on our property (thanks to our randy feral male), and we didn’t exactly have to go cat-shopping to find them. However, I agree – no more kittens. It’s only fair J
So here we are with our menagerie. All are fixed except the youngest, who’s just about due for his snipping.
(If you’re reading this on my Posterous site, you’ll find a link at the top of the page titled “Our Zoo” – more details on our pets there if you’re interested.)
Now comes the rant-ish portion of my post.
It seems that many people with pets are more interested in their entertainment value or pedigree than they are with truly connecting and interacting. I’ve seen clueless parents bring their hyper kids into pets stores or adoption centers, letting them run wild teasing the animals in their cages and complain that, “They won’t play with me! They’re boring!” Well, duh, kiddo. I’d hiss and hide behind my litter box too if a huge life form like you came banging on my cage door, yelling at the top of its lungs.
They’re *living creatures*, guys – not toys, not possessions. When you take in an animal and commit to its care, you effectively become both its parent and its pack leader. If you don’t behave accordingly, you end up with a hyper, confused animal who doesn’t know its proper place within your household hierarchy. That leads to bad behavior, including excessive barking, biting, pooping/peeing on things, destroying your belongings, improper territorial dominance, and running away.
If you truly want to connect with your animals, learn more about their behavior in the wild. Watch videos. Watch animal-themed nature shows on TV, and pay attention to the way they interact. Read books. Visit sites that teach animal-centric training techniques – meaning, their goal is to connect and interact in a way understandable by your animals, not just “make them behave” for your convenience.
Here are some good animal-related links to peruse. (2 of them are local to me, but I’m sure your town or city has something equivalent, even if it’s just the local cat/dog lady, and not listed on the internet.)
2. Dogs Out Loud (Austin, TX)From the site: “Dogs Out Loud provides training, behavior rehabilitation, and high quality care in a home-like environment to medium to large breed dogs dying at shelters due to high level behavior problems that cannot be addressed in or are exacerbated by the shelter environment. We provide additional behavior support services that address specifically identified gaps currently costing the lives of this subset of shelter dogs.”
3. Cesar’s WayCesar Milan, also known as The Dog Whisperer, has been an invaluable source of help and information for us and for my sister, who uses his techniques to train her rescues (including our dog, Scotty). His methods focus, not on training dogs, but on *training humans* to properly interact with them. The truth is, if you interact with your animals in a way they can comprehend, and do so consistently, they’ll feel secure with you, understand what you want and willingly go along. Gaining trust is what it’s all about, and you can’t do that if you treat your animals like “furry humans” and encourage them to emulate human behavior instead of what comes naturally to them. Animals can spot a fake a mile off, especially when the fakery is being forced on them.
That concludes today’s rant. I hope lots of people see this post and choose to treat their animal companions in a more natural and suitable way. Thanks for reading.