California Cat Bob Tests Service Dogs

What a great job for the right cat! This article comes from the North County Times. In a world of dogs, Bob the Distraction Cat...

Joy  |  Dec 28th 2006


What a great job for the right cat!

This article comes from the North County Times.

In a world of dogs, Bob the Distraction Cat rules

By: PHILIP K. IRELAND – Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE —- Bob is cat bait for man’s-best-friends-in-training. Known as a “distraction cat,” Bob’s job is to be so irresistible, so tempting, so aloof, so convincingly catlike that dogs will want to chase him.

The black-and-white American longhair is the lone cat living and working among dozens of dogs in Oceanside’s Canines Companions for Independence, an organization that trains and supplies service dogs to the handicapped.

Sitting in front of a glass door 10 feet away from of several Labrador-golden retriever mixes, Bob flicks his tail much like a fisherman jiggles a lure in front of a bass.

The dogs don’t even seem to notice.

Bob visits another dog lying in a cage, sniffing the door. Sniffing the air, the dog points a nose after Bob, who has already moved on.

The dog’s natural predilection to chase cats —- known as “prey drive” —– is a deal-killer for service dogs in training.

“We try to train the dogs so that their prey drive is minimized, but the retrieval capabilities are maximized,” said Karyl Carmignani, the center’s spokeswoman. “You do not want to have a lot of prey drive where the assistance dog is going after small animals, which could potentially pull the (disabled) person out of their wheelchair.”

So, in addition to the role of tempter, Bob’s job also involves acclimatizing dogs to cats. Many of the dogs that have made it this far into the training have already been around cats during their 16 months of puppy training before they arrive at the center. After that, they are in final advanced training, a six-month program that teaches them specialized skills and behaviors.

Dogs that cannot be trained to control their deep-seated desire to chomp a cat are released from training and put up for adoption. Assistance dogs are always on leash, Carmignani said. Some dogs have lunged at Bob but none have ever reached him.

Carol Barbee, president of the American Cat Fancier’s Association, said Bob may be just right for the job.

“Dogs need to be trained and who better than cats to do that?” she said. “Look at any house where dogs and cats share space. The cats are always in charge.”

At more than 18 pounds, Barbee said Bob’s physical presence probably works for him.

“Yes, that’s a big cat,” she said laughing. “I would suppose the bigger you are, the more intimidating you are —- unless you’re so big that you can’t move, and then you’ve got a problem.”

Bob does seem perfectly suited for the job. He lolls on dog cages, couches and wheelchairs, bats a paw at camera cords and walks with a swaying gait down the center of the hall like he owns the place.

“Bob is one in a million,” Carmignani said. “He certainly has his own way of going about things. He makes a really good paper weight and can fillet a hand like that if he’s so inclined, but overall he’s a real charmer.”

Hired six years ago, Bob earns his kibble, plus “all the rodents he can get.” He has received favorable reviews throughout his tenure, but the job as the lone dissenting feline voice in a chorus of canine woofs is not without stress.

And Bob’s got a mean left hook delivered with a lightning quick flick.

“He does in fact have a few issues with certain visitors,” said Carmignani as she cradled Bob on her arm. “He somehow gets his quota (of attention) and …”

“Meow,” Bob chimed in.

“Yeah, I think he’s getting to his quota now,” Carmignani said. With that, Bob meowed again, reached out a paw and popped Carmignani on her neck.

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