I have loved dogs since my very earliest years. I grew up on a farm, and the dogs were more of a convenience around the property than beloved pets, but I would always gravitate toward them instead of the myriad barn cats who were always around. I’ve always been a dog person, and I don’t think that’ll change much.
We recently got cats, however, to help control mice around the chicken coop and outbuildings. We took in a stray a friend had been feeding from her back porch for a year, and got a pair of kittens to keep him company. When winter set in, we brought the cats indoors to keep them warm, and to catch that one mouse in the basement. Let me tell you, I learned a lot about cats in the past month.
Mostly I learned to appreciate that my dogs are not cats.
It’s not that I don’t like the cats. I do. They are highly entertaining and so graceful in their playful ways. But they are not dogs. The cats have taught me to appreciate the dogs in ways I didn’t know I needed to.
Over the 15 years that I raised puppies, we constantly dealt with house training in some form. I’d complain about having to clean up yet another puddle of piddle and grumble about finding a tiny pile of poo on the floor. The litter box, however, makes me long for the puddles and piles instead. Somehow, sifting the cat litter is far worse than utilizing a few paper towels and a spray bottle of ammonia.
Also, cat litter is expensive. I didn’t know this before, but I am keenly aware now. I had no idea that I needed to appreciate the fact that my dogs can poop freely, for free.
I crate them to ensure they don’t get into things they shouldn’t, and we all wake up in the morning happy to see each other. I didn’t know that I needed to appreciate this until I brought those kittens indoors. Some mornings, I’m not so happy to see them. Those are the mornings following a “let’s destroy the sewing room” rampage. Ribbon is unrolled from one end of the room to the other. Fabric is knocked off shelves. Scissors are batted off the cutting table and hidden underneath.
I am still finding pieces to the dog coat pattern I bought three times to compensate for all the pieces the cats took. The cats have the uncanny ability to know what is important for the next day, and will find a way to sabotage it. My dear dogs sleep blissfully through the night, happily crated and snoring loudly.
Speaking of crates, the dogs love theirs. Who knew I needed to be thankful for this? I had to put the cats into a carrier to take them to the vet, and that was an ordeal I don’t want to repeat anytime soon. How can a cat morph into an octopus (with claws, of course) when they don’t want to go into a smallish space? It’s unnatural. Dogs are so much easier to wrangle and hold, even when they’re terrified.
Cats are counter surfers. Or at least sewing-table surfers. I can’t cut a pattern without fear of finding a paw or a whisker too close my scissors. The cats make it hard to get work done. I didn’t even realize I needed to be grateful for my dog Louie sitting patiently at my feet as I measure, cut, and stitch for hours on end. He’s quietly out of the way while still lending moral support.
Cats have no personal space boundaries. Or rather, they are keenly aware of them and look for ways to violate my personal space. Louie, the dear that he is, respects me when I give subtle hints that he’s a bit too close to my face with his tongue. The cats will walk over me as though I’m not even there, or plop themselves in the two inches of space between my belly and the laptop just because they want attention. They could care less that I have work to do. I appreciate my dog and his respect for my workload. He’s a patient boy, always waiting quietly beside me until I tell him it’s time to play. I didn’t know I needed to love my dog for this until the cats taught me otherwise.
Louie listens to commands, and has the desire to just make me happy by doing the right thing. We have a “no dogs on the sofa” rule that he is allowed to violate only when I’m on the couch. Louie knows that if I’m not on the couch, he can’t be there either. He doesn’t even try to push the limits with this, because he just wants to be a good dog. Cats are not so compliant. If I tell them they can’t be on the sewing table, they will be on top of it as soon as they hear me coming down the stairs just so they can remind me that they are above the rules. I now appreciate my rule-following dog far more than I did just a month ago.
My dog Louie also reads my body language and responds accordingly. I rarely speak words to my dog, but he almost always knows what I need him to do. I have not given this much thought over the years until I got the cats. It was quite a shock to discover that they will run between my legs and dodge my feet if I am trying to block a door. I now very much appreciate that my dog not only is attuned to my every move, but knows what I want him to do and derives great pleasure from making me happy. Cats, selfishly, could really care less what I want.
He will sit beside me until I stop petting him, even if that happens to be five hours later. The cats enjoy being petted, but there seems to be a time limit to their tolerance for this. Sometimes they will sit for all of 10 minutes for some love, and other times three scratches around the neck scruff is all I’m allowed. A cat has no problem just getting up and walking away, even if I’m still in need of fur therapy.
It’s vastly different than dog hair. I’ve always had the misunderstanding that hair is hair. I’ve since learned differently. Two of our cats are long-haired, and I find webs of their hair everywhere. This is in part because cats can climb and have no personal space boundaries. “Oh, that’s your fabric? Let me sit on it.” My dog couldn’t lie on the top shelf of the sewing room if he wanted to. It’s disturbing to me to find so much hair everywhere I look. It’s like a thick blanket of down that’s settled on everything in the room. I appreciate the dog hair that stays on the floor. I will never again complain about having to vacuum every day.
All that being said, I do love the sound of a cat purring. My dog snores and snorts, and as endearing as that is (spoken like a true dog mom), it’s not a contented purr. That is, perhaps, the one thing I appreciate in the cats that my dogs just can’t do. Yet. Maybe Louie will learn how if he knows I want him to. He’s a good boy that way.
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About the author: Karen Dibert is a wife, mom, and dog lover living in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She has five kids, three French Bulldogs, and a flock of useless chickens. Karen authors a pet column for her local newspaper, advocates for her son with Down syndrome, manages Louie the French Dog’s Instagram accounts, compulsively photographs everything, and lives in the sewing room, filling orders for her Etsy shops, The French Dog, The French Dog Home, and Collar The Dog. A snapshot of her life can be seen on Facebook.