It’s a classic situation: Two people meet, they fall in love and quickly discover that despite being compatible in just about every way, there is one sticking point — one of you is a cat person and the other is a dog lover.
My partner and I are lucky, Kestryl is more of a cat person and I’m an undeniable dog addict. First and foremost we are both big animal people, which has made our blended home a much more peaceful menagerie. Nine years ago when we got together my dog-loving status was immediately known; the first night we met I called my house to leave a message on the answering machine to tell my dogs that I was going to be staying out late (remember the days of answering machines where you could hear a message being recorded?). Ironically, for us it wasn’t that initial feline and canine family blending that was challenging, but rather the adoption of Charlotte our special rescue girl almost two years ago.
Prior to Charlotte, our cranky old cats Sierra and Nuachat had only ever lived with little Mercury, who they outweigh. Also, he’s terrified of them. The cats had never met a dog like Charlotte before, a dog who was young, large and boisterous. When Charlotte came home with us, not long after she had been rescued from the streets, she was pretty sure that cats were awesome squeaky toys who should be chased.
Living in a NYC apartment made the integration challenging because no one has a whole lot of space; though it was easier in some ways in that we were very easily able to create sections of the home that were cats-only territory, until they were all appropriately socialized to one another. For the first two weeks Charlotte was always tethered to one of us when she wasn’t in her crate, to ensure that we knew what she was doing and could redirect any unwanted behavior (this would be true even if she hadn’t thought the cats were fun to chase).
Once we we all more familiar with each other and settled into routines we graduated to a baby gate in our hallway. The entryway, kitchen, and living room were Charlotte’s, and the bedroom, hallway, bathroom and our home office were quiet safe places for the kitties. We lived with a baby gate for about seven months, during which time we would do regular supervised and controlled socialization between Charlotte and the cats. The baby gate was raised so that the cats and Mercury could go between the two sides of the apartment. Thankfully, after months of tripping and stumbling over the gate we were able to take it away.
We were lucky that the socialization process, although labor- and time-intensive, was so successful. It’s not uncommon for us to have both dogs and both cats in the bed with us (we’re thinking about getting a bigger bed), or on the couch with us. Sierra has resumed her role as Queen of All and now regularly bosses both dogs around. It’s especially funny to see a fluffy 12-pound cat sitting in a doorway and a 50-pound dog laying on the other side of it being entirely unwilling to cross her. For her part, Charlotte is convinced someday the cats will be her playmates and regularly tries to make offerings of her favorite squeaky toy of the moment to the cats, who in typical cat fashion simply look offended and walk away.
Here are my top 5 tips for peace between species:
This is my first piece of advice for any new dog or puppy entering the home. Set them up to succeed by making failure impossible. Either they are with you and being watched (this is why I find tethering with a leash comes in handy) or crated.
Set everyone: dog, cat, and you up to succeed. Plan your introductions and make sure you have a helper. A good rule is a 1:1 human-to-animal ratio. For our introductions my partner would work with one of the cats and I would have Charlotte.
Always make sure that everyone is safe. We were lucky that in Charlotte’s case she was interested in chasing the “fuzzy toy” but wasn’t aggressive towards them (though of course the cats didn’t know that at first, hence the need for training). If you have any safety concerns, always consult a professional trainer to ensure your cats don’t get injured.
Everyone needs a little personal space. Make sure that cats have safe places to get to — rooms/ledges/etc. where the dogs can’t get to them — and enforce those boundaries. It’s not only the nice and right thing to do, but it’s important for ensuring the cats are not emotionally stressed by the introduction of a dog to their home.
It can be easy to lavish all your attention on the newest canine member of your family, but don’t forget the other animals in the home. Especially during an involved socialization process, it’s important to find ways to spend quality time with everyone individually.
How about you? Do your cats boss your dogs around? What strategies have worked (or not) for introducing cats and dogs in your home?
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.
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