I’ve never considered myself a species-specific pet person. I’ve had dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, a gerbil and even an iguana as pets. For full disclosure, I do draw the line at goats — long story — and parrots and similar birds — several longer stories.
The one thing I’ve never attempted is to have a dog and a cat at the same time. I’ve always turned to Bill Murray’s line from “Ghostbusters” whenever someone told me it was possible. “… dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!”
But I know people who have been able to establish an atmosphere of détente in a dog-cat household. Despite the occasional act of hostility, everyone adheres to whatever interspecies treaty or peace accords that were established at the time of union.
I’ve recently been trying to grow Sophie the border collie’s circle of friends, which is down to just one these days. She wasn’t exactly a social butterfly before the pandemic, and the last few years have only made it worse. So when a farm cat family decided to move in at my parents’ place I figured it was the perfect opportunity to expand Sophie’s horizons.
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Sophie, meet Mama C, Fuzzbutt and Spaz.
Mama C is the matriarch, and she’s a pure hunter. I’d never seen a black-tipped weasel until she left one as an offering at the back door. She’s friendly, but she’s also not afraid of anything. She initially had four kittens, but nature happened.
The two survivors were Fuzzbutt, a very friendly cat with fluffy, mottled fur that loves to sit in the lawn mower seat or strike a “Lion King” pose on the back stoop, and Spaz, a solid black speed demon that freaks out and disappears at the slightest odd sound, literally a scaredy cat.
So far, Mama C and Fuzzbutt are the only two that show any interest, even if it’s a frosty one, toward Sophie. She, on the other hand, has far too much of the wrong kind of interest in them.
A border collie is an amazing dog with an instinctual — and very intense — ability to move other animals, including humans. Essentially, they go into stalking mode, and once that switch is flipped on, it’s hard to turn off. It’s not a problem if the skills are developed beginning at an early age, but there weren’t many farms located in the middle of Winston-Salem for Sophie to hone her instincts as a puppy. She’s now 4 years old, basically a teenager with a teenager’s attitude. Getting the teenager to behave and ignore her instinct hasn’t been easy.
Introductions have been tense. Think of it as walking into a business meeting not knowing if you’re going to get a handshake or a punch to the face.
The cats have figured out their escape routes and hiding places, and fortunately, they are faster than Sophie. What often starts as a sweet nose-to-nose hello quickly devolves into a run-for-your-life goodbye.
Getting Sophie used to my parents’ cows has been slightly easier. First, the cows are bigger than she is, and they know it. Second, they have bodyguards — four donkeys that don’t mess with any kind of foolishness. Once the donkey alarm goes off, it’s time to go.
We’re starting slow. I know it’s going to take time, and it’s going to take some serious hours of work. But in the end, I think it’ll be worth it. A dog with friends and a job is a happier dog. What more could a dog dad want?