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Cats and Dogs, Living Together, Mass Hysteria



We are a pet-oriented household. We've had pets longer than we've had kids (sometimes the two are hard to differentiate, but that's another story). We have two cats (Homer and Gizmo), two dogs (Mona Lisa and Baxter), one robo-dwarf hamster (Turbo) and finally one leopard-spotted Gecko (Rice Crispies, formerly known as Chex). Homer and Gizmo were adopted/bought six months apart in 1996. Homer is a very svelte cat who enjoys hopping along furniture and doesn't say much. Gizmo is, to put it politely, fat. His girth is magnified by his fluff, but he's still got plenty of padding underneath. And he complains. A lot.

The dogs were adopted in the last five years. Mona Lisa, so named because her lips curve into a "smile" when she knows she's in trouble. She is part, well, really we have no idea. Our vet once mentioned Catahoula Leopard dog, but who knows. She loves to bark at the vicious joggers who have the gall to run by our house. Needless to say we all feel safe. Baxter is a bundle of energy. In the morning, when let out to the back yard, he will run laps. Not chasing anything, he just goes back and forth, again and again. I think he may be training for the marathon, but he hasn't told me yet. He likes to bark and anything Mona Lisa barks at, plus sometimes things that aren't there. His favorite activity, though, is watching TV when there are animals on the screen. Which he likes to bark at as well.

The other pets are not as intrusive, spending most of their time in small cages. Turbo, the hamster, has garnered many nicknames, including "Turbonium" and "Turbolicious". I prefer "rat", but apparently no one else shares my joy for that name. Rice Crispies, the gecko, is nocturnal, so we don't get to chat much. She does like meal worms for her food of choice, so now we have worms in our refrigerator along side the chicken and milk. Yum.

Our cats and dogs have not been able to be out in the house together for several years. When the dogs are out, the cats are in the "cat room", also known as the laundry room, with the door closed. Then, at night, we let the cats out and the dogs are in their crates. This is because Mona Lisa somehow has it in her head that the cats are toys, put here purely for her enjoyment. She loses all self control at the mere sight of them, as if their fur has been covered in dog-nip. And carrying one of the cats around becomes a tenuous exercise, because Mona Lisa will bound around our feet, waiting like we might drop her a little cat snack. Most times happen something like this:
Me (walking with cat): Lisa, move it!
Mona Lisa (circling my legs): Ooh, he said my name! Maybe he will give me the purring thing.
Me: Lisa, get out of my way before I trip!
Mona LisaHe said my name again! He will definitely give me the purring thing.
Me (pushing Mona Lisa away with my leg): Move, dog! I just want to go to the kitchen.
Mona LisaOoh, he said my name! Maybe he will give me the purring thing.
Recently, though, we have been making an effort to "integrate" the pet populations. Similar to integrating prison cell blocks into the yard together. We want the cats and the dogs to be out at the same time. What ends up happening, however, would be nothing short of comedic to an outsider.
  1. Mona Lisa stands guard at the cat room door in case the purring things want to leave
  2. Baxter wanders into the cat room to see if there is any food on the floor
  3. Mona Lisa, seeing an opportunity, quickly follows to see if any purring things are on the floor
  4. I yell from the couch at both dogs to get out of the room
  5. The dogs retreat six centimeters outside the door
  6. Forgetting that sound travels, Mona Lisa walks back into the room to see if any purring things are on the floor
  7. Baxter wanders back in to check for food, because he forgot he was in there 13 seconds earlier
  8. I yell from the couch at both dogs to get out of the room
  9. The dogs retreat six centimeters outside the door
This scenario continues until I become frustrated enough to get off the couch and physically shoe the dogs away from the cat room. Mona Lisa, in a flash of doggie brilliance, circles around the kitchen island and...wait for it...comes back from the other side. She has obviously thought this plan out to the last detail ("He won't notice if I come from over here!").

Sometimes if the cats are feeling adventurous, they will escape the room when the dogs aren't looking. Homer will make a quick dash to the kitchen counter tops. He bounds from counter to counter, just out of the range of Mona Lisa, while she has conniption fits on the ground. Gizmo, on the other hand, will confidently stroll out of the cat room, defiantly meowing as the dogs come close, as if to say "How dare you interrupt my walk! Do you not know who I am!" Not realizing the dogs do not understand these warnings, he begins smacking any dog within reach.

This is the stage of integration at which we currently sit. As with any things that do not mix well together (oil and water, sugar and salt, toothpaste and orange juice), combining the two pet factions will take some time. And I'm sure the whole old dog/new trick paradigm comes into play here. But my hope, and perhaps I'm being naive, is that someday cats and dogs will coexist peacefully in our house. That they will reach across the aisle and put aside their species-driven partisanship. I mean, look how well that works in Congress.

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