When it comes to dog and cat relationships, we tend to imagine dogs hating cats and we remember particular dogs who love cats as the exception. But in many homes, dogs and cats come together in different ways.
Shayne Lee, a marketing executive in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, grew up with dog companions. Today she has three dogs: Ice, the 14-year-old Poodle, and two Maltese, Neil who is 15, and Gabriel who is 13.
“Ice came first. She was abandoned by her owner when she was about a year old, ” Lee shares. “Poor Neil was also abandoned by his owners when he was a year old but they left him in a pet shop.
“Ice was quite arrogant at that time, an only dog, but she loved Neil, so I said, OK, we’ll be a two-dog family, ” Lee recalls. “When we met Gabriel, he was a tiny puppy. I adopted him because I fell in love with him.”
The dogs get along, mostly. “Ice is still a bit of a princess and Gabriel is very cheeky, ” Lee laughs. “Neil is the easygoing one, the lubricant that keeps them all sweet.”
Lee is fond of all animals but she has a preference for dogs. “I normally just rescue and re-home cats, or talk to them because I simply love to see cute faces. But cats are not the type of pet character that I like. Cats are bossy and I like to be the alpha, ” she giggles.
But Venus the cat dropped into her life unexpectedly. “We were driving along the highway and there was this furball in the middle of the road. We stopped and my husband scooped up the furball. There was blood everywhere and we thought it was dead. But then she opened her eyes.
Brenda Sim from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, has seen many animals come and go. She is a member of the Dr Dog programme that has therapy pets visiting the sick and she has rescued, fostered and helped dozens of pets.
Now, having adopted various pets who were not able to find a new home, she is taking a break from the rescue business. Among her furry family are Msquare the cat, aged nine, and Roque the dog, aged four.
The cats may have had a life on the streets but then the kitten went missing. When she came back, she was a mess. The little cat was wounded and had skin issues.
“I was new to rescue and I only knew of the UPM veterinary hospital, ” Sim says. “I overcame my phobia, collected her and took her in. The vets told me I’d have to keep her indoors. Given the options, I overcame my phobia and saved her. I took her in, and her mum too.”
Msquare proved to be a feisty girl, introducing herself to Sim’s rescues and fosters with a brisk whap on the nose. But she’s also a happy little cat who loves playing with others, including dogs.
“I found Roque in a drain on my way to yoga. He was screaming his head off and his mum was standing guard, ” Sim recalls.
Bringing them home, Sim thought that Roque might be part-Rottweiler. Although his ancestry is uncertain, he has grown up to be a big boy. And the big dog is an excellent friend to Msquare.
“The two met and just took to each other, ” Sim smiles. “Roque was a puppy and Msquare was all grown up, but the two hung out together from the start. They sleep together and eat together. In fact, Msquare steals Roque’s food. He just shrugs and lets her get away with it.”
Wong Yoke Mei, an accountant in Petaling Jaya, adopted Benji some 16 years ago from a rescuer. Nine months later, Sunshine joined the family. However, the two dogs were later joined by four cats.
“The cats were all street rescues, ” Wong says. “Babygirl and Olie came about four years after Sunshine. Babygirl was about a year old at the time, while Olie was about five months old. After that, we got Sammy, a big kitten at six months, and finally Smokey, at about a year old.”
Overall, integrating the cats wasn’t too difficult. “When the cats moved in, there were no fights because we had enough room for them all to do their own thing and we taught the dogs to give the cats their personal space, ” Wong points out. “But sometimes, when the dogs were too playful, the cats would swat them in the face.”
The cats are certainly cheeky, especially Sammy and Olie who are iconic naughty boys. “Everyone has their own space, ” she observes. “However, the two boy cats will go over and steal food from the dogs. Both Benji and Sunshine just move over and let them.”
The dogs have their rugs and baskets, as do the cats, but while Babygirl and Smokey have their routine, the boy cats spend time with the dogs. “They don’t play together, ” Wong explains, “but they do hang out. It’s very relaxed.”
Sadly, Benji died of old age three weeks ago at the ripe age of 16. “We were all there, and they know he’s gone, ” Wong says. “Olie came to see the body. It’s sad, but he had had a very good life.”
And while Sunshine is now the only dog, she is not alone because Sammy and Olie join her for snuggles.
Introducing a new pet to an established pet involves a bit of prep that starts by considering basic questions.
How social are the pets involved? Young pets who have good early-life experiences tend to see the world as a fun place full of friends they haven’t met yet. So, a happy little puppy and a happy little kitten are likely to sniff and be friends quickly.
However, like humans, older animals go by experience. A dog who sees other animals as invaders, or a cat who has been chased by a dog, are going to be careful or perhaps hostile to each other.
What if there’s a fight? Generally speaking, a big dog can kill a cat in one bite. Also, a cornered cat may claw a dog’s eyes.
The more trouble you think there will be, the slower the introduction should be. Here are some safe steps.
Put one pet in a locked room and let the two sniff at each other under the door for a day or two. At feeding time, put the cat bowl on one side of the door and the dog bowl on the other. That way, the pets can get used to each other’s scent and they will associate food and good things with each other.
After a few days, put a leash on the dog and then quietly open the door. Let the animals look at each other from a distance. Feed the dog a treat and slide one over to the cat. Then close the door, so the experience is a positive one.
The next day, leash the dog, open the door, hand over treats and then let the dog sniff the cat. Keep it short and sweet. Close the door. Then go back a few hours later, and repeat.
Once the dog and cat are calm when seeing each other, sit on the floor with the dog on the leash and spend a few hours in the same room as the cat. Just be mellow.
You know your pets best. When you are confident they will be civilised, let them mingle. But to keep them sweet, remember that you don’t want them fighting over food. So, feed the cat up high and the dog down low, and don’t let them steal.
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