Thursday, 23 September 2010

Dogs meet cats gains an award

The blog has featured on a furniture website, which also features blogs. See, also

More posts to follow, but all animals incredibly chilled so nothing exciting to report (apart from the fact that they are incredibly chilled, which is the whole object of my extensive Retraining and Integration Programme!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Last weekend, Derek and I took ourselves and our dogs down to Kent, Canterbury to be precise, to visit a friend of his, now mine too I hope, who owns a hotel.

The Thanington Hotel is a real gem. It's on Wincheap, now a busy main road but historically one of the main routes in and out of Canterbury. It's a Georgian double-fronted imposing building, with a pale faschia offset by cowls and wrought iron balconies, finished off by flags set into the walls. Inside it's full of character: the Georgian style is maintained in the form of rich wallpaper separated by moulded wooden friezes, chandeliers, and walls studded with prints. And there's a delightful courtyard garden.

But to me the real star of the place was Bob, who presides regally over proceedings and trains Jenny and Ian in the niceties of service; he has them twisted round his last digit so they spoil not only him, but the guests as well. Nothing is too much trouble.

What's this got to do with dogs and cats? Well, everything, actually. Because Bob is a cat. A devinely elegant, long haired ginger, green-eyed cat.

What's remarkable is that Jenny and Ian (his humans) still manage, with this gloriously spoilt creature, to create a remarkably dog-friendly atmosphere. The bedrooms in the main part of the hotel are off limits, but there is an annex (linked by a conservatory) where dogs are allowed. And they can, once you ask permission of the owners, bring your dogs into the bar, or the courtyard garden.

Poor Bob, who had a bad experience of dogs when young, does not like them, and I am ashamed to say that on jumping out of the car in the car park, our two hounds glimpsed him and were off. Fortunately Bob jumped up on the wall quickly enough before he could come to any harm.

But what I thought was really nice was to find a dog-friendly place where there was a resident cat. Some might say, how unfortunate for the poor cat to have these canine interruptions to his peace. But, dogs are NOT the worst enemy of cats: lots of other things are, such as lack of food, warmth and affection. And Bob has these in abundance.

It all comes down to good management: the owner kindly retrieved Bob from the garden, so that we could enjoy it with our dogs. Bob meanwhile sat in great comfort in his owners' flat. And I'm sure that the upside of sharing his home with so many people was that he got lots more petting. As to the occasional chase by a dog, or stealing of his food, well, into every life a little rain must fall. At least we didn't bring another cat.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Be careful whom you take to your bed

I'm not one for adultery - not just out of loyalty, but it just seems that relationships are complicated enough without having more than one at a time, also, with work, dogs, cat, house and garden ....I mean, who's got time for a bit on the side!

But I must confess to an affair with the cat. No, not kinky, but I DID take her into the bedroom onto the bed and I DID do it behind my husband's back - so, bedroom, deceit, pretty much an affair really. If my husband was out, or if I knew that he was really tied up say with watching the news, or a boxing match, then I'd quietly sneak the cat into the bedroom and just enjoy her presence on the bed, as she purred not so much like a steam engine, but rather like wheezy distant thunder if you see what I mean. Just so much enjoyment it seemed almost illegal...

Then one day, she was sitting on my knee (not in the bedroom this time), and I felt my trousers getting rather damp. On investigation, it appeared that following a visit to her facilities, she had neglected to do the paperwork as it were.

Now the poor cat is some undefinable age over 11 (she was at least 3 when I got her in '02), and arthritic to boot. So I quite understand that she has a problem with personal hygiene, and am prepared to help her (rather to my surprise she appears to accept this). But have her on my bed, noooooo.

So, to my husband's chair, I am now vice chair, secretary and treasurer to the Keep Cats Out of the Bedroom Society. Well, they do say that adultery is a messy business.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Beating Darwin

Now I'm not one of those awful creationist types, but I do think that all this 'nature fighting tooth and claw' stuff is a bit of a stereotype. Yes, life is a struggle for food, but once the basics are in place different creatures can live together quite happily.

I firmly believe that animals have both emotions and a moral sense. I remember reading an article somewhere about a cat who would lead her elderly blind friend, a dog, to his food. Can you beat that?

And I think that's part of the reason why it's important for me to keep dogs and cats, and have them live together in harmony. Things were a bit difficult for a few weeks before Easter; Emily the cat had what turned out to be, £800 of vet fees later, a stomach upset (fortunately bill picked up by insurance, Sainsbury's, causing one to reflect on the politics and economics of healthcare!) There were some rather frantic attempts to separate food from dogs; fortunately now Emily has reverted to being Miss Piggy and eats with gusto, so no problems with unguarded food on the floor.

So, what I'm saying in a rather roundabout way is that having two very different species getting along peaceably together creates a sense of peace in one's house - sort of 'lion lying down with the lamb'. Although I don't think I'll try that particular one...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Are dog owners more moral than cat owners?

Times Higher Education writer Felipe Fernández-Armesto disputes the findings of the so-called research that cat owners are more intelligent than dog owners. Dog owners, he opines, are more moral than cat owners - because dogs are more moral than cats. Their morality is deduced from the fact that they are loyal to their families and don't bring in dead mice or birds. And their ownership brings one into contact with other people, cos you are always talking to other dog owners. The reluctantly single might like to know that 'Many Manhattan romances start at dog-walking hour in Central Park'. Also, you can have fun with chains and leads without being perverse. Dog owners are supposed to like people; actually, I don't, but I suppose that's the cat owner in me.

Anyway, the piece is worth a read, and you can see it at

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Are cat owners more intelligent than dog owners?

It appears, according to research by the Cats' Protection League, that cat owners are more likely to have a university degree than dog owners.

But what about, one might ask, those who (like myself) have both? Well, such people as us, it would appear, are in a minority. Only 7 per cent of the nation's 20.8 million pet owners own both a dog and a cat. Which, according to Matthew Moore of the Daily Telegraph, confirms that the two species are deadly rivals.

And that observation has persuaded me to rouse myself from my Sunday afternoon torpor to add to my blog. Clearly the world needs a blog about how dogs and cats can live together.

Part of the reason why I've not posted anything is because the past few months have been so uneventful in the cat/dog war/peace. Emily (the cat), Paddy (the springer spaniel) and Nelson (golden retriever) all seem to be living together quite harmoniously. Mainly they ignore one another. Emily would be highly put out if another cat strayed into her territory but dogs she considers beneath her notice.

The only problems are that the spaniel, who is a stomach on legs, attempts to steal her food whilst the retriever, a gentleman and new dog who wouldn't dare steal her food, steals her water in stead. That doesn't seem worth writing about.

There is something so satisfying about having dogs and cats together. Different species, with the potential for hostility, agreeably sharing space and just hanging out together, does make for a peaceful environment. And cats offer things that most dogs don't - they purr, for a start, they curl up on your knee and provide you with an excuse to be waited on (darling, I've a cat, can you fetch me my wine glass), they turn up their nose at food. They also look very elegant (ours doesn't, she's only got half a tail and is quite overweight).

So, why don't more people have both?

Friday, 6 February 2009

Can cats and dogs co-exist?

‘But you’re a cat person’ was how distant friends responded on the telephone when I told them we had acquired a dog (later dogs).

And when I joked to another friend (who was a devout Christian) that I had commited adultery, when she found that the adultery was against the cat by taking in a dog, and not my husband, she chuckled, ‘Oh, that’s far worse.’

The sweet pictures of puppies and kittens together are the stuff of chocolate boxes. And dogs and cats brought up together from infancy can often become the best of friends.

But, where one species has ruled the roost, introducing the other can often be highly problematic. Mick and Mary (not their real names), found their newly rescued staffie did not get on with the cat who had been with them for four years.

Staffie chased cat around the house; cat, being sensible, and a climber, managed to get on top of the wardrobe. Unfortunately, this was new, and the staffie, now really excited by the chase, ruined it by scratching. Back to the home for the staffie.

Cat people and dog people

According to the stereotype, people are either ‘cat people’ or ‘dog people’. Whilst this may not always apply, it does reflect the fact that the two species have very different qualities: a cat is elegant, sometimes aloof and certainly unbiddable; a dog is social, fun, and can be depended on for companionship and cheering you up when you are down. These different qualities appeal to different types of people, and different lifestyles.

For 25 years, I owned (or was owned by) a variety of wonderful cats – two Siamese brothers, a drop dead gorgeous ginger with blue eyes, who invariably melted the hearts of visiting male friends, and my favourite, a tabby whom a friend said ‘carved people up’ but not me, whom she adored.

But the dog thing had crept up on me gradually, I found myself talking to dogs I met on walks. And my husband was a dog person rather than a cat person.

Most importantly, I was now working from home, I could organize my own schedule, so the dog would not be left, and going for walks would not be a problem. (In fact, it would provide us with much needed exercise.)

So it was that we were joined by Paddy, a rescue springer spaniel with the excitable temperament of his breed, exacerbated by his previous neglect and lack of doggie education.

Whilst we did not have the War of the Wardrobe, we did have an unfortunate stand-off in the back garden, the result of which was that one cat refused to come in for two years, whereas the other stayed mainly upstairs. Eventually, harmony was restored and now all three animals (now two dogs and a cat) can share the same space with only minor friction.

But before that was two long years of space carefully segregated for the different fauna, whilst humans, and amused guests, negotiated stair-gates, kiddi-gates, bowls of food left on the front door step, and what the postman, whether or not ironically we don’t know, termed ‘the cat house’ – a kennel for the cat so that she didn’t need to sleep rough.

Sometimes, the introduction of another species isn’t a matter of choice, but happens because of changed circumstances. Rita had to re-home her son’s territorial male cat; Lynette, who owns a lively husky, is apprehensive about her forthcoming move in with her new partners, not only because she has had 20 years of living on her own, but because he owns a cat.

So, what are the steps to making the introduction of another species easier?

Let them sort it out themselves

There is a myth that cats and dogs can sort things out amongst themselves – usually, with the cat ending up dominant. The rationale behind this myth is that any encounter will be settled once the cat shows its claws and delivers a sharp scratch on the dog’s nose. Wrong: our own cat was too scared, and when we found a cat bold enough to scratch Paddy soon forgot the encounter.

The problem, believes dog trainer Pete Ross, is that dogs, like people, divide into introverts and extroverts. ‘If you have a dog who is fairly introverted and timid, then a blow from a cat will leave an impression, and he will be afraid of cats as a result. If you have a dog of the subtle type like this at home, the cat will always be in charge.

‘But if you’ve got an outgoing dog, with a lot of drive, or even a dog that’s a bit dangerous or antisocial with people, he won’t let up on the cat’s first hiss or blow, even if he’s injured he’ll go straight past that and finish the cat off.

‘So I don’t think it’s wise to attempt to bring the two together, because you a risking severe injury to both. And as to letting dogs chase their cats, which some owners do, that’s just irresponsible. What happens if a neighbour’s cat comes into the dog’s territory, or if a dog sees a cat in the road?’

First impressions count

For vet and animal behaviourist Zane Bondara, how the owner manages the arrival of the new animal, and its introduction into the house, is key. It’s vital that the human should be seen as manager of the home, determining who goes where, and what the rules are. ‘You shouldn’t give any animal, particularly a dog, freedom of your house straight away. A dog should always be on the lead as you are teaching it the basics of leadership. The house is yours, and you are telling the dog where it can and can’t go.’

Pete Ross agrees that the human should control the living space. ‘The most important thing is a gradual bringing together. The humans should manage the home, make sure that meetings are planned, and that the animals have separate areas, so that neither is put under undue pressure, or has the opportunity to terrorize, but they just get used to one another.’

‘For the first few days, let them see one another through a doorway into an adjoining room, or down the end of a hallway. Let the two of them see one another, but don’t allow them to come within four or five feet for a couple of weeks. Let the dog can see the cat moving around his territory, walk the dog around the house on a lead.

‘This reduces this pressure and anxiety, of course they are confused, and because they are a different species, that makes them apprehensive, and apprehension puts one on guard, and when you are on guard you are not relaxed, you tend to be a bit sharp and a bit quick.’

The crate’s the thing

Zane and Pete both strongly recommend using a crate to start off with. ‘When you bring the dog into its new home, take it for a couple of hours’ walk to tire it out,’ suggests Zane. ‘Make sure that the cat is out of the way when you bring the dog in. Then, put it in the crate and leave it there.’

If the newcomer is a cat, the same principle applies, except that it is always the newcomer, in this case the cat, in the crate. Then bring the dog in, under control on a lead, telling it to lie down and watch the cat.

Rita, when re-homing her son’s cat, borrowed a large cage and put it in the corner of the living room, with the dirt tray and food, and left him in there for about a week, so the resident dog and the cat could get used to him, and he could get used to his new surroundings. She let him out for short periods, and gradually the three animals got used to each other’s presence.

Pete has also used a crate when working with dogs who don’t get on with cats. ‘I’ll borrow someone’s cat and put it in a small dog crate, so that it can be seen from all angles, and I’ll get the owner to firstly heel round the cage in the middle of the floor, encouraging and correcting the dog, that he mustn’t even get much desire to show much interest in the cat.

‘After a short break, we’ll approach the cage. Depending on the cat’s reaction, we’ll take the dog right up to the edge of the cage, have him sit and stay, just let him look at the cat with curiosity, and with great interest, and if he grins as dogs do and beats his tail on the floor, if the cat is settled and looks at you, then you know it’s going to be OK. If on the other hand the cat is hissing and its fur is up, getting into fight position, and the dog is beginning to pull, tug, bark or yap, or lunge, then further contact would be totally out of the question.’

Keeping it calm

It is very important to remain calm as the animals are getting used to one another. It’s all too easy to let your excitement at the new arrival infect the situation – ‘look, a sweet little kitty cat’. That will just get the dog excited, so talk to them in a calm manner to help them stay calm. And a mellow dog will allow the cat’s natural curiosity to get the better of him and he will come and investigate.

If the dog gets excited, remove him and bring him back when he has calmed down. If he remains calm, give him a treat. But even then, when the temperature has relaxed slightly, the two animals should probably only be allowed together under your supervision until you are sure of their mutual tolerance, if not friendship.

Training and leadership

A calm dog is more likely to be one who is fully under your control, who accepts your leadership.

Zane believes that the most important principle of dog ownership is ‘for the owners to be master of their dogs. And, by being masters, there’s no problem to bring in the dog to the cat, or the cat to the dog. They have to set up the rules: who can do what and when.’

You, as human, are leader of the pack, and the dog must understand that. Putting them in a crate to start off with can reinforce that you are master of the house. Taking them for walks and insisting they walk to heel and don’t drag you down the road; giving them food and affection when you determine and not when they nag; all these things reinforce leadership.

Training – not in the sense of tricks or agility, but rather of basic obedience – is the key to gaining control over your dog.

As an inexperienced dog owner, I could not have imagined the difference training makes to a dog. Paddy was transformed from a dog who could barely contain himself in the cat’s presence one who could just lie quietly and ignore.

Training is a hard slog and is not something that you can generally do on your own, particularly if you have not had a dog before. There are a number of excellent dog trainers around charging reasonable rates, and attending dog classes can be both fun and a good way of meeting people with similar interests.

Cats have servants, dogs have masters

Particularly for cat owners who acquire a dog, it’s crucial to understand the radical difference between the species. Whereas cats are independent, dogs are essentially pack animals, dependent on company, hierarchy and leadership. This has huge implications for the way you ‘manage’ them as pets.

Their lordly ways have earned cats the reputation of owning their humans, and whether or not this is true, you will probably with a cat have an amicable relationship where you tolerate its foibles and try and ensure its comfort at all costs, even to the point where it takes up most of the bed!

If you did this with the dog, the dog would think you had ceded leadership, which would be totally unacceptable. Thus owning a dog demands a totally different psychology, one of firmness rather than compliance.

And whilst it is not true that a cat just needs the basics - food, water, access to a litter tray and if possible a cat flap so that it can come and go – anyone who has had a cat knows that they do need love and attention – a dog will need a lot more of your time. They need to be walked, at least once and possibly twice a day, and trained to an acceptable standard of obedience.

Are there particular breeds of dogs which are more suitable for a cat owner? Zane believes that you need to consider your own requirements and your lifestyle, rather than your cat, because 'any cat can live with any dog'.

Do you want something to sit in your lap, or do you want a companion for long walks? An energetic dog would not be suitable for a couch potato, an active person does not want a dog they have to drag along. (Although I wouldn’t wish to stereotype here: a Chihuahua of my acquaintance has climbed Snowdon!)

Peace at last

Yesterday I sat down in the living room to do some reading; the cat nuzzled up to me on the sofa whilst the dog put his head on my feet. Later that day, all three animals were together, peacefully sleeping. It all seemed so simple. And yet from a pet perspective, the last few years have been anything but easy.

There are all sorts of tales of cats becoming good friends. Zane at one stage introduced a Persian cat to her two dogs, a rottie and a sheltie. She just put him down, knowing that the dogs would not come near if she said ‘No’. Not only did the cat make friends straight away with the dogs, but she became pack leader.

‘Actually, he was quite a naughty cat: he learnt how to open a fridge! And not only did he help himself to what he wanted, he also threw things out of the fridge to my two dogs who sat and looked at him they would look at me!’

Most often, though, they just get to the stage of respecting one another’s right to be in the other’s territory. And that’s usually enough for domestic peace.

But this can only happen through the humans managing the situation: don’t expect the animals to do it themselves. By following this advice, you will minimize strife. Not only will they benefit, but you will – we acquire pets to decrease our stress levels, not increase them.

Happiness, it is often said, is having a cat on your lap. I’m greedy – I want a cat on my lap and a dog at my feet.