Like Cats and Dogs

I have had dogs and cats in my life since I was a child… but never both species at the same time.  That would all change when I decided to get a Guide dog in 2005. My cat, Little Lucy, did not seem to know or care what I was going on about when I broke the news to her. I had seven months or so to ‘plan’ before I left for Ontario (to attend the Guide dog training) before the big convergence of dog and cat.  More accurately, I had seven months to fret and worry about the imminent demise of my cat. Sometimes, I varied my paranoid ideology with visions of a big dog being clawed into bloody submission by Lucy. I had no hard and fast research to back up my notion that there would be trouble; just the usual stereotypical references to ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ that I had been exposed to. My friends, family members, neighbours, and the trainers at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind were patient with me as I asked probing questions and tenaciously sought advice like a dog with a meaty bone. They pointed out the obvious; Lucy would be ‘upset’ for a while.  Then there were things that launched me into a frenzy of home-preparedness activity; chiefly, the installation of a device (rope, hook and eye) on the bathroom door. This would, in theory, leave enough of an opening to allow Lucy to enter the bathroom and access her food, but very cleverly, keep out the dog I was to come home with. I had dismissed one brainiac’s idea of cutting a cat hole in my door… I was responsible for damages to the flat if we moved. I jigged the device without difficulty. It was the LENGTH of the rope that nearly launched a United Nations summit. I had no idea what size dog I would be coming home with, but I did not think it would be too small a dog. Yet, my nephew insisted I shorten the rope and limit the access space every time he came over to visit and passed comment on my ‘rig’. By the time I was done, I felt certain that a Miniature Schnauzer could not squeeze into my bathroom. There was more. I spent an entire 24 hour period trying to coax Lucy to pee in her new litter box. Again, after much consultation, it seemed advisable to up-grade to the covered type of box. I  recall sitting outside the new,  deluxe model with Lucy in the middle of the night, waving treats and begging her to ‘try it’. She would burst, I thought, feeling helpless as I listened to her cry in frustration.  Once I figured out that the ‘door’ (flap on the litter-box) was scaring her, I removed it and resumed my plea. Her success overwhelmed me. I felt like a mum whose kid has finally been potty-trained. She was showered with praise and love.   It was not easy to leave Lucy with my friend, Alice for a month while I was in Manotick.  Something odd happened when I boarded the flight to Ottawa…I  almost completely put thoughts of Lucy out of my mind. That was a good thing, because Guide dog training is very demanding. It was not until Opal and I were on the return flight to Halifax, that I really gave much thought to Lucy again.  Opal and I had a few days alone before Lucy was due back home. I did not give her much thought during those few days either. Opal and I were shattered. It was all we could do to eat, sleep, groom, and relieve ourselves. It’s a little hazy now, but when Lucy arrived home with Alice in the carrier (and her van full of ‘stuff’ –litter-box, dishes, grooming tools, bed, condo, body pillow, food etc),  she bolted for the bookcase as she first set eyes on Opal’s gigantic black head. There was some minor screeching.  I turned to Alice and said, “That went pretty well, don’t you think?”. In the days to come, Opal and Lucy would eventually learn about each other. That’s what animals do. They sort each other out. Opal (hopeless optimist that she is) longed to play with the ‘new kid’. That would take a while… 18 months actually. Now, two years later, Lucy is quite fond of Opal. Lucy knows that she is smaller and physically vulnerable, yet she also knows that she is in charge (though I’M in charge of both of them). Lucy will only drink out of Opal’s dish. She likes to drag off Opal’s bones and toys to the blanket which she also appropriated from Opal, but will share sometimes. They sniff one another to no end (mostly at each other’s ends aka butts). When one is not feeling well, the other is very concerned. Opal tore her dew claw 18 months ago and had it removed. Her foot was bandaged and she was all drugged up when we finally returned home from the vet. This was Lucy’s shining moment. She came over to Opal, licked her bandaged paw and purred, as though saying, “Wow, what happened to you? Can I help?” Opal licked Lucy’s head in appreciation and we all fell asleep on the floor together, huddled in solidarity. So, if you are worried about bringing a cat or dog into a home where one already resides, my wise advice is; be prepared, be observant, be patient, and when they are merged, let them sort one another out!

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