I’m a lifelong dog-person, dog-girl, dog-lady, all of that. I never saw myself owning a cat.
Sabrina, our little black cat, has been living with us for about six months. She’s around a year old. There are still things that I am figuring out about her. She’s much more different than the dogs than I could have possibly imagined.
1. Cats Are Not Responsible For Their Actions
This has always been so puzzling to me. When cats “misbehave” their guardians don’t get mad at them, and often they don’t really seek behavioral training techniques. They kind of just say… “Aw, he’s just being a cat. Little jerk!”
I try to give Sabrina as much vertical space as possible in our one-bedroom apartment. But there are certain areas that I can’t allow her to access.
With a dog, I say, “leave it!” and if there’s an immediate danger, I’ll go grab them. Most of the time my dogs will stop what they’re doing and come to me.
With Sabrina, I’ll tell her to “off!” and she just… looks at me. But by the time I go to move her, she’ll jump off, because she’s somewhat aware that she’s not allowed in that area. I praise and encourage that, and hopefully with more practice she’ll jump when I say “off,” but for now it seems as though she pauses to decide if it’s worth trying to get her way.
I try to remember to give her a treat when she does hop off the forbidden area, even if she doesn’t comply right away. Maybe she’ll listen better as time goes on, but I’m okay with her being herself, not a dog.
When we, the dog people, tell our dogs to do something, and they don’t listen, we tend to feel offended. And that’s something that cat people have had right all along.
When any animal, cat or dog, does not listen, even if we believe they know better, there’s no reason to take it personally. It just means we need more training, more clarity, more reinforcement, and more rewards.
2. Cats Are Not Always Down For Pets
I know that I can go to Cow, who’s currently napping in her open crate, and give her hugs and kisses and she’ll wake up and be totally happy about that.
But if Sabrina is in a playful hunting mood, she’ll attack my hands when I try to pet her.
Or if she’s napping, she doesn’t seem to appreciate being woken up for pets.
If she’s drowsy, but not sleeping, though, I can sometimes get her purring.
I still don’t have a solid understanding of how and when to pet a cat, and my impulse control is lacking.
The thing is, dogs aren’t always down for pets either. They’re just less likely to let us know. But if you give your dog a big hug, and they shake off afterwards, it’s a sign that they were actually a little stressed.
I’m trying to learn to have that impulse control with not only the cat, but dogs too. I try to remember to pause while petting my dogs so they can make it clear if they want me to stop or continue. With eight years together, me, Matilda, and Cow have a strong relationship and seem to really understand each other, but I think we can always do better.
3. Cats Actually Do Greet You (Sometimes)
One of the reasons I never wanted a cat was because I love how, after a hard day, you can go home and know your dog is going to be waiting, wagging like crazy like you’ve been gone for years.
Sabrina does sometimes weave through our legs and rub up against us when she’s happy to see our favorite humans. She also does this when she’s hungry, but at times it happens when there’s food in her bowl, so that must mean she likes us.
4. Cats Don’t Really Hate Dogs
Matilda and Cow still don’t know how to treat Sabrina, but they respect her. They have chased her, but do it less often, and I can see that they don’t actually touch her when that happens. They just don’t know how to interact with her.
Sabrina gets scared when they try to interact with her, even if they’re just passing by through a narrow space. She may run away from them or stand her ground and swat. But she no longer hisses at them.
Every day she seems more comfortable around them, and the dogs are fascinated but leave her alone most of the time. They’re always supervised, of course, and stay in separate rooms when I’m not available to watch them.
Despite all this, Sabrina regularly goes up to the dogs and sniffs them, and even stares at them when they’re sleeping. She seems to have a fascination with them too. Our household has drama, but it’s not fueled by hatred, just misunderstandings.
One time, Sabrina went up behind Cow, smacked her butt, and ran away, leaving Cow totally confused. And I think it’s in those moments she has nailed down her role of annoying little sister.
I achieved my goal of having all three of my animals together in the same room most of the time with no worry of violence, injury, or even stressful confrontations. They’re coexisting with little drama as they enjoy separate spaces, watching squirrels out the window together and basking in sunbeams at a healthy social distance.
Now, I am aching to see them curling up together, but that’s definitely unrealistic at this point. If my animals ever cuddle, that will be the ultimate cuteness overload.