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The Joys of Raising Dogs and Cats Together
An abandoned kitten joined six dogs in my home
Having been brought up in a house filled with animals from being six months old, I must admit cats were still a bit of a mystery to me until about 15 years ago.
My grandma, who lived with us, hadn't been a big fan of cats, as the neighbours' felines were forever killing the wild birds that she loved to feed.
So although I'd always had a dog, budgie and various small animals as a child, I had not had a cat until many years later, when I took in a very elderly stray, Ginger, who was my furry friend from the age of 20 to 25 years.
However, some years later, when my friend and housemate brought home an abandoned kitten, Pepper, who was six months old, never one to turn away an animal in need, I knew we had to give him a home, despite having six dogs at the time.
Bringing Pepper into the house and seeing how the dogs interacted with this new friend made me realise it actually wasn't that hard to bring up kittens and dogs under one roof.
Even more wondrous to me was how my dog Happy Buster, who was nervous and not great with other dogs, soon became very attached to every cat that we took in.
In fact, I think, over time, Happy Buster has become more comfortable with the cats than the other dogs and sometimes displays quite feline behaviour ... for example, he often licks his paws and washes his face in a very cat-like manner!
Pepper: A streetwise little cat who showed no fear
Pepper was about six months old and was living as a stray in a garden when a friend told us about him. I had no idea what happened to his mother, unfortunately, as he appeared to have been thrown out by the householder, a man, who wasn't interested in him at all,
My friend had been feeding him, but had a dog and wasn't convinced he could take on a kitten too. So we decided to give Pepper a home.
Pepper was very confident around the dogs and not even slightly afraid, even though he was so small when he first came to live here. I imagined it was because he had lived outdoors and had become quite tough and streetwise already.
The dogs were fascinated by this small, lively, purring creature, even though four of them, including Happy Buster, had never met a cat before.
In Pepper's case, I didn't even have to do anything special when he moved in, as although the dogs became over-excited at first and bounced around him a lot, they soon gave him the necessary respect when he had hit them on the nose a few times with outstretched claws.
None of them ever displayed any aggression towards him and they all lived together without any problems. Pepper enjoys being outdoors and mainly comes in only at night when the weather is cold, when he curls up on the settee for the night, having no qualms about hanging out with the dogs.
Joseph: Scared stiff of the dogs!
It was slightly more difficult when we took in another kitten, Joseph, a couple of years later. He was from an accidental, unwanted litter and was very young when he came to us.
He was very wary of the dogs - and perhaps aware of this, they were extremely excitable when he first arrived.
I realised a different approach was necessary, as he was nothing like Pepper and it wasn't possible to allow him to mix with the dogs at first.
I had a huge puppy pen, which was not used any more, so I converted it into a cat pen, where Joseph slept at night. I also put him in there, shut in the bedroom, when I went out.
This was due to the fact I had been in the vet's one day with one of my dogs when a young couple rushed in, crying, with a lifeless kitten in their arms. I realised, from their frantic conversation with the receptionist, that the kitten had been accidentally crushed by the couple's two dogs, who thought they were playing, but had actually caused serious injury.
I had never worried about Pepper being accidentally injured by the dogs, as he was so streetwise and able to take care of himself. He had his bed on top of a high cupboard in the kitchen and when the dogs started annoying him, he simply jumped up there out of their way, with a disdainful air about him.
But Joseph was different altogether and I felt he needed protecting till he grew bigger.
My dog became the cat's surrogate 'mum'
It was only after taking Joseph in that I realised how much Happy Buster loved cats (and indeed all my small animals) and he was very gentle and patient with them.
From the outset, unlike the other dogs, Happy Buster didn't bounce around Joseph with excitement and instead just gently sniffed and nudged him. Initially, Joseph wasn't particularly keen on him and hissed a lot.
But Happy Buster didn't mind being scratched on the nose, or batted with an outstretched paw as he walked by. He just carried on hanging out with Joseph and I trusted him so much that I would leave them in the bedroom together.
I never left the other dogs with Joseph, as they were too much for him. I wasn't sure whether one of them might nip him if he started hanging off their wagging tail, or tried to eat out of their bowl. He did this all the time to Happy Buster, who was never food possessive and allowed Joseph to share his dinner many times.
Joseph and Happy Buster are best buddies
As Joseph grew up, he and Happy Buster continued to hang out together. They still do so to this day. In fact, it has taken about four years for Joseph to even venture out of the lounge and socialise with the other dogs!
Happy Buster has always remained his best buddy and will do so until the end of their days, I expect.
Joseph is an odd cat in many ways. I presumed he would enjoy going outdoors, as Pepper did.
I never allow a cat outdoors until he is about 11 months old and neutered. Some people may think I am too cautious, as I have seen much younger kittens already out on the prowl. But I wait until a cat is big enough to look after himself.
However, Joseph was 100 per cent a house cat. He tried going outside a few times, but didn't like the noise of traffic and sat in the garden, looking terrified, for about one minute, before bolting back in the house. I even tried sitting out in the garden with him, shutting the front door behind us. But he began trying to climb up the windows to go back indoors.
So eventually, when he was about two years old, I thought that he was never going to enjoy sitting outside in the sunshine and patrolling his territory. He actually refused to go out and hid behind furniture when I tried to spur him into leaving the house!
He seemed content to live indoors with Happy Buster - and strangely, Joseph would not even tolerate other cats. Sometimes, I believed he thought he was a dog!
An amazing revelation in Joseph's life!
However, after four years of socializing only with his canine pal Happy Buster, Joseph suddenly shocked me one day by crying behind the door to go out!
I have no idea what prompted this amazing change in his behaviour, but suddenly he fancied having an adventure and little by little, he worked his way round the house, dodging the other dogs and darting behind the furniture till he had explored the whole indoor area.
Eventually, four years after I took him in, Joseph finally ventured outdoors. I was so amazed!
He will now wander in and out of the back door and hang out in the back garden, although never goes over the fence.
And to my joy, he still loves Happy Buster and still spends much time with him lounging around on the settee.
He also enjoys watching my tropical fish swimming round, one of his favourite pastimes.
He has become a much more confident and happy little cat recently and I do attribute much of it to Happy Buster's patience with him in the early years.
Joseph the cat in inquisitive mood!
A third kitten joined the posse...
When Joseph was about two years old, we ended up taking in a third cat, a jet black kitten, from another accidental litter.
He was called Harley in honour of our late cat of the same name, who had sadly died a few years earlier. Little Harley had the same temperament too, in that he wasn't fond of me and used to bite and scratch me a lot!
I decided to rear him in the same way as I had Joseph - supervised time spent with the dogs, but being closed in the safety of a puppy pen at night, safely shut in the bedroom - until he was big enough to look after himself.
It was again Happy Buster who took on the role of Harley's substitute "mum".
Harley seemed very comfortable with Happy Buster, who was gentle with him and let Harley run riot when they were sitting upstairs together. Harley was much wilder than Joseph and used to play very rough with Happy Buster, jumping on his back, grabbing his wagging tail, hanging off his back legs and performing a "kitten pounce" on him when Happy Buster was trying to go to sleep. Suddenly, he would awake with a jolt as Harley jumped on to his head.
Happy Buster, good natured as ever, let Harley do what ever he wished and again allowed the kitten to share his dinner.
Harley: A little tearaway from the start
Unlike Joseph, however, Harley soon became adventurous and started exploring the rest of the house. The first time he met Pepper, who was about six years old by this time, they became friends.
Pepper immediately started licking Harley and grooming him, allowing the kitten to sit in his bed and share his milk!
So Harley had a very diverse life, spending a lot of time playing with Happy Buster - who again displayed the patience of a saint - but also popping into the kitchen to see Pepper and playing around in the utility room.
At about 11 months old, Harley finally plucked up the courage to go outdoors. I always leave the kitchen window open, what ever the weather, so the cats can come and go as they please. It didn't take Harley long to discover there was another world out there.
Harley was ready to 'fly the nest' - poor Happy Buster!
As soon as Harley started going out, there was no stopping him.
He became as adventurous as Pepper and was out much of the time - including the first time he stayed out till 4am, giving me a sleepless night waiting up for him, fearing he was lost. Of course, he popped back through the kitchen window like nothing was amiss and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Sadly for Happy Buster, once Harley discovered the world outside, their bond wasn't as strong. Whereas Joseph was still very attached to Happy Buster, Harley was different altogether and became an independent cat.
I felt as if Happy Buster had raised him and now he was like a fledgling, ready to fly the nest and no longer needing his substitute "mum". It seemed quite sad, really!
Harley and the dogs hang out in the garden
A fourth kitten joins the household!
It was about a year later when we took in another kitten. I didn't even know this one was coming.
My friend and housemate had visited someone and they had four kittens running around their house.
They didn't want them and said they were off to the RSPCA in a few days. One of them looked like a smaller version of Pepper - and next thing I knew, my friend had brought her home to live with us!
This was totally unexpected, as at the time, I felt we had enough cats and dogs. But I couldn't say "no", as she was in the lounge by that time! So she was called Salt - as in Salt and Pepper - because she resembled our older cat so much.
And just like before, in the case of Joseph and Harley, it wasn't long before Happy Buster again took on the role of little Salt's "mum" and buddy!
Salt the kitten: Manic as she swung on Happy Buster's tail!
Poor Happy Buster had his work cut out with Salt, who was the most manic, lively and unpredictable kitten I had ever known! She really didn't give him any peace at all, even when he was sleeping.
When she was small, she would literally never leave him alone. She was forever jumping on his back from the bed, leaping on his head as he tried to sleep, riding around by hanging off his tail, grabbing his face in her claws and mouth and refusing to let go and then of course eating his dinner! She also kept running off with his favourite ball!
I am amazed at how good natured and patient Happy Buster has remained throughout the youth of all the cats. He has never shown any aggressive behaviour at all, even when they are playfully scratching and nipping him. Similarly, he has always let them share his food.
As with the other kittens, Salt has been raised by being given the run of the house during the day, but being placed in the old puppy pen at night.
Salt and Pepper the cats hang out together
The kitten with no fear: Salt lives life to the full!
At just over one year old, little Salt began venturing outdoors. She was unafraid of the other dogs, who eventually got over their fascination with her.
Sometimes she will lie on the bed with three of the dogs and she is more confident by the day.
Salt has also enjoyed spending time with Pepper and they have become good friends. In fact, Pepper is everyone's friend, canine and feline.
Happy Buster, meanwhile, seemed to realise his parenting days with Salt had come to an end!
He still spends much time with Joseph. In fact, the only time they are apart is at night, when Happy Buster goes to bed (not a dog bed, needless to say, but lying on my bed) and Joseph goes wandering about.
One big happy family
My experiences in bringing up dogs and cats together were all "trial and error", as I had never done so until recent years.
But I believe with a little patience and care, everyone can become one big, happy family and all live under one roof without any problems.
It is never easy to care for so many animals, but with thoughtful socialising, it is possible to all live together under one roof and have a happy life.
I do not believe dogs and cats are natural enemies. I believe it is how they are socialized as puppies and kittens which determines their future behaviour.
Dogs and cats in the kitchen together!
I wouldn't say no to another dog or cat in need!
I have no plans at present to take in any more cats, as we have a houseful!
However, you never know what the future might bring and I'm sure Happy Buster will rise to the occasion with the same patience and enthusiasm should another unwanted kitten turn up on our doorstep.