So we’ve had Douglas the chihuahua/terrier/something for about a week now and I have to tell you, he’s driving me nuts.
Don’t get me wrong. He IS sweet and adorable and will cuddle up to you at night and really, really means well, but I’m having a rough time with his berserker dog energies.
I’m beyond certain this has something to do with me being a cat person.
I’m used to calm, clean kitties who like your approval but don’t NEED it, whereas Douglas goes into approval-seeking seizures so violent they’ve actually drawn blood. He wasn’t even trying to be mean… he just goes into such a licking, head-whipping frenzy that upon seeing me, he woodpeckers his face against my hands until his teeth accidentally break the skin.
And he has other problems, like:
He chews EVERYTHING. I have two kids under five, which means there’s a wave of toys constantly enveloping our house. I was hoping the threat of dog ingestion would help me train my kids to pick up after themselves, but so far, the dog keeps on crapping Legos and trying to wrestle Bridget’s blankies away.
He isn’t leash-trained. Approaching Douglas with a leash makes him instantly pee all over the floor. Then he stubbornly sits there while you pull at the leash until he’s choking and vomiting.
But if you remove the leash, he won’t respond to commands AT ALL. When I took Douglas and the girls out to get mail from the mailbox, the FIRST thing he did was run straight out into the street and into oncoming traffic. He not only didn’t flinch when we called his name, he bolted away from us for the next half hour while we tried to grab him.
When we let him inside, the first thing he does is find a sweet corner of the house to crap in. We tell him NO and put him back outside for a decent interval before bringing him back in. Then he instantly craps again, like he’d been holding it. He’s THE OPPOSITE of potty-trained. He WANTS to crap inside.
Despite all of his issues, there’s NO WAY we’re taking Douglas back to the shelter because that would break his little doggie heart. He truly loves us and was so happy to become part of our family that I just can’t do that to him.
But what to do…
The other night, it hit me: Brontë not only loves animals but, like many 4-year-old girls, she’s incredibly bossy. She bosses her little sister around all the time, tries to boss around John and me, and managed to train Frodo the Cat to stand up on command, just cause she was bored.
So, I turned to her while she was eating some graham crackers at the kitchen table. I told her in a very serious voice: “Brontë, I’m making you the Official Boss of the Dog.”
She stood up, nodded, and said, “I’m also the Boss of the Minnie Mouse blanket.”
“Yes you are. You are the Boss of Minnie Mouse and also the Boss of the Dog.”
How did I not instantly see it? Brontë’s hyper control needs and an out-of-control little dog is a match made in heaven. She even has infinite time on her hands.
And she’s been taking her duties very seriously. Everywhere I go, I’m hearing Brontë whip Douglas into shape:
“No, DOUG-LAS! People are NOT for biting. We are NOT DOG TOYS. Kissing us is an okay thing to do. You can kiss but you CANNOT BITE!”
“Douglas, you are NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY WITH BARBIES. Here… you can play with your squeaky duck.”
“Douglas, STOP GIVING THE CATS MEAN LOOKS! Raj will smack you in the face and he will be RIGHT.”
“You do NOT poop in my room. Rooms are NOT for pooping! You can poop in the potty or outside because you are a dog but you do NOT poop in the living room or my room and you DO NOT poop next to Ariel because SHE IS A MERMAID.”
Okay, so maybe I set Brontë on the dog because I knew it would be funny and that would kind of help me deal with all the frustrations he’s caused, but I still think it’s a good plan. She seems to have the essential training idea down and I somehow think a four-year-old mind could maybe brain-hack a dog.
So you may have caught on from earlier posts that I’m generally a cat person. Cats just make sense to me: they’re calm, dignified and will cuddle you while you’re reading a book or watching a movie.
Dogs, on the other hand, can stress me out. They have all this jumpy energy and need constant validation.
But a crazy thing happened a few days ago when my husband and I went out to eat at one of our favorite Sacramento restaurants. We sat on the patio, right next to volunteers from the local animal shelter who were also eating lunch. They brought some dogs.
And when I turned around, one of those dogs was staring at me: A little yellow dog with a curly tail. One ear sticking up and the other down. We locked eyes…
I smiled. He wagged his tail, ran over, and started licking my hand.
And suddenly, I had a dog.
His name is “Douglas” and I’m still not sure how it happened. I can only assume Douglas pulled some kind of crazy dog sorcery because everything is a blur until the part where I’m filling out paperwork then driving home with a little yellow dog curled up on my lap, hoping he wasn’t about to attack our four cats.
Here’s what happened:
My husband and I walked into our house with Douglas trotting after us. The cats were all lounging about, lazily cleaning their ears until they suddenly noticed a dog in their wake. They froze, poofing up to 3X their original size.
Douglas wagged his tail then trotted up to Raj, our enormous stripey cat, who promptly punched Douglas across the face.
Instead of fighting back, Douglas backed off. This was wise, because he was outnumbered. The cats didn’t bother him again.
I went to sleep that night with Douglas curled up next to me when Violet, our shy black-and-white kitty-cat jumped into bed. She usually sleeps there.
Everything was fine until she realized she had a dog next to her, whereupon her tail blew up like a Christmas tree before she bounced across the room. She jumped onto the desk where she gave Douglas a cold, murderous, death stare FOR AN HOUR.
Frankly, I was a little creeped out.
Douglas is chewing EVERYTHING. Apparently, the squeaky duck and badger toys we got him just aren’t cutting it. I left the living room for two minutes and came back to find a cantelope-sized hole in the rug.
This is especially problematic because our kids still leave their crap all over the house. He’s been choking down Legos, left and right, and likes to eat princess dolls.
I’m trying to make the best of it by telling the kids they have to clean up their toys before they get eaten. This is a crash course in toy management.
Bridget is compulsively feeding the dog. She’s throwing lunch and dinner on the floor and shoving food in his mouth all day. Either the novelty will wear off soon, or Douglas is about to get really fat.
Brontë is revealing in the dog’s shenanigans because it gives her an excuse to boss him around. Four-year-old girls can be really bossy. All day, I’m hearing “DOUG-LAS! That is NOT your princess mermaid doll! YOU PLAY WITH YOUR DUCK!”
The transition hasn’t been entirely smooth. Still, John had to drop Douglas back off at the shelter to get neutered yesterday and the poor guy was shaking, refusing to leave the car. He must’ve thought we were sending him back.
When we picked him up and brought him home again, he was sooooooo happy.
Don’t worry, little Douglas. We’ll make this work.
I don’t know if you guys have heard about this app yet, but recently I signed up for Nextdoor.com. It’s a private social network for the people in your neighborhood where you can post breaking local news events, like upcoming yard sales and block parties.
Well, apart from some recent episodes of vandalism, it turns out the most interesting thing going on in our jet-setting neighborhood involves a woman who’s getting ready to move and wants to know if anyone owns the cat she’s been feeding for the past eight months. She’s considering bringing the sweet kitty with her, but doesn’t want to steal anyone’s pet.
This seemed reasonable enough to me, but apparently not all of our neighbors feel the same way. This poor woman keeps getting accused of trying to rob some family’s beloved kitty, a family that undoubtedly includes a bunch of kids who will miss said kitty terribly.
But that’s not all. Our neighbors have moved past insulting the woman to generalized cat character assassination. “Cats aren’t loyal at all,” for example, or “they don’t love you, they just want the best food.”
Hmm. You’d think anyone who hates cats this much would be patting the lady on the back for removing one from the neighborhood, but I guess she can’t win.
Once again, I’m surprised by how many people hate cats and how much they want to tell everyone about it… like it’s a badge of honor, a certificate of purity from any suspicious cat-appreciating tendencies.
I find it baffling, partly because I’m a cat person. I don’t dislike dogs and have owned a few dogs that I’ve loved as much as any cat, but if, say, there were a random cat and dog in the middle of the street, I’d probably approach the kitty first.
But it’s also baffling because even if I did hate dogs, I’d never run around talking about how much they suck. You get the sense that hating on dogs isn’t as socially acceptable as hating on cats and I’m wondering why that is.
So I decided to type some cat phrases into Google to see how Google finished them, like a casual sociological study on the most common associations people have with cats. On the one hand, it’s not very scientific (we don’t know who typed what), but on the other, we can find out what people (English speakers, at least) are most likely to type into Google when they think no one else is watching, which could provide more nakedly honest answers than asking them directly.
I started with “Cats are.” This is what I got:
Weird. I had no idea how to interpret “cats are liquid,” but a quick search revealed tons of photos of cats filling the shapes of their containers. Like this:
So that explains that.
Still, “cats are jerks” was the number one hit. I’m guessing the cats being better than dogs idea came from cat people, which isn’t particularly helpful in this case.
I tried the reverse:
Well, dogs being better than cats and being the best came up first. Nothing about them being jerks or aliens or anything negative, and there’s even bizarre positive manga slang about dogs being “moe.”
This seems to confirm the idea that dogs have a better reputation, but doesn’t explain why. I decided to try something different:
So according to the internet, cats are cute but weird. How about the reverse?
It’s impossible to tell whether the searchers actually think dogs are better than cats or if they want to find out why other people do. After all, if you think dogs are better, you presumably have your reasons. Still, there’s nothing negative about dogs in the first several hits, unlike the cat search.
I decided to try “I hate cats.” This was the first image that came up:
On the other hand, when you put in “I hate dogs,” you get:
That’s right, you get Cat Hitler. CAT HITLER, everyone.
According to the Google public, any cat who hates dogs is apparently a Nazi, despite the glaring logical flaws involved in likening rational fears toward larger animals that could kill you to the megalomaniacal goals of a genocidal sociopath. Seems fair, right?
So far, my google efforts were confirming that people do, indeed, think more highly of dogs but couldn’t explain why… apart from the idea that cats are weird aliens who would make believable Nazi dictators. I decided to get more specific with “I hate cats because…”
And the top reason was because they kill birds.
Does this seems right to you? While it’s true that cats kill birds, I didn’t realize we had such an enormous community of bird lovers within the population.
I don’t know about you, but the bird thing feels more like a rationalization of pre-existing biases than the root cause of all the cat hatred. Fear of cats goes way back in our culture… I find it hard to believe all the medieval and Salem witch hunts associated cats with Satanism and Black Magic due to their bird-eating tendencies.
While it’s true that cats wreak holy terror on small mammals, this can also be a good tendency. They eat rodents, for example, which have threatened humans with stored grain demolition and bubonic plagues for centuries.
Plus, we don’t seem to hate lions, and those are just cats taken to the next level.
I’m just not buying the bird explanation, unless you happen to be a bird aficionado. I mean, dogs kill people sometimes, and surely that should matter to the average person more than the fate of wild birds. You never read news articles about cat owners being liable for their pets attacking small children.
My curiosity frustrated, I decided to call it a day.
But this isn’t over. I’m gonna figure out a more satisfying explanation of our culture’s irrational hatred of cats, yet. Even of it takes me more than an afternoon.
I bet in time, despite her past, through hard work and dedication Hester will come to be seen as an “able” and industrious chicken.
Please excuse the literature reference. I was an English major and just can’t help it.
The chicks are thriving. As you can see, their adult feather colors have replaced the yellow baby fluff. Rosie is becoming an exotic redhead as Hester grows into a charming brunette.
We still pet them everyday. Not having had chickens before, I have no idea whether they can become attached to you or not, but generally believe that petting animals is a good idea. It’s calming for you and tends to produce affectionate animals.
I suspect chickens can bond with you, however. In an earlier post, I mentioned my grandmother’s rooster that believed he was a dog after growing up around a pack of dogs. He was a little like Brian from The Family Guy. You know how Brian will do human stuff like drink martinis and debate politics then turn around and drag his butt on the floor like a dog?
Well, this rooster was also a hilarious mixture of different species’ behavior. He would roam around the yard with the dogs, occasionally pecking at the ground, and nap on top of the sleeping dog pile in the afternoons, his beak tucked back behind his wing. When the dogs got all riled up and started barking in unison, this rooster would loudly crow. Maybe he was thinking, Hmm, doesn’t seem like sunrise to me, but if the rest of the guys are on board…
Since that rooster was influenced by growing up in a foreign culture (dog culture), I figure these chickens might tame from daily cuddling. They are quite docile, so far. Brontë continues to observe them, happily, and yell at the cats whenever they menace the cage.
I’m less certain about the future psychological effects of constant cat menacing. Our kitties regularly spook around the baby chicks, wide-eyed and undoubtedly up to no good. Though Hester and Rosie are safely within their cage, being constantly stalked by four enormous dino-panthers throughout one’s childhood can’t be reassuring.
Occasionally, the kitties would tap on the cage with a raised paw, so we tried to put the cage up on a high shelf. Then the kitties would leap up to the shelf, which probably just made things worse. If there is anything scarier than being stalked by four enormous dino-panthers, it might be watching four dino-panthers leap the equivalent of fifteen stories to leer at you.
Finally, we moved the chicken cage to a back room and kept the cats out of it. Now maybe the little gals can cheep in peace.
Brontë told me today that the cat took her diaper off and applied diaper cream. It was really nice of him to help out, since we have so much going on around here.
This photo of my daughter and our resourceful cat will likely inspire a range of reader reactions. Some (probably pet owners) will think it’s adorable. Others will be horrified.
In the horrified group, some will have noticed the “help me” look in the cat’s eyes. Well… my daughter loves the kitties a lot, sometimes a lot like Lenny from Of Mice and Men. She tackles them and buries her little face in their fur. The cats have shown tremendous patience throughout her exuberant toddlerdom, mostly indulging her aggressive love, and occasionally running away when she gets too rough. When she truly crosses the line (trying to yank whiskers out or pulling on tails), they lightly pepper her arm, which has proven a far more effective training tool than our insistence that she be more gentle. Overall, the cats have a wonderful relationship with our daughters, packed with snuggling, purring, and hysterical string chasing.
The horrified group that aren’t concerned about the pet’s health and safety are made up of folks who believe you should get rid of your pets when you have children. This is usually because they are afraid that:
Pets will injure their kids. If you have a vicious, unpredictable pet, getting rid of it is a good idea. I don’t believe cats should be declawed, however, unless the cat is unusually aggressive. Or,
Pets are dirty and will make their children sick.
I’d like to address the hygiene issue, for the benefit of potentially relocated pets everywhere. If your child has severe allergies or a compromised immune system, then yes, it may be a good idea to get rid of your pets. For everyone else, however, pets will actually improve your child’s health.
Yes, cats and dogs are a little bit dirty (by human standards). They run around outside, rolling in dirt and various plants, crapping in litter boxes or the open air, and don’t scrub themselves with soap and hot water. They are covered in germs. The very idea induces shudders amongst ultra-hygienic Americans, as they bathe their hands in sanitizer.
But you know what? Americans are too damn clean. I know, I know… that sounds crazy. Clean is good. Clean is pure. Clean is healthy. We have all kinds of pleasant associations with cleanliness, from happy clean bodies to sinless souls. Ivory soap is 99 44/100 % pure, so pure it floats (and in my experience, so caustic that it leathers your skin in a few washings). Clorox cleans the “purest clean.” Cover Girl is “clean makeup” (even though it makes everyone break out).
We Americans really like clean. And if there is anything we need to keep clean, it’s babies. They came into the world clean, clean of body and spirit, and we need to keep them that way. Why would we want anything dirty around our clean babies?
Because it’s possible to be too damn clean and Americans have crossed that line. Somewhere around the turn of the century, we figured out that survival rates in hospitals improved drastically when doctors washed their hands. Before that, doctors would handle patient after patient, some of whom had deadly infectious diseases, without washing their hands. Sometimes they even handled cadavers, often the cadavers of people who died from fatal infectious diseases, then went on to meet sick patients with compromised immune systems or even perform surgeries. Obviously, disease spread like wildfire under these conditions and there was a mass campaign to bring sterilization and better hygiene to the medical profession.
This is all very reasonable, but things eventually got out-of-hand. I blame advertising. Marketers jumped on the opportunity to convince everyone that you needed to buy their products and use a lot of them if you didn’t want to become an unhealthy, socially-unacceptable slob. People used to wash their hair weekly, but now you need to wash it every day, twice (lather, rinse, and repeat). Doesn’t matter if you have dry hair, because instead of washing less frequently, you should use a shampoo specially formulated for dry hair. You’ll wash out your styling products and need to apply more, which means you’ll need to buy more. You also need to scrub every inch of your body with antibacterial soap, every day, and apply antiperspirant. Anything else would just be gross.
Baby care became increasingly sanitized, especially through the 1950’s. Cleanliness was supreme, and a reflection on the mother. Everything needed to be scrubbed, laundered, and de-germed. Upholstery was regularly vacuumed. Strollers were taken apart and disinfected, bolt by bolt. Even today, grocery stores offer sanitary wipes to disinfect shopping cats before children are loaded into them.
You know what the result of all this effort has been? A crapload more allergies and asthma. You see, the human animal did not spawn in a vacuum. We were always meant to make contact with the outside world, and our immune system carefully evolved under these conditions. We have a delicate balance of microorganisms in our guts, one that can be really screwed up by regular antibacterial blasting. While we obviously need protection from really nasty, lethal germs like ebola and tuberculosis, our bodies are usually equipped to handle everyday germs.
When you start over-sanitizing everything, our systems suffer, and science has started catching onto this. What do you think probiotics are? It’s just a nicer-sounding word for germs. We are putting them back in yogurt and taking them in capsule form because we are figuring out that we don’t have enough good bacteria in our guts anymore. “Probiotic yogurt” sells better than “Yogurt with germs.”
People are getting vitamin B12 deficiencies because B12 normally comes from the gut of animals, but our factory stems are blasting them with so many antibacterials that they aren’t supplying our bodies with enough of it anymore. This didn’t use to be a problem.
When you get a vaccination, it works like this: you are exposed to a little bit of a germ and your immune system develops antibodies to handle it (I realize some people are against vaccination, but that’s a subject for another post). Well, when you have a cat or dog that runs around the yard, it acts a bit like a natural inoculation for your child. The pet picks up little bits of flora and fauna in its environment and brings it back to your kid. Your kid’s immune system is then familiarized with the flora and fauna and is less likely to view it as a foreign particle requiring an allergic reaction.
This is counterintuitive, I realize. It feels like if we work harder to create a clean environment, we should be rewarded with a healthier child. Harder work should equal a better result, yet science supports the theory that a little dirt is good. Kids raised with pets since infancy have fewer allergies and a lower incidence of asthma.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I used to eat grapes and berries straight from gardens or off bushes. Turns out, this was a good thing. Kids eating unwashed fruit have a better balance of gut bacteria than those who eat cleaned food. You should also let your kids play in dirt. It’s good for them.
Interestingly, some Swedish researchers recently found out that kids from homes that hand wash their dishes have a lower incidence of asthma, eczema, and allergies than the ones from homes with a dishwasher. This is probably because hand washing dishes removes the major germs, but doesn’t sterilize everything to the degree that a high-power dishwater does. Now I’m not suggesting everyone give up their dishwashers (I’m too lazy to hand wash everything), but it lends support to the idea that cleaner isn’t always better.
The takeaway from all this? Unless your kid has a specific condition, you probably don’t need to worry about a few germs or give away your pets. Pets are a little dirty, and that’s a good thing.