The Cold War has returned. Attempts at diplomacy have failed utterly. The air is filled with tension and a sense of betrayal. Intrigue is rampant. The only question is who will strike first.
This Cold War isn’t being waged by communists or even fascists, but in the animal kingdom. And it’s being waged on my turf.
A few weeks ago I was owned by two cats. Anyone with a cat understands this. Life was simple: They ruled. I served.
After much deliberation I became the owner of a seventy pound dog, a sweet, well-mannered, handsome fellow we named Elvis. Initially I had intended to purchase a purebred Labrador retriever puppy. When I casually mentioned this to five friends, four of them immediately began campaigning for me to adopt an adult dog from the animal shelter.
“Oh but they all have such bad habits,” I replied, accepting the stereotype of the abandoned or abused mutt without hesitation. I wanted a clean slate with which to create my own canine wonder.
As I mulled the decision, I remembered that I had made a similar error in thinking about my children. I had thought I would be getting a blank slate to compose the person I wanted my child to be. No one told me that they would arrive fully formed, complete with their own dispositions and temperaments. But, I reasoned, a dog has a smaller brain, smaller than mine at least. I would be able to dominate something with a smaller brain. I could gain control early in the dog’s life and produce a well-trained animal that would be fun.
Still, giving consideration to my friends’ urging, I went to the Austin Animal Center one afternoon just to take a look. I went there thoroughly convinced that the experience would send me running to the puppies. But I can add this to the long list of things I’ve been wrong about. The shelter held many fine dogs. The problem was bringing home only one.
We settled on a two-year-old black Lab. He had been found with a collar but no tags and no one had claimed him. (Unfortunately, few strays are claimed, a volunteer at the Center said.) Elvis is healthy and well trained. He responds to the basic commands—sit, stay, no—and is very loving. He has only one bad habit: he chases cats.
The unsuspecting felines of the household were shocked by the bounding arrival of what I’m sure they think of as The Beast. For them, time is now divided into BB (Before Beast) and AB (After Beast). They spent the first three days hiding out high in the trees. On the fourth day, hunger drove them earthward and into the house, where one immediately retreated into a closet, not to be seen again for four more days.
I’ve tried to accommodate both species by creating a demilitarized zone in the kitchen. The dog rules the back of the house, the cats rule the front, and two closed doors separate the enemy camps.
I, the ambassador, travel from camp to camp negotiating consensus, trying to convince the felines that the other side isn’t as dangerous as appearances would indicate. Still, one feline isn’t speaking to me. In the way that cats have of flaunting a decision, she lets me know that The Beast must stay out of feline territory. I am viewed as a traitor. She shows me the “cat butt” and dismisses me. The other cat is listening to my spiel but she clearly isn’t buying into the spin I’m putting on the situation.
I continue to negotiate in good faith. I appeal to their sense of justice (generally well developed in a cat) and suggest that one good bloody swipe delivered to the dog’s nose would go a long way toward discouraging canine pursuit. Yes, I the ambassador, am suggesting that the kitties’ best defense is a strong offense: Use your weapons. They are appalled at the mere suggestion that they should have to fight for what was theirs before The Beast.
I shuttle to the back of the house, the canine camp. The Beast welcomes me with wagging tail and lots of slobber. I attempt to explain that chasing cats isn’t really a good idea. It’s wrong. It makes me unhappy. It isn’t much fun anyway. He looks at me like “Not fun? You gotta be kidding.”
The peace talks continue. I try to convince the canine camp not to chase if the feline camp does not run. I take this brokered peace message through the two doors to the feline camp. I try to convince the feline camp not to run but stand their ground. No dice. Optional running is not up for negotiation.
At week three there are small overtures toward peace. The feline camp occasionally sends out a scout to spy on the enemy camp. Remaining under cover of chairs and couches, the scout looks for a vantage point to view The Beast, perhaps even to sniff for danger.
There have been few actual encounters so it’s hard to say if either side has softened but I think not. A mere hint of The Beast’s presence and closet-cat runs. The sound of dog steps on a hardwood floor incite panic.
Maybe my strategy is flawed. Perhaps this is not a case of a dog chasing cats but a gender thing, of a male chasing females (although all parties, in this instance, are neutered). Perhaps we should not have named him Elvis, because these females are definitely not swooning.
Originally published in The Good Life magazine