A Lifelong Dog Person and Her First Cat
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a diehard, lifelong dog person. In fact I love all animals, but some more than others. Dolphins, whales, manatees, wolves, giraffes are among my other beloved animals but of course those are a bit harder to bring into your family home.
When it comes to cats, they were always an animal that I liked from a distance but was afraid of if not downright terrified. I remember a night in my twenties when my best friend and I were going out on a social outing with a group of other women and we stopped by to pick up another friend who had just gotten a kitten. As it raced and jumped around the room I stood up against the wall, legitimately straight up terrified.
“It’s a kitten!” my friends said, laughing at me, “You spend your life around these huge dogs but you’re afraid of a itty bitty kitten?”
My mom had a cat when I was born and it was insane. My only memories of it were that it would hide under my bed and scratch my feet without any warning when I walked by. I was only about four or five when it passed away, right around the same time I fell in love with Snoop, our first Labrador. My Dad also has some cat phobias and I grew up with the story of how a neighbor’s cat jumped onto his head from the roof of their garage when he was a young boy. I had never been afraid of a single dog, but cats were terrifying.
Flash forward to 2013. I was on lunch at my former job, browsing Facebook. Our Basset Hound Maggie had passed away from Lymphoma earlier that week and Tinkerbell had not been born yet. In fact I had been skipping lunch with my work friends all week because I was so upset about losing Maggie that I didn’t want to be around anyone and either bring down the entire mood around me or try to laugh and act normal when my heart was broken from her passing.
As I browsed I came across a post shared by the pet sitting company that I used. It was a post from a cat rescue organization and a photo of a small black and white cat. The caption read, “Molly doesn’t understand why she is at the shelter again instead of being in a warm and loving home. She is a special cat, she is more like a dog than a cat, she likes tummy rubs and comes running when people come to the door!”
Emotionally raw from losing Maggie, I read this caption and started to cry. I shared the post and tagged my husband and wrote, “IF we were to ever get a cat, this it the type of cat we would need!”
My husband actually grew up with cats more than he did with dogs. Both of our daughters also loved cats when we visited friends and family who had them, like their grandmother and their aunt. Our son was neutral on the topic and I was honestly grateful that we had two very prey driven dogs in Dutch and Maggie that kept us from getting a cat. When Maggie passed away the conversations started, “If we are going to get a cat we ought to do it before the new puppy comes so that she can grow up used to the cat and not try to chase it.”
Within minutes of sharing the post with my husband he called my work phone. “I just applied for the cat!” he said.
An hour later the phone rang again, “I talked to the woman at the cat adoption place and we are approved. We almost weren’t because Jax isn’t neutered yet but when I explained that it’s because he’s in dog shows, he’s really chilled out and relaxed, and he has zero prey drive, they approved us! She’s coming home tomorrow!”
“Molly the cat, we are approved, I’m picking her up tomorrow!” he said happily, “I’m going to go out and pick up a litter box and all of the stuff we need!”
The next day, Molly the cat came home to us. Being crazy Disney fans, and because we have a human daughter named Molly, we changed her name to Nala from The Lion King.
“If you take everything I know about dogs and take the inverse of that, that is how little I know about cats!” I told my husband, who had vowed to take care of all cat related matters.
Almost four years later, I have developed a love for Nala, or as I jokingly call her, “The Cat.” We have had quite a learning curve as I got over my fear of her clawing me or biting me. She has all of her claws and we do not believe in declawing, especially with two large Labrador Retreivers as her animal siblings.
Jackson is super chilled out around her and they often sniff each other sweetly. He barked at her for the first few days but gave up pretty quickly.
Tinkerbell wants to be the kitty’s best friend and for the first four years they played a modified cat/dog game through the slats of our stairs. During those first four years Nala lived primarily upstairs in our bedrooms because she was afraid Tinkerbell would chase her, a fear that was quite justified because that was Tinkerbell’s favorite game from the first moment she arrived home as an eight week old puppy. Tink never tried to harm the cat, but the cat did not appreciate being chased by an exuberant young dog.
In the last few months, though, Nala has decided to take matters into her own paws, and has begun to hang out with us in the downstairs of our home. After much training and using the “off” command, giving Tink lots of praise and treats any time she calmly just sniffed or looked at the cat, we finally are able to have all of our animals in the same room in harmony.
Sometimes when I’m outside with the dogs I see Nala in an upstairs window watching us with great interest. I laugh at what she must be thinking when the dogs gnaw on their antlers or play tug-o-war with a squeaky toy or do their doggie zoomies and games of bitey face. I imagine her writing in a kitty journal, things like “My captors feed animal bones to the two large black beasts that shadow the human mother of the house. I fear I am next!”
I’ve come to realize that feeding a cat is much like feeding the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, where you put the food out and never see them eating, and that we sometimes go days without actually seeing her when she’s decided to camp out in one of the (usually messy) teen bedrooms. She’s been locked in our closet overnight twice because she manages to hide away in remote corners, and I am still not accustomed to having an animal but not knowing where it is or what it is doing every moment of every day.
My husband and friends tease me because I have tried to apply dog training logic to the cat when she does things like sleeping on my folded clothes in the closet, sharpening her claws on our living room furniture or sleeping on top of my laptop, all pet peeves of mine. I tell her a stern “no” and move her to her cat bed or other location and then softly tell her, “Good kitty, good girl” and pet her.
They laugh and tell me, “The cat is going to do what she’s going to do, you can try to move her from those places all you want, she’s going to keep going back.” I won’t give up trying but I have also found workarounds like buying cat trees and scratching toys, putting my sweaters in plastic bins, and hiding my laptop from her when I am not working. We call this “Lynn vs. The Cat” and although I like to think that I am winning, with the number of things coming from Amazon to keep the cat from making a bed on top of my nicely folded leggings and jeans, I have a feeling she is actually winning the war.
Nala has taken our oldest daughter as her number one human but I seem to be in second place. I often ask her, “Why do you like me so much, you know I’m a lifelong dog person, right” as she purrs and nuzzles me.We do snuggle and she is warm and loving despite the whole clawing/kneading of the human skin that puzzles me. Although I don’t know if I would call myself a “cat person” I definitely enjoy having her in our life. She is sweet and warm and loving and it makes me happy that she has a forever home with us that is safe and certain and that she no longer has to wonder why she is in a cage and not with a family.