Growing up, I had cats and dogs for company. I got my first house cat when I was in preschool. He was a little black and white cat that I named Tramp, and we brought him home in a birdcage because we didn’t have a pet carrier. One of Tramp’s favorite past-times was sitting atop his scratching post and waiting for someone (namely me, since I was about the height of his scratching post) to walk by so he could jump on their head and go for a ride. When he got a little older, he did the same trick from the top of doorframes.
Over the years, I had many cats, both indoor ones and outdoor ones. My mom, however, has always been more of a dog person, so we had beagles, strays, random mixes, a Lhasa Apso and eventually, Shih-Tzus. While I love animals of all kinds, I’ve always been more comfortable with cats – they typically use their litter box without any fuss, they don’t wake you for walks in the middle of the night, they sleep as much as they want (which I envy them for), and most cats can stay home by themselves during their human’s short weekend trips out of town.
Dogs are needier. They need to be walked several times a day. They aren’t good about rationing their food to last for several days. They chew, they bark, and the bigger they are, the more they drool. I’ve never had a cat chew up an important phone number or eat a book cover, but I’ve had dogs who relished those things.
My first Shih-Tzu was named Max, and he was almost perfect. He was smart, cuddly, well behaved, and just playful enough. He always let us know when he needed to go outside. When I was in school, he’d wait for me to let him out when I got home. Max even picked up his toys and put them in his bed so they wouldn’t be scattered all over the house. Even my grandmother, who wasn’t a pet person, liked him.
Max and I would stay with Meme during summer break while my mother was at work, and when Meme started cleaning, Max knew that his favorite time of day was coming. He would lie in the floor and wait for her to start sweeping. She would always give him a good sweep, which he seemed to consider an excellent treat. After he was swept, he would get his sock toy and want me to drag him around the house on his belly. He looked like a little dust mop with his white fur flying out behind him.
We got Missy the grumpy Lhasa Apso a few years after we got Max. She was full of personality and loved my mom and me, but other than that, she was antisocial. She didn’t want to go visiting, and when we had friends over, Missy had a horrible day growling every time the “intruder” took a step. Where Max would flop in a stranger’s lap and want a belly rub, Missy sat under the computer desk making snappish growls and discouraging guests from getting off the couch.
While I was in college, I added a cat named Andy to Max and Missy’s pair. He and the dogs mostly ignored one another, but for the first time, I felt like Andy was really my own pet. My mom and I shared Max and Missy, and they would snuggle and play with either of us, but while I was away at school, they seemed to bond more closely with Mom. Andy, on the other hand, was always anxious to see me because I was “his” girl.
When it came time for me to move away to an apartment, I took my cats rather than any dogs. The cats wouldn’t demand a 3 a.m. trip outside and down three flights of stairs. They wouldn’t chew on my books if I left them in the floor, and if I wanted to take a quick trip out of town for the weekend, I could leave them at home in my apartment with no worries about them starving or making a serious mess. When I took a longer trip to attend a weeklong conference, I had a friend stop by and refill their bowls and scoop their litter every few days. They were perfect apartment companions.
My cats have even stayed by themselves while I went out of the country for weeks or months. I just had my mom come by to check on them regularly and keep them in a constant supply of cat food and clean litter. Dogs couldn’t do that; they’d get bored and chew the house to pieces.
A few years ago, my husband decided he needs a hunting dog. We didn’t have a fenced yard, or even a dog pen, but that didn’t matter because he informed me that the dog will hunt better if it stays in the house with us. If I were to get a housedog, I would bring “my” Shih-Tzu Sally home from my mom’s house. She’s small, compact, and about as catlike as a dog needs to be, but according to the laws of men who hunt, Sally isn’t a real dog. Since we already have four cats, a small, furry dog would automatically fall under the cat category, and according to Chris, we don’t need another cat. Dogs – more specifically BIG dogs – are acceptable according to the “rules.”
I ruled out mastiffs, Irish wolfhounds, coon dogs, and labs – too drooly, too huge, too loud, and too hyper. Apparently, magazines say that standard poodles are the newest “in” hunting dog, and my mom just happens to have a pair of standard poodles. Chris called dibs on one of their puppies, and we named her Clover.
I don’t know much about standard poodles, but having a dog trained to hunt and retrieve in the house with my cats is a little disconcerting. Of course, Clover doesn’t hunt now that we got her. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember her own name.
Standards are supposedly very smart and easy to house train, but after years of having only cats, adding a dog into the equation complicates things. No matter how smart Clover may or may not be, she never will be as low maintenance as cats. We can’t just go off and leave the her and the cats home alone for the weekend.
Clover isn’t easily portable like a small dog either. I’m used to putting the cats in their carriers and being ready to go. A big poodle is sort of like transporting a miniature horse. If we go on vacation, we can’t simply have somebody come by to check on the animals every few days. Clover needs to go outside and run, and run, and run – or else she starts systematically tearing things up. If she can reach my stuffed bears, those are her favorites, but she doesn’t mind knocking things off countertops and ripping into her own bag of treats.
I’m not sure why a big dog strikes me as so much more trouble than a small dog or a cat, but in my mind, a dog is going to require a lifestyle change. I’m not used to hunting dogs, and the ones I know are almost exclusively outdoor dogs who live in fenced yards and kennels. We have a fence but it has no gates, and I don’t want my furniture gnawed or peed on by a bored dog.
Sometimes I wonder if we couldn’t have just gotten another cat – or maybe a catlike dog? I know how to handle them!