Being in Love, or, Dogs & Cats Living Together

It’s happening at last. Rahu the cat and the two puppies, Bhairo and Guinness, are starting to love each other.

I’m proudest of Rahu. Some of you may remember from an earlier blog post that he’s a cat with a bit of a past. Seems he’s been fending for himself, hunting and living in the barn, for the last 10 years, ever since whatever happened to him as a kitten (runaway, lost, or abandoned?) landed him there. He clearly wasn’t accustomed to human affection, and it took us some months to circle gently around each other, building trust, until he turned into The World’s Snuggliest Creature. Now he comes running when we call his name, and lies on “his” couch in the house (when he chooses to come in; he’s still a free agent, with the best of both worlds), purring and drooling, while we stroke his fluffy belly.

Bhairo and Guinness, our two Entlebucher puppies, on the other hand, were wired for love and affection from the start. They had a very different entrance into life. We flew halfway around the world to get them from breeders in Czech Republic (Bhairo) and Holland (Guinness). Both nature (great breeding) and nurture have set them up to be the friendly lovebugs they are. They love us, they love everyone, and they are absolutely crazy about each other. When we brought 8-week-old Guinness home, 6-month-old Bhairo couldn’t believe his good luck. They played for a few moments, and then Bhairo looked up at us, with shining eyes, as if to say: “CAN WE KEEP HER FOREVER???” Since then, they’re inseparable, eating from one bowl, sleeping in one bed with their heads resting on each other – to the point we refer to them as “double dog”. (“We double dog dare you to throw the ball for us, again!!”)


[It was love at first sight for Bhairo and Guinness.]

When the first dog came, Rahu was alarmed. Bhairo was a cannonball of a puppy. His sire, Amor von Sembeweiden (I know, right??? He should be the hero of a romance novel with a name like that) is an Agility champion, and this little pup of his treated the world like one big parkour course. Around the table, under the radiator, around the chair, under the couch, under the bed, racing down the hall, then through a long cardboard box tunnel – all at breakneck speed, then rolling onto his back, wagging, growling, wiggling, wrestling with the fringe of the carpet – he was a ridiculously adorable dervish. He was absolutely sure everyone was his friend, and everyone and everything was there to play with him. Um…except Rahu was NOT sure about that at all. It hadn’t been too many months yet that he’d decided we humans were ok, or since he’d come inside a house for the first time. And now there was this insane puppy, trying to play with him. The answer, with hiss and claws, was NO.


[Bhairo as a blur of puppy energy.]

Good God, a mere 4 months later, another puppy joined the clan. Rahu and Bhairo had just reached a kind of truce. Bhairo had learned to exercise an excruciating form of self-control, looking at the cat, yearning for the cat, desperately wanting to shove his nose into the cat’s ear or rear – and not doing it. (Good dog.) Rahu could now walk calmly past him, hopping onto the couch where he was allowed and Bhairo was not (ha ha!!), and know he would not be chased or dog-snuffled. And now – another one?? Are you kidding me?

Guinness is subtler than Bhairo, and maybe wasn’t quite such a shock to Rahu’s nervous system. But she’s also mischievous and willful. When you give Bhairo a command, he responds, “Oh, OK, I’ll do that.” With Guinness, it’s, “Hmm, maybe…I’m a little busy over here….” So we have to tell her things more than once, and so does Rahu. She bounces away, looking perfectly charming, and then a minute later, she’s back.

I get it. If you’re a 10-year-old cat who does as he pleases, what on earth do you need with two juvenile canines, noisy, boisterous, erratic creatures? And yet I confess to harboring a secret hope. All three of them are so loving and snuggly – could it be that one fine day will find them cuddled up with each other?

It’s a line from Ghostbusters, to describe the end of the world (or at least of New York City). “Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!” Perhaps my hope seems a bit far-fetched. The differences are too strong, the odds too high. Right?

Being in love is kind of like that, though. Do you know what I mean? Not the first attraction of falling in love – for that, all bets are off, especially if the parkour guy is hot. The living together kind of being in love, where you start to let someone in, and in the process have to get past yourself. I had a group of girlfriends once, where a few were continuously in relationships and a few others continuously single but wishing they weren’t. We’d talk about it when we all got together, and listen to the single ones list out the reasons why some current romantic interest was not quite right. His profession. His age. His outer-borough accent. The relationship types tried their best to say: Let it go. Give it a try. Does it really matter? Later on, one of the single friends got in a serious relationship and was bedeviled by the irritations of having to accommodate someone else in her space. Why, she said to me, do I get so annoyed when I open the kitchen cabinet and he’s put away all the glasses wrong? Maybe I’m just not destined to live with this person?

I laughed. My husband Brian puts the glasses away “the wrong way” too. As in, I always put them in the cabinet right side up (to make sure they totally air dry, obviously). He puts them in upside down (to make sure they stay totally clean, just as obviously, to him). I told my friend – when I open the cabinet and see half the glasses put away upside down, I know that not everything in my world, in my home, is the product of my own mind. This is great. This is a sure sign that I am not solo in this endeavor of life. That is for the better in so many ways. It is worth the glasses.

Still, some days it can so easily spin into “earthquakes and volcanoes”. We’re different people. I’m the dogs, and Brian is the cat. From the minute I open my eyes in the morning, I’m interactive and chatty. When something isn’t right between us, I follow him around, intent and attentive. It goes against the very grain of my personality to give him what he needs, i.e. let him walk off somewhere, alone, and come back when he’s ready. Slowly I’m training, like an unruly puppy, to contain myself, a bit. Gradually Brian is coming, like a sensitive cat, to recognize the affection in the onslaught. Who needs to worry about Armageddon-style “mass hysteria”? Two people who love each other, under one roof, sometimes feels like plenty.

Lately in the mornings, when I’m out throwing the ball for the dogs in the orchard, and they’re barking and growling and slamming into each other like a couple of young dragons at play, after a few minutes I’ll hear a cute little “meow” from the other direction. Rahu hears all our commotion and comes out of the barn to find us. I turn and exclaim, “Rahu!” and at that, he comes trotting straight for us (belly swinging side to side). The dogs see him too, and they barrel at him at full speed. He no longer runs away, but crouches, squints his eyes, and waits for them to screech to a halt and stuff their noses in his ears. He rubs his face against their faces (the cutest thing ever!), then makes it over to me and drops against my ankles, purring. I stroke his tummy while the dragons are in between ball runs. He’s figured out it’s a great time to get some loving, in the right doses, from the various species with whom he now shares a home.


[Rahu and the pups hanging out.  Pals, mostly.]

So I’m hoping. A few days ago, the two dogs were curled up on their bed, actually not in motion for a minute, and Rahu walked up to them and gave them and the bed a long, slow gaze…. Then they jerked their heads up too energetically, and he changed his mind and went for the couch. (Darn! So close!) You all know you’re going to be seeing that photo when it finally happens. We will be celebrating the ultimate triumph of Love Against the Odds.

In the meantime, hope you’re all enjoying your own literal or metaphorical dogs and cats you live with. Let love reign.

And if I may, on behalf of all of us “dogs”, we’re really not so bad once you get to know us….

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