Quite a few pet families I know have more than one pet. I tend to think it’s good for the animals to have some companionship.
When I was a kid, we had two dogs that were sisters from the same litter. I didn’t feel so bad when the family would go out to dinner or shopping because I knew they were not really alone; they had each other.
As an adult, I’ve had a few duos. My shepherd-Lab had a hound, the hound had a pit mix, and now the pit mix has a smaller version of herself in a different color.
I know a few families who have “multi-cats,” and although I think cats are a bit more aloof than dogs, and certainly not pack animals, the multi-cats I’ve known have been playful and cuddly with each other.
A neighbor of mine had a pit bull, a dachshund AND a cat, and they were all buddies, which was amazing to me because they were all so different. And my brother at one time had three dogs, ranging in size from about 8 pounds to about 60 pounds. When I would visit with my hound and pit mix, the dogs would outnumber the people in the house.
So, how do these blended families come together? In most of the cases I’ve mentioned, the majority of the animals were rescues, brought together by circumstance with animal lovers who wanted to give them a better life.
It can be tricky when you bring a new animal into the house, and sometimes it doesn’t work. Some of the dogs and cats brought to shelters are surrendered because they don’t get along with the established pets.
That’s why most shelters have a “meet and greet” room, where you can bring your resident pet(s) to meet the prospective new pet. This gives you a chance to see how they interact with each other before making the commitment to adopt.
I’ve never used a “meet and greet” room, because my dogs have all been “private adoptions.” Jethro the hound and Reba the pit mix were both runaways who kept coming over to my house, and Ella was adopted from Safe Haven Animal Rescue. So I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants when I took in a new member of the family.
Luckily, with Jethro and Reba, she came to visit a few times before the neighbors across the street said, “She’s happier with you.” So they had the opportunity to spend some time together when Reba was “just visiting.”
With Ella, it was totally different. Reba had been the queen of the house for two years after Jethro died, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring another dog into our home while she was a 13-year-old diva. Especially a puppy. So I took Ella home with the understanding that if Reba didn’t want her there, she would not be staying. In a way, it was a bit of a foster situation.
Well, Safe Haven now has me pegged as a “foster failure,” because Ella went from foster home to fur-ever home in about a day. Reba was a bit testy, but she got over it and now they are best friends.
My approach to this pairing was to take it really slow. The first couple of days were spent just following my normal routine, without making a huge fuss over the puppy. Ella needed time to get used to new surroundings and feeling safe, and Reba needed time to see that I was NOT replacing her with a younger version of herself.
I made sure they got equal attention and tried to act like having a puppy was just the most normal thing in the world.
At their mealtimes, I was a casual observer, making sure neither one tried to snitch out of the other one’s bowl. I was concerned that Ella (who had been starved) would try to eat Reba’s kibble and get smacked.
As it turned out, Reba was the one I had to watch. As Ella got more comfortable and learned she was going to be fed twice a day, every day, she began to eat slower and savor her food. Reba’s always been a little piglet, and she started finishing before Ella and then going over to Ella’s bowl to snag a second helping.
I was concerned that Ella would smack Reba for barging in, but I was wrong again. Ella knows Reba is the alpha, and she will just walk away.
Usually she will come over to me and look up at me as if to say, “Mom! She’s doing it again!” And I’ll go over and tell Reba to “leave it.”
I still like to watch, not because I think they will have a spat, but because I don’t want Reba eating too much and getting fat!
So my opinion: You can’t over-think these things. Take it slow, keep an eye on things without making a huge fuss about the new addition, correct any bad behavior on the spot (which also should be a normal occurrence), and let them both know they are welcome, loved and valued members of the family.
Did you know February is Cat Appreciation Month? ’Tis, according to the ASPCA. This might be the perfect time to add another kitty to the family by visiting one of the local shelters and “cat”ching one.
M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054.