When I adopted my German shepherd Cora, I was already living with two five-year-old cats, Mycroft and Sherlock. The cats had been around dogs only a few times, dogs that knew about cats and left them alone. Poor Cora had spent a year chained up in a yard, so she had no social skills at all. But I had a dream. I wanted to add a dog to my little cottage in the woods and I wanted everyone to get along. Little did I know the crazy things I would have to do to make it work.
The first time I introduced them, Cora rushed up to the cats, sniffing them eagerly, probably hoping to play. The cats, terrified, slashed at her repeatedly. It wasn’t long before she had bloody scratches all over her muzzle, but she just stood there with her nose in their faces. I had to pull her away.
This was disheartening. I knew they would need some time to get used to one another, but I thought one violent interaction with the cats, and Cora would know the rules. No dice. I had to referee whenever the animals were together while they learned to get along.
Fortunately, Cora loved her crate. When I was at work, she stayed in the crate and the cats had free range of the cottage. At night, I put a baby gate across the doorway to the bedroom. The cats would hang out on the bed, and Cora sat on the other side of the gate, watching them intently.
This split in my household upset me. Dogs are pack animals and need their people. I wanted Cora to feel like she belonged and, knowing how she’d been neglected in the past, I was determined to make her feel like part of my family. But I didn’t want the cats to hate me, either.
I decided to share my nights with all of them. I went to sleep on my bed with the cats with the gate up and Cora in the other room. When I woke up in the middle of the night (usually between one and three), I would get up, climb over the gate, and lay down in a sleeping bag on the living room floor to spend the rest of the night next to the dog.
I did this every night for months. We took an obedience training class and eventually Cora learned to keep her distance from the cats. The cats got less skittish, although they never were really friendly with her. The disrupted nights meant I was sleep-deprived and groggy for a while, but it was worth it, and not just because I wound up with cats and a dog who tolerated one another.
When I slept on the floor, I would lie on my side. Cora would curl up behind me, her spine pressed to mine. Once she was settled, she would sigh — a big, whole-body sigh — telling me all was right with the world.
And it was.
Have you ever done anything crazy for your pets?