My cats are the reason I am devoted to learning all-things dog.
I thought I knew Briscoe and Curtiss so well. Before I embarked on adopting them, I read The Everything Cat Book to learn “everything” I needed to know about living with cats. (The word is IN THE TITLE after all!) After that, Hubz and I adopted Briscoe and Curtie and the four of us lived in fluffy, cuddly, blissful kitty ignorance for six years.
Then Curtie tried to kill Briscoe.
Over the next five years, the attacks became such a regular occurrence that we had to bring in a cat behavior consultant to find a way for the four of us to coexist again. That’s when I realized I knew nothing about my cats.
I never thought about the fact that hunting behaviors are in their DNA, and because of it, I needed to provide them outlets to…well…hunt. Rather than feed them food in a bowl, I needed to stuff their food into toys so they could use their minds to search, stalk, and devour their prey. We had multiple cat towers in our home, but rather than place them in front of windows where Briscoe and Curtie could watch The Nature Show outside, I put them against walls in places where they fit in best with my furniture arrangement and design aesthetic.
I even laughed with the veterinarians and vet techs when Curtie went full-on Cujo every single time he had an appointment, earning him the nickname, “The Ketamine Kitty.” Curtie was so terrified of the vet, that the only drug strong enough to sedate him for any hope of a successful and bite-free visit, was to have his cardiologist administer a drug that is usually reserved for surgery.
My friends and family know how devoted I was to Briscoe and Curtie. It was my mission to make each of their days “the best day of their life” after they were both diagnosed with the same incurable heart condition.
So after Briscoe had passed away, and Curtie was in his final months of life, and Hubz and I decided that we would adopt a dog next, I vowed to not repeat the mistakes of the past — I would learn “everything” (the right way this time) about dogs, before adopting one.
That was where my dog journey started. As it turned out, I adopted a graduate-level dog in Emma the Anxious Beagle, and so two-and-a-half years later, I’ve now got shelves of dog books, I’m a student in the Academy for Dog Trainers, and I devote all of my writing to doggie things.
I tell this story to make this point: Just because I shared my home with animals for years, does not mean that I actually understood them. I loved Briscoe and Curtie so so so much, but I thought of them in “people” terms, not “cat” terms.
Likewise, I interact with people every day who completely adore their dogs and have lived with dogs their whole lives, but from talking to them, I can tell you with 100% certainty that many of them don’t understand their dogs. I’m not looking down or judging; I’m speaking the truth. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The beautiful thing is that the more I learn about dogs, the more my relationship with Emma improves. And as I share the information with Hubz, he and Emma grow closer as well.
I regret that I didn’t do more for Briscoe and Curtie. Studies have shown that cats (and dogs) who are not given the opportunity to use their natural prey drive to hunt for their food, become stressed and can suffer physical ailments because of it. (In fact, feeding zoo animals in toys is common practice today. Not doing so is considered neglect and abuse.)
I am also gutted when I think of Curtie’s terror at the vet. With the same techniques I use to help Emma overcome her fears, I could have turned Curtie’s terror into joy. Instead, we drugged him and allowed him to suffer.
But I am only human. At least I can learn from my past. I’m so thankful to Briscoe and Curtie for showing me what I didn’t know so that I could never make the same mistake again.
Emma the Beagle owes a debt of gratitude to the big brother and sister she never met.