The following is an excerpt from the new book: Cats and Dogs: Living with and Looking at Companion Animals from Their Point of View.
This book is a collection of work written about understanding cats and dogs. It is about beginning to understand how these companion animals in our lives experience their own individual worlds. It is about stopping to consider what that experience might be like, how it might feel to be a cat or a dog and knowing that on some levels we can never fully know this. Hampered by our own human constraints we take our own experience of being as our starting point. We will never see in the dark the way a cat or dog does but we do see some in the dark, we can make out the foot of the bed at night and what is on the nightstand beside us, if we start with that we can imagine what it might be like to see more. We can never hear all the sounds that cats
or dogs do but we do hear the baby crying, the alarm clock starting to go off, the boom box on the street and we can imagine what more sounds in our world might be like. We can never smell the richness of the world the way a dog or cat can but we do smell goodness in savory cooking smells and stench in garbage and from this we can imagine that everything might have such strong important odors as well. And because we know how important it is to process information about our own world by the things we see, because we see so much,
we might, if we try very hard, try and imagine a world where smell or sound means just as much as seeing does.
Along with beginning to understand how non-humans experience the world this is also about beginning to understand how to live with each other. The practical approaches, guidelines, strategies and tips for successful intra species coexistence. Here, once again, our own human experience can hamper our understanding of other animals. Dogs jump up on each other when excited to see each other. Cats amble toward each other with upraised tail and touch noses and muzzles. Humans smile and embrace or shake hands. Each species is different in how they communicate. This then requires more than imagination, it requires rethinking from the unique cat or dog perspective or natural behavior. Successful coexisting with our cats and dogs also calls for making room for their own natural behaviors in a human dominated existence.
I wrote most of this in response to the actual questions I would receive from the students and clients I worked with. People who wanted to learn how to approach and work with animals or why their animals were acting the way they were and what they could do about it. Questions like: How to get a dog to stop pulling or barking or biting? How to help your resident cat accept the new kitten or stray or just use the litter box every time? The answers would help people to take better care of the pets they would work with and better live with their cats and dogs and oftentimes to keep them. Inappropriate elimination with cats and behavior problems with dogs are some of the main reasons owners ask professionals for assistance and surrender their pets. Getting the right assistance to an owner makes the difference between a successful living situation and a stressful or temporary one. Assistance that starts with allowing for much of what we already know. Cats in their natural environment routinely bury their waste in the outer reaches of their territory, using a new spot each time. When we ask our cats to alter natural behavior and use a litter box the appeal is the texture and the condition of the box. Getting your cat to use a litter box regularly works best by keeping the box clean because cats naturally want to dig in a soft space free of waste to deposit their own. By approximating conditions in the cat’s natural environment we successfully enable the cat to alter their natural behavior in a man made environment. It works. It also works because these animals in our lives are precious to us. Behaviorist’s questionnaires for prospective clients (mine included) often ask “Why have you kept this animal in spite of the issues you are encountering?” The responses are all about how valued and loved and precious this pet is. That is the why. And this too works.