All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Cat and Dog Family

Dear Marie,
I have a four-year-old cat that is like my baby.  The people who lived in my apartment before me abandoned it and I told the landlord I would keep the cat.  He was only three or four months old at the time.  I named him Henry and now he is a very pampered kitty.  About two months ago, I started dating a guy who has a pit bull.  He says the dog is very good with other animals and that I shouldn't worry about the bad reputation that pit bulls have.  The dog is great with me and I’m totally comfortable with the dog.  But my boyfriend thinks we should introduce the dog and the cat so that he doesn't need to leave him alone at his place when he comes over.  I’m not so sure this is a good idea.  Any advice?
San Clemente

Dear Kim,
It is true that Pit Bulls have quite a bad reputation, and although they are capable of causing extraordinary damage with their powerful jaws and well-developed muscles, they are in most cases, happy, friendly, loyal dogs, that if socialized properly, are no more dangerous than the average Golden Retriever.

Unfortunately, Pit Bulls have been the breed of choice for certain individuals who are not necessarily looking for a gentle family companion – but rather a tough-dog-accessory for their own, misdirected egos.  These people encourage bad behavior in their pets and do not take the crucial steps in early puppy hood training that will bring about a well-mannered and safe adult dog.  It is not hard to dig up recent stories in the press that describe gruesome maulings that are attributed to this breed. 

This has led to cities, homeowners associations, and landlords enacting harsh laws or rules that are directed at pit bulls.  In my opinion, these discriminatory actions are wrong because any large dog that has not been properly socialized can inflict serious and life threatening injuries; but that’s another story.

I’ll have to deduce that since you took in an abandoned kitten and you read my column, that you are an animal lover and would probably only date another animal lover.  Based on the evidence that your boyfriend’s dog is well behaved, then it seems fairly apparent that he does not fall into the category of Pit Bull owners that I have described above. Nevertheless, a dog that is good with people isn't sure to be good with other animals.

Therefore, the first thing you should do is find out if the dog has visited off-leash dog parks in the past.  If it has, ask if you could go to one with your boyfriend and his dog so that you can observe its behavior.  Pay close attention to how it interacts with small dogs.  If it shows any trace of predatory behavior when a little dog runs by, this could be a warning sign that he will be difficult to safely introduce to your cat.  

On the other hand, if he seems just as playful and friendly with a little cockapoo as he is with the other big dogs, that’s a good indication that he can be carefully introduced to other small animals.  Still, follow-up your dog park test with a walk through the neighborhood. 

In most communities, there are many outdoor cats.  As you walk with your boyfriend’s dog, watch for any sudden reactions it has to cats that dart across lawns or streets.  If he seems overly anxious to chase, this may be a sign that you will not be able to safely integrate him with your own cat.  Nevertheless, this last test isn't foolproof because many dogs that live quite successfully with indoor cats will still click into predator mode when they are outdoors.

My final piece of advice is this.  You have only been dating your boyfriend for two months.  Your cat, Henry, has been your loyal companion for almost four years and in your own words, he is like your baby.  Bringing your boyfriend’s dog to your place will be very upsetting for Henry even if the dog is perfectly well-behaved.  Teaching dogs and cats to live together harmoniously takes quite a bit of effort, time (sometimes months to years), and patience and cannot—and should not—be done in staggered doses (occasional visits), as that is ineffective and only serves to freak out the cats.  It is definitely not something that can be done without your full attention—such as when you are in a date-like situation.  Until you are certain that your relationship is one that may become more permanent, I wouldn't recommend putting your cat through the stress.  

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