Rocky, the two-year-old female who will most likely be my next service dog, had a big week. She not only met me, Ripley, and my wife Sabrina – she also met, we’re pretty sure, her very first cat.
Rocky is, by our best guess, a Belgian Shepherd Malinois mix. We went to see her on Tuesday for the first time – we being Ripley, me and Sabrina. I knew that Ripley would be fine. As long as the other dog is not aggressive in any way, we never have any issues. Ripley gets along with everybody. She did a little meet and greet, and then that was it. No big deal. Rocky was very friendly with me, approaching repeatedly, and generous with gentle kisses. It was nice to have kisses. She has a soft mouth, and a fairly submissive demeanor. I got no hit that she would try to be the alpha in the household, which is good.
We decided to come back the next day with Malaki, our pit cross, since he can be somewhat nervous with new additions to the family. We also had no idea if Rocky had ever encountered a cat, and because we have four cats at home of our own, plus a roomful of kittens who Sabrina is fostering for a local rescue program, we wanted to ensure that any potential service dog didn’t have major cat issues.
So, on Wednesday we loaded up our truck again, this time with Ripley, Malaki, and Dozer. Dozer is our most mellow cat. Part Siamese, he’s the kind of guy you can toss in the air and catch on the way down, a cat you can literally flip over on his back on the bed to rub his belly, and he purrs all the way through it. We figured if anybody could handle the situation, it would be Dozer.
Malaki tested first. We kept him on a leash, with Rocky and Ripley loose in the room, along with about five people. Malaki was alert but OK – until Rocky came up and licked his nose. Then Malaki growled and snapped. Rocky immediately backed up, then kept her distance. As Jared Latham, head trainer at American Service Dogs said, “Well, now we know what Malaki doesn’t like. That’s the only way dogs have to communicate. It may not be the best way, always, but it’s the only way they have.” We let the dogs be in each other’s presence a while longer, and it was clear from that point that it was going to be a workable situation. Malaki established a boundary, Rocky respected it, and that was that.
Now for that cat. Rocky hadn’t noticed Dozer at first. Jared brought her over to the crate that Dozer was in, on the floor. Whoa! Immediate interest! As you can see in the photographs, Rocky was intensely fascinated with the cat. She stretched out on the floor and just stared at him. Dozer couldn’t care less. He was completely unintimidated. He’s grown up around dogs, and has no fear. So they touched noses through the door, and had a good sniff. We opened the crate door – and Rocky tried to crawl inside with Dozer! It was hysterical. There was no maliciousness; she just wanted in there to see what the heck was going on. Jared pulled her back out, and we allowed space for Dozer to exit.
As we all watched, Dozer nonchalantly began to walk the perimeter of the room. Rocky did a GI Jane crouch-crawl, in pursuit. As Dozer made a little headway, Rocky sprang up and trotted after. She began to bounce up and down, complete play behavior, an invitation: “Come on! Let’s go!” Dozer ignored her, and kept walking around the room. He went to the opposite corner, and jumped on top of some wire kennels, and Rocky nearly died of excitement. This was fun! Then Dozer disappeared behind the couch. The dog ran all the way behind the couch, and found no cat. That was simply too much for Rocky. A game of hide-and-seek where the cat actually vanished? She became a bit obsessed, and had to be escorted from the room. Jared and Sabrina had to tip the couch over to find Dozer, who had gone inside – it was a sofa bed, it turned out, so had a “secret” compartment. Still, Dozer was completely unruffled, and walked calmly back to his crate.
We’re thinking we should have brought Bailey, who maybe would have taken a swat at Rocky, and given her more of a sense of real cat behavior. She’ll learn.