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Peaceable Kingdom

How to manage your home menagerie.
Body+Soul, May 2010

Mark Twain wrote, "She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot." I'm the kind of person who keeps four parrots, two dogs, and the occasional sugar glider. (Don't ask.) If you're thinking about a zoo of your own, here are some things to consider:

Do the Math
"My first tip is to make sure you have the time and money," says trainer Annie Angell, co-owner of Brooklyn's My Two Dogs. The typical dog owner spent $225 at the vet last year, a cat owner $203, according to The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. (And then there's the cost of food, litter, and cute outfits.) Health insurance can help; check out aspcapetinsurance.com.

Lead Your Pack
Dogs need one-on-one training, says Tamar Geller, author of "The Loved Dog: The Playful, Nonaggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior." "A lone dog has no one to reinforce his wolf instincts, so he adapts more easily to humanlike behavior," she says. "But with two or more dogs, it becomes 'The Call of the Wild.'" Angell agrees: "Bad habits can be passed from one dog to another. Train them individually, then together -- or they'll 'train' themselves."

Make the Right Match
One key to happily coexisting cats and dogs, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, head of the Animal Behavior Department at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, is getting the right kind of canine: One with a high prey drive (such as a bird dog) may not be able to overcome his natural instincts, he says. To start off on the right paw, introduce your dog and cat gradually, Dodman suggests. Put the dog on a lead, the cat in a lap or a crate, then reward both with scratches and treats. "They'll look forward to seeing each other," he says, "because when they do, good things happen."

Start Early -- and Watch Closely
"Even cats and mice can be socialized if you start early enough," Dodman says. For kittens, the critical time for learning is the first two to seven weeks.

Supervision is key, of course, especially with birds in the mix, says Barbara Heidenreich of Good Bird Inc. A Sylvester-vs.-Tweety brawl can be deadly in more ways than the obvious. "Cat saliva contains bacteria that can be toxic to your bird," Heidenreich warns. As far as dogs living with birds, it's worth reiterating that hunting breeds may not be the safest choice, and it's key that you teach Rover the "Leave it!" command. (See last month's column for tips.)

If your animals aren't bonding right away, give them time. Dodman says, "My cat Griswold used to bristle like a Halloween cat at my friendly dog, Rusty. But now they sleep like inverted commas."

Comments (1)

  • 21 Jun, 2011

    Dear Marc, please help,have 2 alpha female cats,have to divide the house in two, but having knee replacements in few weeks and cannot possibly keep them apart when I come home,Tried "welbrutin" on one,no help. I have a few weeks, can you please, please help me to get them to co-exist, any help greatly appreciated.Giving one of them up is not what I can do,both rescues that no one would want. Bless you for all the help you give animals and their owners.My e-mail is "lyndaswhitney@earthlink.net"