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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. September's Theme: "Relationships"
Volume 4 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Pet Relationships

by Jean Hofve, DVM

Some years ago, when I was a full-time veterinarian in Denver, I had to leave my elderly dog and five cats at home when I headed off to the clinic. This was a big change from my previous job, where I was able to bring the dog to work with me.

I never thought much about what the dog and five cats did all day when I wasn't there. But a year later when I quit my job to work full-time from home, I discovered a very interesting thing. Those guys had their own routines. In fact, they had a very rich and complex social life of which I was completely unaware, until I was home all the time to observe it.

My dog Willy "raised" all the cats from kittenhood. Being part Australian Shepherd and part Sheltie, he took his responsibility for his little feline flock quite seriously. When the cats would squabble, Willy would wade in between them to break it up; if that didn't work, he'd bark in their faces until they gave up. He just wanted a peaceful household!

Since Willy was big, furry, and warm, one or more cats could often be found comfortably curled up with him. One of my shy cats was so fond of Willy that any time the dog got up and walked anywhere in the house, Flynn would run alongside him, meowing and rubbing Willy's head and neck with his chin, marking the dog with his scent. "MY dog," Flynn was saying.

Willy and the cats had another trick. If a package of food of some kind was sitting on the counter that was too hard to get into, the cats would knock it onto the floor so Willy, with his big teeth, could open it, and then they would share the spoils. I suspected this after finding evidence a few times. Then, when Willy was staying with a friend for a few weeks while I was away, she called me to complain that Willy was pulling things off the counter to eat. But Willy had been hit by a car as a puppy (before we adopted him) and wasn't capable of standing on his back legs to raid the counter. I knew he must have taught her cats to do the same thing! Now that's a great canine-feline relationship — Willy was quite the diplomat!

When Willy had a severe stroke at age 14 and had to be euthanized, the cats were truly bereft. Their world was shattered. They were lost without their best friend and protector. Willy had been the hub of the wheel, and they were the spokes. Suddenly, five cats were on their own. Since Willy had taken each of them "under his wing" when they were kittens, they had clearly never bothered to get to know each other in a meaningful way. But now they were forced to reach out and develop new relationships with each other. It took many months for the new social order to sort itself out and become established. It was a fascinating process to watch.

I've often thought it strange that, despite the close relationships between animals in a household, when their people come home, what they want most is to be with their human friends. Wouldn't you think they'd be just as happy with each other? Wouldn't they just look up and say, "Oh hi, honey, how was your day" and go back to what they were doing? But no matter how much fun they're having, or how comfortable they are — right away they come to greet their human family members. They stay by us— or on us, as the case may be — they plainly prefer to be with us than with each other.

What have we humans done to earn such high honours? It can't be just that we're the Givers of Food, or Holders of the Leash, or Cleaners of the Catbox… certainly we are all that and more, but those roles don't automatically confer upon us the deep devotion of our pets.

It's often said that one of the reasons people keep pets is because animals give us unconditional love. I think it's also because animals bring out the best in us, and allow us to give them unconditional love. And of course, both we and our pets respond to each other with love. This is the essence of "relationship" - two beings, both giving love, and both able to receive love. Something to strive for in all our relationships, don't you think?

Dr. Jean Hofve has been a holistic veterinarian for more than 12 years. She founded SpiritEssence in 1995, which remains the only line of essence formulas for animals created by a veterinarian. Dr. Hofve does health, nutrition, and behavior consultations through www.littlebigcat.com.

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