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TideWriters Tales
It All Depends On The Cat 
By Jean Keating

     “How do Papillons get along with cats?”

     The question is raised by 80% of all prospective pet buyers of Papillons. With all my years of living with these bright, active little dogs I’ve never decided on an exact answer for the question. Except with another question. Or a stalling technique like, “It depends on the cat.”

     They get along fine with My cats. But then there’s that question, “Are the two soft walking, purring and meowing inhabitants of my home really cats.

     In late 1989 I brought home tiny kittens, my first-ever felines, waifs that were crying out for help. A seminar in Fredericksburg ended early because of the pending arrival of Hurricane Hugo. Two little kittens didn’t have mother or cover after the hotel did their hurricane-preparation stashing of outside furnishings and equipment. So I packed one yellow-and-white and one black-and-white ball of fluff along with my luggage and came home. My vet pronounced the waifs to be four-week old kittens, and put them on formula administered with a doll bottle. My two mature Papillon bitches supervised my efforts at feeding and clean-up, convinced I couldn’t do it correctly on my own.


   My first hint that cats might be a different worry from my normal puppy raising was the kittens’ first-time climb up the side of the sofa. Such tame adventures were followed by more heart-stopping ones like falling off the back of sofas and walking along the second-floor balcony rail overlooking the first-floor living room.
Our second vet visit had the doctor and his assistant rolling on the floor laughing, mostly at me. By now the yellow-and-white male answered, if only in my mind, to Sunny and the black-and-white female was distinguished in my conversations as Misty, although she rarely answered to anything. Both kept batting and scratching at the hands and fingers of vet and assistant. “No,” I kept telling them. “Stop biting.” My words were reinforced by slight taps on pink noses. All of which brought no improvement in behavior from my tiny felines and more amused chuckles from my vet.

    “Have you ever owned a cat before?” my vet managed despite suppressed laughter.

     “No,” I admitted while attempting another correction to a tiny paw scratching at my hand.

     “Well, maybe I’d better explain.” The vet made a valiant attempt to wipe the grin off his face as he instructed, “Cat don’t, you see, recognize anything like ‘No’ or ‘Nada’ or any instructions which require them doing other than what they want. They’re not going to behave like your puppies. They don’t care whether they please you or not.”

     “Well,” says I, determined not to put up with what, to a confirmed dog lover, was unacceptable behavior, “don’t tell them they’re cats. We’ll just tell them they’re puppies.”

     Never missing a breath, my vet pulled the long fringe in each ear of the nearest kitten upward and outward, gave me a mock serious look and replied, “Funniest Papillon I’ve ever seen.”

     From that defining moment on, I never looked back. I raised two fur balls with retractable claws to be twelve-pound and nineteen-pound long-legged, long-bodied, confident and sometimes obedient companions. They came when called because each grew to understand I’d close the door and leave them in a deserted room. They played with the dogs because they like to play and the canines were always ready.

     One young Papillon would chase Sunny, both of them tearing around living and dining room at Rusty’s top speed. My puppy training books didn’t seem to cover the situation, however. Sunny never attempted to leap up on surfaces to get out of the way or run fast enough to outdistance the dog. When Rusty would tag the cat from the rear, the two would collapse into a heap and take a nap. Usually Sunny would regain his energy first, back up to the dog and pretend indifference while Rusty roused from his nap, grabbed a big hunk of cat fur on the cat’s back and gave it a yank. Then the chase would be on again—with the cat chasing the dog.

     Misty, the smaller, female cat was fastidious about cleaning herself, but Sunny, the male, proved to be a slob in his early years. His coat was mated and unkempt and my vet got more chuckles at my frequent vet visits with Sunny in attempts to determine illnesses that didn’t exist. Sunny was just a slob of a teenager. I started grooming him like a Papillon. He liked the attention and the scratching, but objected strongly when the comb pulled on a mat. He was inclined to growl and snap his tail, all of which got him no sympathy and a few extra squirts of grooming spray. He knew better than to bite me; he tried it once and I growled at him. When a few bites at the comb didn’t stop my pulling out mats, he wisely resigned himself at two years of age to doing his own grooming. From then on he presented himself as a sleek, shiny golden tabby.

     Papillons are talkers, and will whoo-whoo—a combination howl that goes into a bark and may end with a whine—to beg for treats. Sunny’s purr was too soft to compete for attention, so he started coughing. The first few times he positioned himself in the middle of my desk and coughed, I suspected hair balls and prepared for the worst. He had to bat the can of cat treats off my desk’s shelf and cough in my face before I got the hint. Thereafter nightly routines included the dogs whoo-whooing for treats and Sunny coughing to signal he wanted his share.

     At three years of age he took up puppy-sitting. One of the Papillons had a singleton puppy, and Sunny watched in fascination from the top of the dining room table while Minnie busied herself with her motherly duties of feeding and cleaning her baby. By this time, I’d accepted him as just a funny sized dog myself, so didn’t think anything about it. Then Minnie went outside for a little rest and relaxation from motherhood and left tiny, three-week old Urchin alone. When I glanced in the playpen a bit later, all I could see in the sleeping box was a very large, golden tabby stretched out with a smug look on his face. Between choking and trying to start my heart up again, I reached for Sunny. I thought he’d eaten the puppy. I was mentally kicking myself for being careless, cursing him for being a cat.

     My grab for the cat was arrested by the appearance from beneath his upper back leg of two tiny front paws and a puppy’s head. With heart still skipping beats and doing flips, I lifted the cat’s top hind leg to find Urchin snugly lying on Sunny’s inner thigh, enjoying the warmth of the big cat’s body and long fur to keep herself comfortable during her mother’s absence. The silly grin on Sunny’s face announced his satisfaction with his self-appointed role. He continued it through years of litters to come. 

     Last year, I hosted a birthday party for my seventeen-year-old foundation bitch. Her descendants were invited to attend, accompanied by their humans. Many of the canines had not been home for eight years, having left as four-month-old puppies to go with their humans to their forever homes. All of the returning dogs entered the house proudly, greeted me warmly and then went looking for Sunny. The big yellow whatever came running downstairs and up to each grown dog with perfect assurance that he knew them, that they’d welcome him, and that the humans who returned as escorts were friendly.

     According to my cat books, that simply isn’t normal feline behavior. Misty was certainly nowhere to be found during this birthday party attended by thirty-one dogs and twenty-nine humans. So while I’ve lived with Papillons and with two cats, I haven’t got a clue as to whether they’ll get along with your cat.

     Well, there’s the phone again. And here’s that same question.

     “Ah! Well, it depends on the cat.” 

© 2002 Jean Keating All Rights Reserved

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