Dogs will be dogs - Francie's weekend adventure with five feisty felines
There is a dog on the couch. It is small and white with bright black eyes that look a bit like plastic. It has a dotted pink bow jauntily tied by one ear and appears to be wearing nail polish. The cats are not pleased. They don’t hiss or scratch. The simply stare. If looks could kill, this polished pooch would be a pile of ashes by now. Five sets of jeweled blue and bright green eyes have been peering at Francie for the past hour. Every now and then Nonny, my Siamese diva, breaks rank to run up to me and meow questioningly. There is a dog on the couch.
My cats are not strangers to dogs. Lady was, after all, of the canine persuasion. A half-cocker/half-retriever mix, Lady liked to run, chase squirrels, and see how many weeds and burrs she could trap in her fur. Although she went to the groomer each summer for a shave, she did not wear bows or even rhinestones on her collar. Francie, on the other hand, is afraid of spiders and especially crickets. She’s not sure about moths, but has then labeled under possibly hazardous. Francie is not an adventure dog. On walks, she carefully navigates around puddles and dew stepping high to avoid muddy patches. She wears tiny yellow rain-booties and a parker when it storms. Francie has much better fashion-sense than me—and has several seasonal ensembles that most Barbies would envy.
In Francie’s world things are carefully labeled – as the safe, inside world or the big, wild outside world. Francie is an inside dog. She likes a cushion. She likes a biscuit. She does not like squirrels, mice, or mulch. She thinks she likes cats. But, her only interaction with felines has been with my sister’s kitten, Dixie, who was raised with Francie.
My cats like dogs. But, I can see by their glaring little eyes that they have labeled Francie in the “not really a dog” category. Lady was a dog. She panted, she sloshed water, the tracked mud on the basement floor. She did not wear a bow or yip and she did not sit on the couch. Most importantly, she never ate from the cat bowl. Never. But, Francie, seeing a small pinkish bowl much the size of her own bowl decided to take a few tentative nibbles. Tig, my Maine Coon, who at almost 14 pounds is nearly double Francie’s size, did not take well to this poaching. In a fit of passion, Tig jumped on the food bowl, probably aiming for Francie’s little black nose, and scattered kibble to the four corners of the room. Francie ran, Tig howled, and the food continued to roll much to the glee of Ichi the Kitten who likes nothing better than spilled food. Cats crave order. And, even a new chair can upset a feline’s delicate sense of propriety. After all, how dare an “owner” move a chair or replace a footstool? These things belong to a cat or, in my case, to the cats. A dog on the couch is just too much of an outrage to be borne.
When my sister asked me to take Francie for the weekend, I warned her that my cats might not care for a cat-sized dog. She responded that Francie likes cats – which does not mean that cats like Francie – and that Francie was very well-behaved. True to my sister’s promise, Francie is very well-behaved. Mostly, she sits and cleans her paws. She seems to value clean paws very highly. After she arrived, I removed her hair-bow, but she kept following me around until I put it back on. So, she must also value hair bows. Other than that, she doesn't seem to do a lot. She sits, she yips when she wants out (once only – more would be impolite,) and she eats a few demure bites of kibble when she feels peckish. She does not run or jump up on me. She can dance on her hind legs when asked and she apparently can also fetch a small pink and purple ball on command. The ball disappeared almost as soon as it hit the ground. No doubt stolen away by Ichi, who believes that she is some sort of ferret. She has a “nest” under the bed where you can often find missing hoop earrings, post-it notes, and, once, a French fry.
Francie is a very good little dog. Certainly no trouble as a house-guest, and would be an almost unnoticed addition to most homes. The only problem is that after an hour or two, my cats have decided that Francie must die. They take to stalking her like an overgrown mouse and to pouncing on her when she is eating or drinking. Tig, the master of the sneak attack, likes to run past for a single perfect swipe and, by day two, poor Francie’s little nose is marred with angry red scratches. I tell them they are bad cats, but I believe they already know this. The only hope of Francie’s survival through Sunday seems to be in isolation. So, I put her in the library, with her dog-sitter DVD, her dishes, and a few toys. She doesn't seem to mind. She pushes her little bunny across the floor and yips when she sees a cat on the DVD. Outside the door, five angry cats sit staring and occasionally sticking a paw under the door. Does Francie notice? Does she know that these cats mean her no good? She is, after all, a dog.
There were a few times that Lady and the cats had disagreements. Out of spite, Tig would go downstairs and try to eat Lady’s dog food. Lady, who did not go upstairs with any regularity, regarded the first floor as a cat-free zone. Cats, if they did come downstairs, should never be on the actual floor. And, they should never, never drink from Lady’s bowl or eat her food. Tig, a natural agitator, liked to stuff as much food in her cheeks as she could before Lady would catch her. Usually, a loud bark would cause her to lose her hamster-cache of kibble and flee up the stairs. Lady, having grown up with yard and barn cats, was familiar with the feline’s devious nature. Give a cat an inch and they’ll take your food dish. My cats’ only experience with dogs has been with one who is much larger and not at all willing to put up with cat-ish nonsense. Tiny Francie seems the perfect target for some payback to them. Or, maybe, with her bow and collar bell, they believe she is some new interactive toy. And, judging from the ripped state of their catnip mice and mauled scratch boards, a cat toy is not a good thing to be in this house.
Still, I would've thought that Francie would stand up for her doggy rights. In most cases, dogs have a well-developed sense of self-being and of property. True, this isn't Francie’s house, but the dog-park didn’t actually belong to Lady and she seemed to have no problem asserting her authority there. Honey, my neighbor’s overgrown puppy and currently the lone dog on the block, regards the tri-yards as belonging to her and barks at any cat, squirrel, or UPS man who dares invade her territory. Dogs guard or so I’d always thought. But not Francie. Maybe my cats are right. Maybe Francie isn't really a dog. She can, after all, jump and climb like no dog I’ve ever seen. She does not bark – or almost never. And, she’s clean, so very, very clean. These are characteristics that I’ve come to associate with the average canine.
Francie has been a learning experience for both me and my cats in just what it means to be a dog. Dogs come in all shapes, sizes, and demeanors. Francie has the tolerance of a saint and the cleanliness of, well, a cat. I have known many cats in my life and although they all have had different personalities, in their core, they were always cats. Cats have their ways. Even the most docile, lap cat has a strong sense of self. You can leave a cat alone for an hour or a day and if they miss you, they will never admit it. Dogs, on the other hand, show their affection readily—whether pint-sized or pony-sized. Friendliness is at the core of the canine personality – whether they are friends with just one master or the world. Dogs love. And, in the end, Francie’s need to love and trust is what puts her in peril. She wants to be friends with the cats. She wags her little tail. She is hopefully that the cats equally wagging tails mean that they also want to be friends. This is not the case.
Sensing that Francie is about to leave, Tig plans a final strike on Sunday night. Perhaps she has seen me packing up Francie’s toys and her little blanket. She knows that Francie must leave her safe room several times a day for “walks” in the forbidden outside world. So, she waits on the bathroom counter behind the hand towels until I stop to put on my shoes and then hurls herself on top of poor Francie. Francie yelps and rolls, but Tig will not let go—not until I pull her hissing, growling Maine Coon self off of tiny Francie. Why is it you hate her? I ask Tig. But, she does not say. Her eyes are full of feline glee and I know she hopes she will have another chance to pounce before Francie is gone for good. She does not.
Francie has survived two nights in a house of cats. I think this is very good work for a very small dog. Francie has faced the odds that her ancestors must’ve hazarded daily when the world was full of saber-toothed tigers and other massive feline menaces. It is hard to be a small dog. When my sister comes to fetch Francie she shows no signs of wear and tear. Francie has gleeful to see her mistress and wags her tiny tail. She dances on her hind legs and yips at the cats who are sitting sullen under the kitchen table. Francie has already forgotten (or at least forgiven) the cats for their ill will. It is her nature. The cats neither forget nor forgive, which is their nature. All is as it should be.