Monday, June 16, 2008

Deconstructing Our Furball Personalities

I remember a comment that a friend of mine offered years and years ago, in fact so long ago that I remember the observation with greater clarity than I recall the friend. As the years fly by, it’s often like that with high school friends. Anyhow, she once observed, “Dogs are people too.”

A simple thought I guess, and at the time the kids we hung with had a good laugh at her expense. I neither laughed nor nominated the bit of philosophy as the insight of the year. I just filed it away as something worth keeping. OK, dogs aren’t really people in the strictest sense, but they mirror their owner’s personality with uncanny frequency. Haven’t you seen it yourself? Friendly person owns friendly dog. Snappy yappy person teaches their dog the same tricks by example.

There are exceptions, of course, and our current furballs are among them. In these days of pet rescue, we see many dogs who are at least in part a personality product of the abuse and neglect heaped upon them before they find their forever home. Both Penny and Keeta wear scars and I don’t mean physical ones. Still, as we work with them I see subtle signs that our girls do mold themselves to us, fitting us into their own daily rituals, anticipating our wishes as we work and play with them.

Of course I wouldn’t share my thoughts on that subject with Keeta. My border collie/lab guide dog believes herself to be her own invention. Further, she sees herself as the molder of her humans and she all but says, “Let me show you how it’s done.”

For instance, yesterday at the grocery store, a cart was in our way and Keeta slowed in her usual fashion, preparing to show me the cart. This is a part of the guiding process which must not be rushed. But in my effort to get around the other person without delaying them, I indicated to Keeta that I already understood the situation by commanding her to go around the cart before actually stopping to touch it.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong!” said guide dog Keeta. I could feel the rebuke in her stance.... in the way that her muscles tensed in disapproval. So, in that way, Keeta might be more intense than her handler. Still, she is very friendly and outgoing, just like me, if I might sound my own horn for just a second.

And Penny? Well since Jamie works away from home and my job keeps me tied to this computer for the most part, I’m also Penny’s handler during the day. Jamie has mentioned that our Penny came to us with a big distrust of people who she didn’t know. Her initial response has been to growl when she sees a stranger. That has held true whether said stranger happened to be spotted through the living room window or from the other side of the backyard fence.

In an effort to decrease the growlies, we’ve been calling her to us and making her sit, whenever we hear that audible sign of her fear. These days, she’s growling so much less that even the neighbours are noticing. And when she does let a rumble slip out, leading us to call her name, she now trots over and sits, even before being told. The best news of all is that Penny’s tail now wags much more than it used to wag. A sign that she is taking on more of her peoples’ demeanor.

Cats on the other hand are another story. When Rocky joined our family he was my first cat ever. I was determined that he would learn to behave according to my dictates. Yes indeed, he would come when called and learn to follow simple commands.

OK, though a really good idea, it didn’t quite work out that way. As Jamie has mentioned here, Rocky comes to me about half a dozen times a day, demanding that I follow him to his food bowl and “show” him that there is food in it. Do I tell him to go get his own food and quit bothering me? Yeah, I really ought to do that. Instead I have to pick him up and set him in front of the bowl. Well, maybe I don’t have to, but it’s really the only time he will let me touch him, so I play along.

Rocky is himself and my impression is that who he is has nothing to do with us. But, if he encounters someone who shows interest in striking up a conversation, Rocky is always willing to have a good cat to human talk. If we make a sound similar to any that he makes, he’ll usually answer. We don’t know what we’re saying and for all I know he could be suggesting that we go play in traffic, but he does converse.

And Petey? For the most part, he is the picture of innocence, the forever little boy. He can make a game out of just about anything and finds cardboard boxes to be sources of endless delight. He trusts most everyone once he gets to know them and would never turn down a good scritch. Both of our aquariums are like interactive TV to him, while Rocky just doesn’t get the fishy attraction. In the Rock’s world, fish are to eat, not to watch.

While we’re talking cats, Rocky would like to point out that Petey is no angel, as he does enjoy running up to the big cat, giving him a poke and then running away, inviting a game of chase. This, as Rocky defines it, is touching and is therefore forbidden. But Petey doesn’t really have a handle on the concept of something being forbidden. That’s OK though because Penny will happily deliver consequences when Petey positions himself on the wrong side of the law.

Dogs and cats... if dogs are people too, then it must also be said that cats are cats. Make no mistake about it. Aside from that, all I really know for sure is that my world is a far better place with dogs and cats in it.

Contributed by Larry Naessens

No comments:

Post a Comment