Canine professionals around the world are rolling their eyes at the news that the Bidens are adding a cat to the White House. While we love that the President and the First Lady are making up for the four-year absence of pets in the last Presidency, their eagerness to close the gap can be damaging to everyone. Our main concern is, well, Major.
While baby gates don’t match White House decor, they are essential safety gear.
Major, a 3-year-old German Shepherd and the youngest dog in the Bidens, has been involved in two bite incidents since arriving at his new home in Washington, requiring additional training for the apprehended dog.
Craig Melvin, co-host of NBC’s “TODAY”, was correct in explaining how Major would react to life with a cat during an interview with the Bidens in which the imminent arrival of another animal company has been revealed. Shepherds are flocks and tend to chase fast moving things, be it squirrels, children… or felines.
“It was part of his training. They took him to a shelter with cats – and he did well,” Jill Biden said. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Major’s reaction to seeing cats behind glass windows or in shelter cages has little bearing on how he will behave if he sees a cat on his own grounds. For example, the behavior is sometimes suppressed when an individual is over-excited. It is very common for overwhelmed dogs to simply extinguish themselves. It can be misinterpreted as “doing well” when in reality it is quite the opposite.
It’s not that dogs and cats instinctively hate each other – it’s like assuming all Democrats and Republicans can’t get along. It’s just that they have different styles and different communication instincts. While a cat can run to safety, a dog is prompted to chase it. With the right chemistry and a slow introduction, we can help cats and dogs cross the aisle and develop a cordial, if not downright friendly, relationship.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges, especially for a dog who’s already had problems adjusting to a new home – and not just any home, too. Bringing him in and out of the White House, a bustling environment with a wide variety of unfamiliar faces and a failure to keep him tightly controlled (he should have his own Secret Service guards!) Contributed to Major’s behavior. Adding a cat to the mix will signify another level of complexity that needs to be addressed.
Past life experiences like these play an important role in how animals cope with each other. While kittens are less likely to be afraid of dogs, older cats can have an emotional baggage due to unpleasant encounters with dogs. Personality matters too. My dog, Barley, behaved completely differently around each of our two cats. Emma, a classically-tempered cat, constantly ran away from Barley, triggering the dog’s predatory instinct. Jasmine, on the other hand, thought she was a dog and rolled onto her back, inviting Barley to play.
Regardless of the personalities – and in part because it can take time to sort them out – introductions take time and structure. And that’s another reason why bringing a cat into the White House Menagerie might not be the best idea. Time and structure may not always be available in the frenetic environment of the White House. Yet for cats and dogs to have a harmonious relationship, their relationship must be consensual, which evolves rather than just happening in place.
It’s best to keep the cat and dog completely separate for a little while so that humans can lay the groundwork for more successful integration later. Ideally, the cat will start in a quiet room with a bed, litter box, food and water, and the door securely closed. After a few days, the dog should then be stroked with a clean cloth, which can be wiped on different surfaces inside the cat’s room. Ditto for the cat. This allows the cat and dog to familiarize themselves with each other’s scent before they have additional pressure to meet face to face.
Although the baby gates do not match the decor of the White House, they are essential safety equipment for the next phase. By providing a physical barrier, Major and the cat can now see each other for the first time. If either is too excited, the door may be partially covered with a towel or blanket. The dog must always be on a leash to avoid any attempt to jump over the gate to access the cat. Fortunately, cats are armed with an arsenal of daggers to defend themselves – but the goal is to make the cat feel safe enough that they won’t be used.
If Major whines, growls, or tends the leash, he should simply be moved away until these behaviors stop. Dogs repeat what they practice, so allowing the Major to bark and lunge increases the chances of this behavior happening again. And by rewarding the dog for lying on a mat or playing games with us, we can improve the chances of the cat staying safe. And of course, the cat and the major should never be left alone together; when they are in the same part of the house, the major must be kept on a leash.
In shared living spaces, cats need safe places to retreat from their canine roommates. Cat trees and a network of shelves along the walls can take advantage of the cat’s natural instinct to climb and avoid competition between animals for floor space (although these can also pose challenges. to the interior designers of the White House).
The introduction and integration of cats and dogs can take several months. But given Major’s challenges adjusting to the ever-changing conditions in the White House, they might need even more time in this case. It’s possible? Perhaps. But a lack of judgment or a moment of distraction could lead to a fatal error, which could be the final straw for Major’s White House residence.