When a cat person gets a dog

Until recently I was the happy, easy-come, easy-go owner of a fat, middle-aged cat who spends his life eating, sleeping and pretending he hasn’t been fed. Pet ownership consisted of feeding, watering, an annual flu jab and strokies on demand. I was content. Cat was content. Husband was content. The kids, however, were not satisfied.

They’d been asking for a dog for years. We’d always said no way – we weren’t dog people. The husband was barely a cat person. But if there was one thing we were agreed on, it was that we didn’t want the responsibility, hassle and turd-scooping grossness of being dog owners. No thank you. Until one fateful day…

We were on a beach in Pembrokeshire. It was beautiful. The sun was shining, and the kids were paddling in the rock pools when the husband and I noticed another family with a dog. Their kids were chasing the dog across the sand. The dog was handsome. The dog was fun. They looked like an advert for a building society. The husband turned to me and said, “Shall we get a dog?” I felt his pulse to make sure he hadn’t been replaced by a cyborg. “Not yet,” he clarified. “I mean, maybe we could look into it…”

So we looked into it for the next 5 years, during which time the kids kept up a high-boiling pressure. Friends lent us their dogs. We walked dogs at the RSPCA shelter. We looked up different breeds on the internet. We watched dogumentaries. We warned the cat. And then one day, we did it. Enter Arnie, a 13-week-old chocolate Labrador.

The “get a puppy cos he’ll be smaller than the cat and the cat won’t feel threatened” plan backfired immediately: at 13 weeks, Arnie was already the same size as Ted. As a youngster, he was full of beans, excitement and curiosity – the polar opposite of twilight-yeared, life-weary rescue cat, Ted.

Ted, previously master of the house, hid under our bed. We bought a dog gate so that Arnie was limited to the kitchen when we weren’t around to keep an eye on him. Arnie wanted to play with every furry four-legged creature he met – including Ted. Ted doesn’t do play – apart from acting, when trying to dupe us into thinking he hasn’t been fed yet.

Ted only came downstairs when certain bodily needs left him no choice. The catflap went click and three seconds later (due to his size) clack, and you knew he’d made it outside for a visit to his poo patch in the garden. Which brings us on to one of the many “issues” of a cat-to-dog household.

Curious, eternally-starving Arnie seems to be missing an important chromosome: the one that tells you when you’re full. For him, Ted’s poo patch is the gift that keeps on giving. Our previously non-urgent approach to clearing out the cat poo in the garden is now as regular as Ted’s bowels themselves, which at two movements a day once seemed overwhelming – until Arnie came along.

At five or six shits a day, Arnie is the Cream of the Crap. The Dogfather of Defecation. The Emperor of Evacuation, and quite often, the Sultan of Squidge. Who knew that Arnie, named before this discovery, would become… The Turdinator? Who knew that he would poo first thing in the morning, last thing at night, three or four times in between and then wake us up at 3am for a bonus emission? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE TELL YOU THIS?

Here are some other things those dog-lovin’ friends don’t tell you:

  1. You’ll be spending a lot of time and money at your local vet’s surgery.
  2. You’ll be saying the word ‘sorry’ a lot more than you’ve ever done before. Especially to the cat.
  3. You’ll spend hours on the internet working out why your dog shits so much.
  4. After watching dogumentaries telling you how super-intelligent dogs are, you’ll worry yours is bored and under-stimulated and you’ll start reading him news articles from The Week.
  5. You’ll spend a fortune on dog toys that he ignores after 24 hours.

But here’s the good stuff:

  1. You end up meeting loads of people, most of them really nice. Some of them even become friends.
  2. You walk so much more than ever before. For a writer like me, that’s exactly what my sedentary body needs.
  3. You’re forced outdoors at the weekend, whatever the weather – which gets our family away from screens (also helping to preserve my tired, strained eyes).
  4. If the kids don’t do their agreed share of dog-related chores (or any kind of chores for that matter), you just say “Perhaps we should find Arnie a more suitable, loving family to live with…” and hey presto.
  5. His antics make us laugh every day.

Now, at just over a year old, Arnie has settled down a fair bit. He sits, lies down and stays on command, and there are no more middle-of-the-night poo shenanigans. He’s even learned to be calm and still when Ted’s in the vicinity. And yesterday we had a breakthrough: tempted by leftover milk in the husband’s late-night bowl of cereal, Ted voluntarily came within three feet of Arnie, hung around for a few minutes and then sauntered off, followed by a click………… clack.