People with problem pets must make their own peace
Angie Best-Boss has tried changing litter boxes, types of litter, brands of litter.
But something has gone terribly wrong with Tiger.
“I loathe my cat,” says the New Palestine, Ind., freelance writer. “Actually, loathe might be too weak of a word. I hate it.
“The stupid, stupid cat pees. On clothes. Only on clean clothes. And beds.
“Regardless of what spray I buy, what medicine she takes, she just really, really likes to pee.”
Dogs chewing through table legs. Cats diving for the family dinner. Biting cockatiels.
At a time when many people are scrimping on themselves to indulge their animals, the love is lost for owners of infuriating pets.
Still, many can’t bring themselves to dump their wayward animals in shelters.
Instead, they pay sky-high vet bills for interventions that don’t work. They endure in-your-face barking rants in the middle of the night or are startled awake by the routine hacking of hairballs.
Some wish out loud their pets would just run away.
When Cherie Miller’s 16-year-old cat, Kitty, goes out, he wants in. When he’s in, he wants out.
He whines relentlessly and refuses to eat unless a human stirs the kibble around in his self-feeder. The family calls it “whooshing.”
“When it scratches on the bedroom door at 3:21 a.m. to have its food whooshed, it’s enticing to imagine creative ways to ditch this cat. I’m a pet lover, but come on,” says Miller, who lives in suburban Atlanta and was inspired to start a blog about pesky pets called pet-peeves.org.
So how does a human make peace with a problem pet? Venting helps, says an expert, though the griping may be more emotionally complicated for the humans involved.
“We all know couples who look like they like to fight. They let fights happen because, it seems, they’re getting something out of it. Some people have that relationship with their pets,” says psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, who specializes in the human-animal bond as senior director of counseling services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“Some people like to think they love their animals so much they’re willing to be victimized by them,” she says. “It’s proof of how much they love that animal and proof of what a good animal person they are and what a good person they are. It’s part of their identity.”
There’s no national clearinghouse for where and how people acquire their pets, but about 63 percent of all U.S. households have at least one, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Ten to 20 percent of cats and dogs come from shelters and rescue organizations, sometimes arriving in well-meaning homes with heavy emotional baggage.
Others, like Jellybean, just drop into the lives of their humans and stay a good long while.
Jellybean is the nippy childhood bird of Jennifer Guild, who lives in Richmond, Va. The bird materialized one day, and Guild’s parents took her in.
After she and her siblings moved away, Guild took on Jellybean, despite a bird allergy.
“Jellybean has always been pretty mean. When you try to take her out of her cage, she tries to bite you,” Guild says. “My husband has always hated her.”
She tried her local SPCA with no luck, so Jellybean is confined to a back bedroom in virtual exclusion, at maximum volume.
“Try sleeping in on a Saturday morning with a bird screeching in the next room,” says Guild.
About 5 percent of the dogs and cats placed in homes by the ASPCA’s adoption center in New York City last year were returned, says its senior vice president, Gail Buchwald.
Allergies and housing problems are common reasons, but many people don’t relinquish pets out of shame or fear of being judged.
“You can never predict an animal’s behavior in a home 100 percent,” Buchwald says. “To some extent, every adopter is expected to roll with the punches a little bit, to know that animals, like children, come with their personae and sometimes come with the sniffles and sometimes they might develop personality traits that we wouldn’t have put on top of our list.”
Elizabeth Castro, who lives outside Chicago, finds her life with her cat Phil one huge compromise.
He regularly urps between her sheets. She tried to foist him off on her in-laws, only to have him returned.
“I decided to pretend he was a different cat named Morty, the smarter twin brother who doesn’t have a hairball problem,” she says.
“My 3-year-old daughter wants to play with him so bad, and he just hates her – runs away and hisses.”
Taking a deep breath is a good place to start when other strategies fail, LaFarge says.
“It’s very hard, when the animal does something we don’t like, to say why is he doing this to me, when in fact that animal may be just being an animal and fulfilling his own needs,” she says.
Joseph Lilly of Las Vegas knows exactly what LaFarge is talking about. He and his wife have made a mission of taking in rescue dogs considered “unrescuable.”
They have four, including Bennie the border collie mix. He was found in a street nearly dead after he was hit by a car.
“The day of the rescue, he clawed me so badly that I had a scar for a year,” Lilly says. “He became violently aggressive in the car.
“He would let us pet him and then suddenly turn on us. I wanted to throw him off a bridge for nearly a year.”
Now, through training, reinforcement and discipline, Bennie is “neurotic but a big love bug.”
“He’s still very hyperactive,” Lilly says. “I still run him and train him regularly but he’s just, well, he’s just a border collie.”
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