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Pet rivalry

A dog-eat-dog world


CATNAP: The author's South African cat (below) prefers the company of dogs to that of her own feline community. (Left) Yoda, the big dog, is not too happy with little Tommy's overtures

We all know about sibling rivalry, that source of so much friction and tension in families. Childhood jealousies can last a lifetime, often distorting adult relationships. Years after the event, slights and so-called favouritism are still remembered in painful detail.
I think I have all that sorted vis-a-vis my two children, who are now both young adults and mature enough to laugh at their childhood squabbling. Or so I tell myself.

Where I am a miserable failure is in dealing with the pet rivalries currently plaguing our home. It's a dog-eat-dog world right now.

When we settled in Delhi seven years ago, after a lifetime of expat wandering, we brought with us our seven animals. Don't ask. It's a long, very long, very expensive story.

Our three dogs and three of our cats were from Mauritius, where we lived, and they duly moved with us to our next posting in South Africa. There we acquired another cat, and then all seven moved here to Delhi.

You would think that after 12 years of cohabitation the cats would get on, wouldn't you? Not a bit of it. The Mauritian cats absolutely loathe the South African cat, and will still take a swipe at her if ever they get the chance. The combined Mauritian team spits and hisses away at the South African, who usually cowers in fear. I got hold of a cat/human years calculator, and the sorry truth is that my 73 (human)-year-old Mauritian cats still pick a daily fight with my 65 (human)- year-old South African moggy.
Give me strength.

Years ago, my son speculated that there might well be a serious issue of feline racial and linguistic conflict going on, of which we are oblivious. There are times when I wonder. Suppose the Mauritian cats are indeed Crêole and - who knows - our little Rosie could be an unreformed white racist supremacist?

What this means in practical terms is that the cats are separated along ethnic lines. The Mauritians hang out in the study, while the South African lives it up in the drawing room.
The dogs were pretty impartial in this cat-fight, largely ignoring the whole lot of them, but whenever the fights got too bad, Rosie would sit in the middle of the dogs.
Now we are down to only one dog, the other two having lived to ripe old ages, as only street dogs can. Since dear Yoda, our uber-affectionate dog, was clearly missing company, and has been visibly down in the dumps, last week my thoughtful Nepalese staff decided to bring home a puppy to keep her company.

Enter Tommy.
Tommy is a tiny six-week-old ball of white fluff, cute as a button, learns something new every day and is a totally spoiled brat after only a week in residence. No flopping around in the hot kitchen for our Tommy. No, wherever the A/C is on, you will find Master Tommy, yapping and whining and scratching at the door non-stop, until we all give in.
Our older dog is traumatised.

The cats are traumatised. I mean what self-respecting dog is smaller than you, and yet capable of making so much noise?
Far from being a companion to Yoda, the puppy has totally ruined her happiness. Nowhere in 'her' house is safe anymore.
Wherever Yoda lies, the puppy mock charges her, trying to enter her personal space. If the puppy toddles into a room, the dog gets up and walks out, making her displeasure very obvious.

Whenever anyone in the house picks up the puppy, tiny, white, fluffy and clearly crying out to be picked up, Yoda just looks on with sad, mournful eyes.
Whenever the puppy yaps to climb up into a convenient lap, there are those reproachful older eyes looking.

So, how does one handle what is clearly all-consuming jealousy and huge insecurity on the part of a creature who was hitherto the friendliest, most affectionate, most loving dog we have ever had ?
Well, there are the obvious things such as giving her lots of extra treats. And of course we are all over-compensating like mad, showering the older dog with praise each time she 'only' snaps at the puppy. And since she loves going out with me in the car, to my shame I find myself taking her for a drive, just to give her some special Yoda-time.

And as for the cats, they all looked askance at the tiny fluffy arrival who is still smaller than they are, but they are clearly not amused. Rosie is the worst affected and has even resorted to hanging around outside the study (despite her sworn Mauritian enemies being inside) just to get away from yappy Tommy.

Suddenly all the creatures want to eat Cerelac and khichri like the puppy does, almost as though they are all regressing into puppy/kitten-hood. They all hang around looking needy. Everyone in the house is cuddling and patting and petting the menagerie like crazy, while Tommy blithely chews his way through whatever is in his path. Those nice fat rubber door stops are the current fave.
Give me stroppy teenagers any day.

Reader's opinion (2)

Sahil MoryaAug 17th, 2012 at 12:28 PM

Nice Read, seemed something like a scene from every household.

Arpita GhoshJul 30th, 2012 at 22:09 PM

Great read. It is said that one can learn from nature and when you study animal behaviour, very much like humans except they don't verbalise. Enjoyed reading it.

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