Learning To Love One’s Enemies

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In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.

— Isaiah 11:6

Our dog Sam is not exactly wolf material, though he certainly has a hunter’s instinct. On several occasions he has gotten loose and taken off after cats, squirrels and other critters. He never catches anything, but this poodle/cocker spaniel mutt cannot be deterred when on the chase. The other night, during a driving rainstorm, Sam slipped out the back door as my Beautiful Mystery Companion was trying to coax the kitties inside. Soon he had used his Secret Escape Hatch, which I have not been able to locate, to head up the street in hot pursuit. Of what, I have no idea.

We are fortunate to live in a quiet neighborhood, at the end of a cul-de-sac. So I don’t worry much about him getting run over. But since Sam is a rescue dog found by my BMC lying in the street, filthy and hungry — and he was neutered, so clearly once lived somewhere else — I always worry until he is back. In the latest episode, after about 30 minutes he was at the side door, waiting to be allowed back inside. There is no sense chastising him for these misadventures. He wouldn’t understand and likely equate the discipline with returning, not taking off. So I toweled him off and sprayed doggie perfume to mask that wet-fur smell. Then I put a towel on the couch and up he jumped, lying down next to Tater, one of the kitties.

And that is where the verse above comes into play.

When we first acquired Tater and Tot about six weeks ago, Sam did not react well. He would watch them warily and then suddenly leap into action, chasing them. We were both fearful he would hurt the kitties, who were too small to defend themselves against a 22-pound dog. So Sam had to be confined to my study when the kitties were allowed inside from the shop that serves as their boudoir.

I called a dog trainer for advice. She was not optimistic, saying it is very difficult to train a grown dog — Sam is 8 — not to chase cats if he has a long history of doing so. And our house is not conducive to keeping the animals separated — it has an open floor space with few interior doors downstairs.

I did not want to give up. I put Sam on a leash every time the kitties were in the house and jerked him back each time he wanted to chase them. After maybe a week, Sam gave up. The next step was watching him as the kitties — being kitties — came up and swatted him, played with his tail.

It was an inspiring transformation. Sam — who generally is a loving, sweet, but dumb — dog, decided these kitties were just fine. All four critters now sleep together on the couch, Tater draping his paw over Sam’s back. Tater loves to swat Sam’s constantly wagging tail, as if he were in front of a punching bag. If Sam gets tired of it, he just trudges into the next room. The other day, Tater — who is now the four-legged alpha male of the household — walked up to Sam and wrapped his paws around his bearded head and just hugged him. Sam stood there like a statue until Tater moved on to other diversions. Sam received a treat of a piece of lettuce, one of his favorites. I guess he figures getting a treat is worth the aggravation.

I’m relieved there is harmony in the household between canines and felines. Sam has even chased off the mean tomcat who keeps coming into our backyard and terrorizing the cats. I think that is what he was doing when he escaped the other night. He has figured out it’s OK to chase cats, just not our cats.

At least I like to think so. Sam the Protector. The Lion King.

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