Who Needs a Companion?

Who needs a Companion?

We all do. Humans are social animals. We subconsciously crave companionship. What we can’t get from our fellow humans, we garner from our “pets”. But, in reality, our “pets” are defined in terms of cats and dogs. It’s hard to cuddle up to an iguana, a spider, or a snake.

Humans domesticated dogs thousands of years ago. We did it by breeding dogs into a domesticity where they never grow up: they spend their entire life as dependent puppies. Dogs have been bred to instinctively understand that humans are, in general, their source of what they need to survive: shelter, food, and, yes, companionship. Dogs are also social animals, when “gone feral”, they revert to type. They’re still puppies, but they bond together in social packs.

Cats, on the other hand, slide through our grasp, go through puberty and “matriculate” into full cathood. They are mature animals. As such, they are not as dependent on humans for survival. Cats are solitary, successful hunters. They bond to mate, to have offspring, but in general feral cats do not run in packs.

Both “domestic” cats and dogs understand that they can not open cans of pet food, much less go out and buy them. They are dependent on us to provide for their comfort. Dogs, being big puppies, exploit this feature more than cats. Dogs will do anything to please us, so we will continue to feed and shelter them. Cats, not so much.

With this as background, let’s consider how we select a pet.

To create a successful partnership, obtain a pet as a successful companion, there are some inflexible rules that most of us are oblivious of.

To successfully obtain a companion, in most cases, we do it all wrong. We go into a pet store and we pick what we thinks is the cutest, or cuddliest, or friskiest, or some other criterion that we think will make the animal a suitable companion.

I will give you an uncomfortable rule: Don’t select the animal. Let the animal select you!

A number of years ago, I was talking to a good friend of ours that had just returned from an animal rescue shelter with her newly acquired dog. It was a “reclaimed” greyhound. Sad to say, it looked pretty ratty. Its mottled coat of many colors and shades, its loping gait, its fear of stairs, all made it seem to be an unlikely companion candidate.

Boy, I’d never chosen THAT dog!

But my friend explained. When she went to the animal rescue center, she was advised to “just walk through the facility and look at all the dogs. The ones that would be successful companions will select you!” And so it was. As she walked amongst the dogs, most of them either ignored her, or politely stepped aside without looking at her. Only this one dog began to follow her around. It became obvious after a while that this dog “fancied” her and wanted to join with her as her companion. So, she took the shelter’s advice and the two immediately bonded. As she said, it didn’t matter how the dog looked, or what quirks the dog had. It was obvious from the start that the dog wanted to be her companion and wanted her to be his.

We ran into each other a few years later. My friend admitted that this “rescue” dog was the best companion that she ever had. It was obedient, and went out of its way to please her. She was very pleased with “her” choice.

I’ve found that the same technique works for mature cats (I’m partial to cats – they are more independent than dogs, and are easier for me to take care of).

After our Russian Blue of twenty-two years finally succumbed, we decided to try a Bengal cat. Bengals are supposed to love water, and that made us curious. So we went to a well-renowned cattery, and I merely walked through the facility. Most of cats ignored me. Some politely deferred to me, but weren’t really interested. One, however, began following me around. When I sat down, the cat jumped up on the seat beside me. I tentatively reached out my hand to pet her. As I reached out, she sniffed my hand, then immediately got up and rubbed vigorously on my hand and arm. Then it jumped into my lap! I knew right then and there that this was the companion for me. What amazed me was that the cat was polite to my wife, but in the main, ignored her! But she also found a Bengal that really liked her. So we went home with a pair of Bengal cats. They are with us to this very day: one fawns over me, and the other never leaves my wife’s side! As an aside, during the day when we’re working, the two cats enjoy each other’s company. They play together, share patches of sunlight, and in general, entertain each other. That keeps them young (older, single cats become bored, so they spend most of their days, sleeping. Not these two!)

I do have to admit that “my” cat has figured out how to slide open a glass tub door. So, when I’m in the tub, relaxing, or reading, most of the time, in comes “my” cat, slides open the door, and steps into the water with me! Bengals sure do love water!

Other mistakes people make in selecting a pet.

The most grievous is selecting a pet to replace a lost one and expecting the replacement pet to immediately act and be the same as the one that passed. Nothing can be further from the truth.

While having an animal select us as their companion, we forget that our lost loved one had been with us for many, many years. We learned its quirks, and it learned ours. That bonding didn’t occur overnight. Neither will your bonding with a replacement animal. We must understand that it may take a long time, perhaps years, for the new animal to act towards us as did our lost, beloved pet. Understanding that bonding and growing together takes time, and that the new animal is unique and different from our previous companion is something that most people don’t understand or accept.

So they bungle the new relationship right up front.

A little less enthusiasm, a lot more empathy, and we’ll nurture a new companion that will be as steadfast as our old pet. But the relationship will be different than what we had before. After all, this replacement companion is not a clone of our dearly beloved. Until we accept this, trying to adapt replacement companions will always be an unsatisfying experience.

The other aspect of selecting a replacement pet goes back to my original statement: let the pet pick us, not the other way around.

There is one exception. Let’s say that we want a pair of kittens, just weaned. Having a pair of cats preserves the cats’ innate playfulness and youthfulness. These newly-minted animals may or may not have a built-in “people preference”, but you never know. It’s safe to say that babies are more malleable than mature animals.

But follow the same rule: make sure that the animal picks and accepts who will be its new owner, not the other way around.

In general, it has been my experience that male cats prefer females, and vice versa. But there are exceptions. One of my steadfast companions, when my wife wasn’t around, was a male Siamese. He didn’t want me to hold him, but he enjoyed sitting next to me. Sometimes that was a bit awkward when I sat in a wingback chair, but we accommodated each other. It was as if he was saying, “I’m your Bud, but I’m HER companion!”

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