Once upon a time, I read an article about why cats and dogs don’t get along that completely fascinated me and has stuck with me ever since. What it basically boiled down to was a fundamental mutual misunderstanding. Cats and dogs, it seems, communicate using body language that in many cases has opposite meanings, and so they’re always misunderstanding one another and can never seem to get it straight.
Before I had a multi-species household, it was simply an interesting article. But now that I’m a mama to a dog and two cats, it’s a struggle I see playing out on a daily basis. We’ll have to eliminate Marco from this observation, as he is somewhat atypical. He might be a cat on the outside, but on the inside he’s one part snugglebug, one part lap dog, and one part wusspuss. So we’ll just talk about Abby and Bean.
I am pretty sure Abby and Bean would like to be friends. Ever since we brought Bean home, Abby has made a point of putting herself in his general vicinity, which in Abby’s world means she’s probably interested in a friendship. Bean, of course, would like to be friends with every single living creature in the entire universe, and so OF COURSE he wants to be friends with Abby. He wants to be BEST BEST BESTEST FRIENDS FOREVA OMG.
But they just can’t seem to get on the same page about things, no matter how hard they try. And of course, in addition to the dog-cat misunderstanding, Bean is still just a puppy and is kind of still learning how his legs work and why it’s not good to walk across people’s faces and stuff. So when they’re trying to hang out and make friends, Bean’s laid-back ears mean he’s feeling submissive and gentle. Abby’s mean YOU BETTER NOT FUCK WITH ME, MISTER. Bean’s waggly tail means he’s alert and interested and friendly. Abby’s twitching tail means she’s wary and feeling a little dangerous. Bean shows his belly to indicate submission. Abby shows hers to indicate she’s ready to fuck you up. And so on.
Poor Bean either gains points for tenacity or loses them for stupidity, because Abby has actually clawed his face on more than one occasion, and he still approaches her every single day as though maybe today she’ll want to play with him and hang out and be pals. And every day, she mistakes his friendly overtures as threatening acts, and reacts accordingly. And then Abby does what Abby does when she doesn’t like or understand a situation, and she peaces out. And of course while she’s running off to show she’s had enough, Bean thinks that means it’s time to play chase and he’s finally won himself a friend. And so on.
I tend to let them try to work it out themselves because seriously, it’s not like I can fix it. But it’s been something I’ve been paying attention to and kind of thinking about a lot lately. In life I sometimes find myself in a situation with other people where one of us is a dog and one’s a cat and we’re trying to form a friendship but we keep misunderstanding each other. And it’s rare, but when it happens, I really struggle to figure it out. Is it possible that, like Bean, I just don’t have the right communication tools to make myself understood?