Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cat Diplomacy

Jacques Von Lunen, a former student of mine from PCC, has taken over the pet column in The Oregonian. Over coffee and croissant today, he shared that a whole new world is opening up to him. Covering the domestic animal kingdom is no small task. But for someone who once dreamt of being a vet, Jacques seems to have landed a dream job — at least as long at The Oregonian survives.

Part of his assignment is to contribute to the inevitable Oregonian “OregonLive” pet blog. While blogging, he’s discovered that the mere mention of the word “pit bull” is a reader magnet.

His weekly column appears in the paper on Tuesdays, and today’s topic immediately grabbed my attention. It is about getting a cat to accept new arrivals (nuisances, interlopers, intruders, mortal enemies) to its domain.

We have a cat, who now owns the house we once thought was ours. Occasionally I have wondered whether Izzy (seen above) might accept another cat. After reading Jacques' column, I’ve concluded that The Great One, who barely accepts me, would go ballistic if we tried to introduce him to a “new friend.”

But Jacques did offer some intriguing ways to try to get a well-established cat at least to consider allowing another cat — or dog, or baby — to enter its world.

As I read the advice, my mind wandered to diplomacy. I wondered whether Hillary Clinton might pick up a pointer or two from the column.

There are an awful lot of human beings out there who have trouble sharing real estate. They’ve been known to fight like, well, cats, to keep each other at bay — and, coincidentally to keep the arms industry thriving.

So take Jacques' suggestion that two strange cats initially should be placed on opposite sides of a closed door but let them eat near the door so they can hear each other munching away. That’s like putting human adversaries at opposite ends of the table. “Hey, he’s eating the same food; he can’t be all that bad. I wonder how he likes the shrimp cocktail?”

Then there’s the ploy of tying two cat toys at the ends of the same string and threading the sting under the door. The cats can both “play” with trying to pull the string away from the other without actually seeing the rival. In this scenario, the game’s the thing, not the rivalry.

Diplomats do this with agenda setting and preconditions. They never have to see each other during the give and take.

The suggestion that there be a “pheromone exchange” is a little hard to imagine. It entails rubbing a towel or sock over the cats’ faces and then putting one’s rubbed cloth in the other’s room. I suppose this is worth a try with humans. What if Shiites and Sunnis or Israelis and Palestinians took in each other’s laundry? At the very least it could lead to some serious cuts in defense spending.

The next suggestion is to open the door between the rooms but put up one of those protective, telescoping baby gates. I think the Pakistanis and the Indians have something like this along their borders. There’s a good deal of ritualized posturing, grunting and snarling, but nobody gets killed.

Finally comes the moment of truth when you put both animals in the same room. Jacques recommends keeping a squirt gun handy, just in case. With humans, squirt guns would be novel, but fire hoses, Mace or tear gas might work better.

Jacques adds that it’s also good to create an upbeat, good-times mood “with toys, treats and play.” With humans that might translate into bribes, beer and back rubs. Whatever.

Finally, he says, if none of this works “separate them again and start the process over.”

Patience is the order of the day. Think Ireland, Korea, the Holy Land, Pakistan and India.

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