Tag Archives: Pets

Mozart, cat, not dog, thinks he’s a dog

The artist cat, perfectly centered

I adopted Mozart from the local SPCA shelter in Comox, six years ago to liven up the sedentary life of my aging, physically failing yet mentally sound Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper.  My idea was that with the addition of a cat to the house Jasper would have a focus other than me, busy in my studio.  I pictured him thinking, ‘What’s that cat doing now?!?’ and, ‘He wants my bone!!!!!!’ allowing me some respite from the role of dog entertainer.

I grew up with cats but hadn’t really had my own cat companion since before I started working on the road.  The last time I’d lived with cats I had some allergic reactions, probably because they were indoor only cats and the accumulated dander was overwhelming.  Since my cancer dance I don’t have the pollen allergies that I used to have, courtesy of strengthening my immune system, but, to be certain, I spent two hours, picking up cats and purposefully rubbing my eyes to see if I would be bothered by cat dander.  The Comox Valley SPCA had over two hundred cats in a couple of rooms, some in cages, some with access to an outdoor area and others hanging around the main desk.  Their facility has ramps and platforms designed for cat happiness, but really they would all be happiest with a real home of their own to manage and guard.  Have a look on Petfinder.com sometime to see how many abandoned animals are out there. It’s a shame and I’m here to say that adopting an older animal can be so rewarding.  They are already trained and so grateful to be sprung from that concentration camp, however well-designed.

I needed a cat that was not afraid of giant dogs and I specifically wanted a cat that was not too needy and able to go outside.  They had a couple of suggestions and then said that they could test any cat with the dogs to see if it would be ok so I was left to my own devices to find a cat that caught my attention.

It was toward the end of the day and no cat had seemed like the one.  As I was standing in the office area, someone said,’ What about Mozart?  He’s always trying to get in with the dogs.’  He was right there, waiting for the door to the dog kennel to open so he could go through.  I picked him up and he hung out in my arms without complaint until I put him down and he sauntered away.   His story was that he’d come from a family with lots of other animals and he didn’t seem happy there ( I think he was spraying, maybe hadn’t been altered) so they had surrendered him.  He fit my criteria: fairly independent, beautiful, likes dogs and six years old, so mature.   I said that he’d do and arranged to pick him up in four days so I could equip myself with cat stuff: bowl, litter box, cat door to the basement where the box would be, scratching pad and food.

The ornamental cat

The ornamental cat

I returned in four days, said I’d come for Mozart (he’d been there nearly eight months) and they said ,’ He’s in the big room sleeping on one of the platforms.’  I went in and looked around.  Lots of black and white cats and some long-haired but I spied him on a platform far above my head.  I said, ‘Hey!’ and he looked down at me.  Then I said, ’Want to come with me?’ and I could see him give it moment’s thought and then he came down and sauntered over.  I picked him up and carried him to the carrier they sold me and brought him home.

He emerged from the carrier and began to take command of the territory.   Jasper followed him, looming over until Mozart turned and snarled and a fight ensued.  I broke it up and chastised both of them and they settled down for a bit.

Jasper thinking, I KNOW he wants my bone!

Jasper thinking, I KNOW he wants my bone!

Mozart was amazing from the start.  I showed him what I’d set up for him, his food on the landing where Jasper couldn’t reach, a scratching pad in my hallway/office, the cat door to the basement where the cat box was and he checked it all out with the ingrained aplomb of a collected cat and proceeded to do his best to hang out with Jasper and drive him crazy.

They say a new cat should be kept indoors for a couple of weeks but Mozart was insistent and three days after his arrival I let him out and alerted my fabulous neighbours that he was out and about.  From then he would come on all the walks around the neighbourhood with me and Jasper.  I think it was a funny sight, me in the front, Jasper farther back, sniffing at everything, and Mozart bringing up the rear, checking out everything that Jasper did.  That first week I noticed Mozart on a fence post beside the house so I went to my bedroom window that was over the shed roof of the kitchen and called him.  He jumped to the roof and came over, looked in to check it out, and after that I kept the window open and he came and went whenever he wanted.

Meanwhile, Jasper started carrying his bone everywhere around the house, convinced that Mozart would steal it otherwise, and if I had any trouble getting him to eat I only had to call Mozart over and he would dutifully give a sniff of the dog food and Jasper would hurry over and begin to eat.  ‘What’s that cat doing now?’ was the main curiosity consuming Jasper that spring.  My idea worked.

You shall not pass!  Mozart bars the way, on Jasper's last day.  This still makes me sad.

You shall not pass! Mozart bars the way, on Jasper’s last day. This still makes me sad.

Mozart was very adaptable to my requirements as well.  He could sleep on the bed but only at the foot of the bed where my feet would not be and he accepted that.  I’m also not a big fan of cats on my lap so he adopted the pile of cushions I used as a footstool for his hang out in the living room.  Jasper would come along and loom and pant loudly until Mozart woke up and left in a huff, revenge for the ‘I want your bone’ stare that drove Jasper crazy.

By summer’s end, Mozart had helped Jasper enjoy the last months of his life and I sold the house.  Mid-September began our two week journey east with all my essentials packed in my Suburban  with a litter box for Mozart way in the back and an overlarge carrier for his comfort and a net barrier strung up behind the front seats so He couldn’t get to the front and get in my way.  Originally I thought to give him the run of the back when I was driving but he spent the entire time pushing at the barrier for a weak point so he was relegated to the carrier when I drove and I let him lose in the truck when I stopped for any length of time.

I bought a harness and leash for him but that I only used a couple of times.  Five minutes was all he could handle and then he would freak and do his best Houdini and nearly wriggle out of the harness.  We visited on our way to the east coast and in Point Roberts, WA and Hardwick, VT he managed to sneak out the door when no one was looking.  He came right back though; amazing, for a cat that he realized that the truck was home, until we landed in Maine and he realized that life, in his mind, just got really good.  All I had to do was show Mozart the cat door in the pantry and he was good to go, exploring the neighbourhood.

A month later I got him a dog, Murphy, since we were both missing Jasper so much.  At first I thought I’d made a mistake.  Murphy tried to chase the cats whenever they were in the house (there’s a female, feral cat here too) and he was on a short leash until Mozart decided he’d take back his territory and refused to run anymore.  Now they are buds, but Mozart is definitely the boss.  If Mozart decides he wants Murphy’s food, Murphy stands back and waits until the cat is done.

Murphy in one of his bunkers and Mozart on the wellhouse.  Sometimes Murphy makes tiny bunkers for the cat.

Murphy in one of his bunkers and Mozart on the wellhouse. Sometimes Murphy makes tiny bunkers for the cat.

They stand guard together on the driveway and supervise the chores.

Mozart usually attends the morning walk down the road.  Until a couple of years ago he came on the longer walks in the woods as well.  Now he just meets us on the way back down the hill.  He still visits our neighbour regularly to check his traps ( she is a big time feeder of birds so the prey animals abound at her house.)

As cats go, Mozart is ok.  Ann spoils him, lets him on her lap all the time and lets him sleep anywhere on the bed, but he knows that he can’t do that with me and we get along.  He’s 13 years old now and still going strong and I think he complies with my demands because he’s grateful that I rescued him and got him his very own dog, twice.

I put a shelf outside my window for Mozart.  He jumps up there and bangs on the screen when he wants in, but like Murphy he waits until I ask as well.

I put a shelf outside my window for Mozart. He jumps up there and bangs on the screen when he wants in, but like Murphy he waits until I ask as well.

It’s good to be the dog

Murphy, Scourge of the Forest, back at his post. ‘Whatever. It’s Spring and there are denizens of the forest to terrorize.’

It IS good to be the dog, at least in my world.  There is routine and a most important guard job, a faithful cat companion and an understanding person who allows for the predator, alpha-guardian nature to be expressed, MOSTLY in a harmless way.

I am envious, most days, of Murphy and his lifestyle.  There is the waiting, for good things to happen, but he knows that good things will happen:  the morning ablution walk, the longer ramble in the woods, crunchy cookies (dried chicken breast), meat with salmon oil in a cat food dish, and the nightly vigil that might include barking.  Also there are good surprises, like intruders to be on the alert for and rides in the truck, sometimes to distant places to visit friends in Vermont or Martha’s Vineyard or New Brunswick.  Yeah!!  I am still astounded most days by his mostly exemplary behaviour so he receives regular praise.  He really is good at his job.

Then there is the 3% of the time when ‘exemplary’ is not the descriptive word, and ‘pain in the *&#’ and ‘Scourge of the Forest’ are terms that come to mind.  It was a difficult winter because the lack of snow meant it was easier for Murphy to chose to go on a Bark About rather than return from the afternoon walk.  Typical of the giant guardian breeds, if you are anywhere in the same 100 square mile area of the woods, that is a walk with your person.  Sometimes he’s funny and races home just as I get there (olly,olly in free!) but once a week through the winter he decided to patrol the ridge or go on a hunt and I had to trick him to get the leash on him and marched back to his post at the castle.

March was warm though and he went through a good period until the coolness of April and the movement of the denning animals coincided.  One afternoon, instead of hanging around waiting for the first person to head up the hill with him, Murphy was barking his ‘I have something cornered and I can almost reach!’ bark, much too close to our neighbours who have been quick to call the dog officer when he’s strayed.  SO up the hill I went, leashed him, and brought him back to be tied, earlier than usual.

‘Five more minutes and I would have driven that racoon crazy enough to leave the safety of the hollow under the rock.’

Whatever animal it was, he remembered the next two afternoons, and our neighbours called both times as I realized and brought him home.  So I decided that it was time to do the Northern Pond walk again.  It’s away from people who might worry about him killing something, he gets more exercise (as do I) and he needs to get home by vehicle so, theoretically, he should end the walk when I do.   Ah, but that is not always the case.  Sometimes the scent of something gets him on the silent hunt and call as I might, that lure is more compelling than riding home with me.  And he knows that the trail is not so far from home.  In the past I’ve left him and returned a couple of hours later and he’s hiding in the trees by the entrance, waiting for me to pick him up.  Well, except for one day when I had errands that took me south for several hours and when I returned he wasn’t there;  he’d hitched a ride home with a kind-hearted person who lives on the Dahlia Farm Road.  Good thing his name and address are on his collar.

Two days in a row we had good walk experiences.  We met others but he mostly behaved (wanted to kill a wimpy greyhound but I was ready with the leash and no damage done) and all was well.  Then the third day he didn’t catch up with me on the last leg of the trail.  I called but no Murphy.  Sometimes he cuts to the road and meets me as I’m driving home so he doesn’t have to go all the way back to where we started but this day he did not.  I drove back and forth then went home to eat thinking that I’d return in a couple of hours.

I was just finishing my soup when the phone rang.  ‘Do you have a dog on The Dahlia Farm Road?’  ‘Do you have my dog?’  Yes, he was at the entrance to Northern Pond, watching for me and a friendly electric company dude driving a huge bucket truck stopped to see if his tags had any info, which of course they did.  He said he’d wait with Murphy until I got there (how cool is that?) and when I drove up there was Murph, looking slightly bemused and eager to get in the truck.  Maybe he’s related to Blanche, (‘Ah relyah on the kindness of strangahs….’)

Always an adventure, and the cool seasons are most trouble.  Now that the temperature is warming the energy exertion will be minimized, luckily and Murphy avoids the excess activity and lies on the lawn, soaking up the warmth of the sun, waiting.  Gooooooood dooooooog………..

The waiting is best done lying down.

Captain of the Palace Guard

Murphy the Vigilant, sits up straight, squarely on his haunches, ready to spring into action.

A Great Pyrenees (a.k.a Pyrenees Mountain Dog) would not be my choice for an easy dog to own.  I know my style.  I like the easy-going, tractable gentle giants that need regular exercise in the form of long walks but spend most of their time impersonating lumpy rugs.  Size, without aggression as a deterrent is what I appreciate.  There are thousands of dogs looking for homes because their humans didn’t know what they really could handle in a dog companion and chose based on looks, only to find out later that the work involved or the energy level of the dog did not suit.

I ended up with Murphy inadvertently, a bit like how I bought a rug once at an auction: I didn’t mean to be the last bidder but suddenly I was the lucky owner.  I was surfing Petfinder.com just to see, another something I don’t recommend for the soft-hearted.  It’s too sad to see all the dogs who just want somewhere to belong and someone to have as their person.  Saddest are the older dogs.  It’s just wrong to give a home to a dog for eight years and then abandon the dog when it’s older and needs it’s secure home the most.

I was torturing myself, three months after having to put down my thirteen year old Saint Bernard-cross buddy, Jasper.  I saw the posting for Murphy that said he was a Great Pyrenees/Lab cross and I thought the independent stubborn Pyr might be tempered by the tractable, obedient, companion Lab so I fired off an inquiry.  My experience in BC was that the process to adopt was a slow one.  Some agencies were nearly unreasonable with their criteria.   I really didn’t think much would come of my query, but the wonderful people at Almost Home whipped into action, checking my references and did a home inspection to see what it was like here.

I thought the lack of fenced yard would be a deal breaker but turned out to be not a problem and we were told that Murphy liked cats and got along with the cat and dog where he was staying.  I had great references from my vet in BC who had helped me with Jasper through his last very difficult year so I got approved and went to pick him up.

Almost immediately I though I’d made a big mistake.  Murphy was ten months old and had very little training.  He jumped up on things and people and used his paws aggressively to get more attention and was generally unruly.   I didn’t let on but I wasn’t sure I could do much with him.  I can say now with authority that with consistent training any dog can become a good one within their genetic trait parameters.

At first he was on a short leash in the house because he wanted to chase the cats.  That lasted for a couple of months until Mozart finally decided to take back his place as top dude and stopped running.  Now they are best buds and sleep together and guard in tandem as well.  I worked to get him to stop the pawing for attention, jumping up on people coming through the door, going through any door first or without permission and worked on making him wait for his food.

Murphy shares his bowl with Mozart (who prefers to drink from the dog bowl.)

I’ve come to realize that while Murphy may not be a purebred Great Pyrenees, he has all of the traits and characteristics of one.  There is nothing Lab-like about him except for his ears.  He doesn’t retrieve or even play with toys and he doesn’t like to swim.  He doesn’t even like to get wet.  No, Murphy is a guard dog, a guardian.  Three thousand years as a breed, Pyrs are ALWAYS guarding what belongs to them. Great Pyrenees will never be at the top of a dog intelligence list but they should be.  Those lists are made by humans who value tractability and instant obedience to commands.   Pyrs are incredibly smart but genetically predisposed to work without direction so they always think they know better  and follow their own instinct first in any situation and only listen to their person after being hammered with a command many times.

Pyrs can guard a large area, much larger than the twenty acres that we live on that luckily blend into other woods.  Murphy needed to be tied at first because any activity on the road below would have him charging down to repel possible intruders.   After a year I started allowing him  off the line when someone was in the yard.  Our closest neighbour can be seen down the hill and  across a field with a line of trees marking the property line.  They were helpful enough to call whenever he went there so I could collect him and bring him back to be tied.  Eventually he learned to stay in the yard.

Maintaining one of his good vantage points

The magic year is two.  Starting then Murphy began to show signs that he could (sort of) accommodate the lifestyle we had here.  Lucky for him we don’t live in Suburbia with the fenced-in postage stamps, nor do we live close to farmers with those lovely chickens that make such a lovely squawking noise (at first).  As a guard dog he has a high predator instinct and any animal that doesn’t belong here is the enemy and fair game.  Too late I learned that because of their nature, Great Pyrenees should be heavily socialized at a young age with other dogs.  His arrival coincided with my mother’s hospitalization and death so he didn’t get that needed contact with other dogs at the right age.  He’s ok with other dogs but I never know.  Some he loves and some he wants to kill and all dogs he leans on, asserting his dominance.  If they growl he takes that as an invitation to fight.  I have a feeling that Pyrs are naturally alphas, mostly, which requires a strong hand.  He’s better off the leash than on but is not reliable with the voice since he knows better.  It takes all of my strength to hold him when he is stubbornly determined.  I only outweigh him by twenty pounds.

We have a daily routine and that, I think, is what helps him to be good.  First, in the morning we patrol the road on leash.  This can be a really slow walk because Murphy’s idea of a walk is to stand and smell and look.  There’s a lot of standing on our morning walks so I sometimes bring something to read. Then I get breakfast and he begins the daily guarding.  Lucky for Murphy we live on a hill so he can get a good vantage point.  At some point in the afternoon is the time of the big walk off leash.  Sometimes we drive a couple of miles to Northern Pond but lately, beginning in hunting season and because of reduced daylight in the winter, we go up the hill and looping through the woods.  He could take himself whenever he wants but waits for me to go with, even though I rarely see him while on the trail.  Ann does a walk most days as well and we generally go separately so that Murphy can have two walks.  He starts to bug her first because he knows she usually walks before I do.  After the afternoon walk, if there is still daylight he can hang out, untied but I remain vigilant because if he gets on a barking jag close to night he could be barking all night.

Murphy in his hunting vest.  Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Murphy in his hunting vest. Hopefully he'll always be seen as a noncombatant.

Then it’s food time.  He can eat/snack whenever he wants on meat cereal as I like to call it; there’s always some in his bowl.  Mostly he likes to eat a bit when I do.  He lets me know it’s time to eat in the late afternoon and I feed him his ‘meat in a catfood dish’ that is a mix of ground chicken bone and bits from Mainly Poultry mixed with organic beef liver, grated apple, green bean, and carrot and some raw eggs all with wild salmon oil on it.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Sometimes he turns up his nose at it and other times he asks for seconds.  I let him eat what he wants because he’s not a chow-hound.  I sometimes have to remind him to clean his bowl.

Where Murphy excels is as a guard dog.  If you needed a guard dog that you didn’t want to have to order around, and you have lots of room, a Great Pyrenees could be your dog.  He stations himself in various places around the property, always with an eye to the likely place from whence danger will come.  When one of us is outside working he moves to within twenty feet and turns his back and again watches.  He is constantly vigilant and serious about it.

As a breed Pyrs are barkers, but not gratuitous ones.  There is the regular utility bark that can go on for hours whose purpose is to alert all predators that the area is under the protection of a badass big dog, aka BFD.  Murphy does a bit of this in the morning but mostly he likes to do that utility bark after dinner and at night when the denizens of the woods are out and about.  After dinner I tie him and let him bark for a while until I figure the neighbours have had enough.  In the summer he prefers to stay out all night and he’s smart enough to realize that can only happen if he’s quiet.

Murphy has several alert barks.  I can tell the difference between the bark that lets our neighbour Caren know he’s keeping an eye on her down the hill, the ‘someone I’ve never seen before is driving up’ bark ( he continues that one until one of us comes out to take charge), the ‘friend is driving up’ (UPS guy with treats)bark, the ‘hey! I’m tangled up in the woods’ bark, the ‘critter I want to kill up that tree’ bark, and the ‘I’m here if you’re wondering’ bark.  If he’s not tied and I hear the ‘someone is on the road who doesn’t belong’ bark I come running out because it sounds like he’s ready to attack, but most times that bark is emanating from Murphy, comfortably lying down with his paws crossed.

For all his serious attitude about his job, Murphy is a loving, cuddly bear of a dog with a sense of humour.  He’s grown on me and I’ve adapted my routine to accommodate his basic nature, enough that I would almost entertain having another Pyr as a dog companion.  I do feel like a princess in my realm with the captain of the palace guard ever vigilant on my behalf.   Alas, I’ll never be able to take him to a dog park and he can never be permitted to freely wrestle/play with another dog because, like a grizzly bear, he can escalate to fight/kill mode in an instant.  Still, it’s a gift of some magnitude to be able to communicate with such an intelligent, steadfast and loyal being.  Now if only I could get him to associate the pain of porcupine quills with that enticingly slow animal that frequents our demesne.

Happily on holiday at New River Beach, NB