Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: With ground rules, cats and dogs can live together at lake house

GAIL FISHER May 25. 2013 1:57AM

A friend asked for advice for a family problem. They have a summer home on a lake, where their large family enjoys holidays and weekends together. Several family members have dogs, and it's never been a problem for the dogs to enjoy the lake and the lake house, that is until this year, when my friend and her husband adopted a cat.

They want to bring their cat to the lake, and the cat enjoys the house. The problem is that they don't know how the various dogs will be with the cat - and they don't know how their cat would react to the dogs. Looking for potential solutions, we talked about these options:

. Leave the cat at home or board him.

My friend quickly rejected this option. While, unlike dogs, some cats can be left with sufficient food and water for two or three days, my friend's cat is extremely social, and she didn't think he'd be happy being left behind. (Truth be told, I could tell she would miss him, too). She also rejected the idea of boarding him because, well, it's their lake house, and she doesn't think they should have to make this choice about their pet.

. Introduce the animals to each other and hope for the best.

I don't recommend this option for a few reasons. At least one of the visiting dogs lives with cats in his own home, but that doesn't mean he will generalize his tolerance to all cats. Before we got him, our dog Kochi lost an adoptive home because he was predatory to cats. Yet in our home, he got along fine with one of our cats - but not the other. There is no way to know in advance whether they would get along.

Several of the visiting dogs are large, and if they snap, even for just a brief instant, it could spell disaster for the cat. It's just not worth taking a chance on something tragic occurring.

And then there's the cat. My friend doesn't know how he will react to dogs or if it will be extremely stressful to him to be around them. So for these reasons, and because there are other, better options, this, too, was rejected.

. Tell the families they can't bring their dogs.

Dog owners love watching their dogs enjoy themselves, and there are few places as wonderful as a quiet lake house for this opportunity. Aside from the potential resentment toward my friend if she tells them they can't bring their dogs, she really doesn't want to deny them the opportunity for relaxation and enjoyment of their pets - as long as it won't be at the expense of her cat. Which brought us to the final, and at the end of the day, the best option.

. Work out a safe "house-sharing" arrangement keeping the pets separated.

This is the best option for their guests, for family harmony and for the future, because the solution is not just for this summer, but for the rest of their lives with their cat. The most important aspect of this option is setting clear guidelines and making sure everyone is 100 percent committed to these safety measures 100 percent of the time.

During the day, when everyone is outdoors, the cat can have the run of the house, and there's a "no dogs allowed in the house" rule. The difficulty is planning ahead for hot summer nights, when doors are left open to take advantage of any breezes. My friend believes she and the family could work out guidelines and plans to have a family meeting to talk about it before the Fourth of July, when everyone will be at the lake, and when it's likely to be hot.

With prior planning, a commitment to everyone's safety and proactive guidelines to avoid any possibility of an "accident," everyone will able to enjoy the camaraderie of friends and family, including their pets.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.

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