Once, a long time ago, I went to the home of an anthology editor for an editorial meeting. For some reason she decided to give her dog his dinner while I was there, although it was only mid-afternoon. She took great pride in showing me what an exceptional dog trainer she was. She put the bowl of food on the floor, and then completely ignored the dog. He sat and waited some considerable time until she finally gave him permission to eat. She seemed quite proud of her achievement, while I couldn’t help but be humiliated for the poor dog, who was being treated like an animal, instead of a person who just happened to wear fur.
Clearly, you can tell where I’m coming from with that perspective.
Trainers say that, among pets, dogs especially see themselves and us as members of a dog pack, and that it’s up to us, the humans, to establish ourselves as the alpha members of the pack. The pack in our home seems considerably more egalitarian that that. We’re all kind of alpha-ish
It’s usually not much of an issue with cats, since most of them will turn their noses up at people food. Unless they can steal it from a counter, that is. I’ve had cats that would actually eat anything stolen, when they would never touch that same food if we offered it to them. My cat Philly doesn’t eat any people food, apart from American cheese slices broken into tiny pieces. I can’t remember how we happened to have offered it to him, but now it’s built into an obsession. We have a dairy drawer in our refrigerator, and he keys off the sound of that. If we take other cheeses out and offer him pieces of better cheese, he rejects them with disgust, looking at us as if to say, “That’s not cheese!”
Actually, it’s the reverse. It’s the American slices that are something called “cheese food,” but we have to keep it on hand because our little man loves them so much.
Don’t misunderstand me. I know that animals have special dietary needs. My pets get good quality food designed for their species. It’s just that they also insist on sharing our food. And it never seems to occur to us not to start a pet begging for it. Once we used to have a pair of fairly wild dogs, one of whom was a wolf-hybrid. One night I walked into the kitchen and caught my husband spreading cheese on crackers for them. I looked at him in disbelief. He stared back at me, rejecting the embarrassment he had to know he should feel.
He said, “I’m trying to teach them how to behave at cocktail parties.”
We never spoke of it again.
I’ve put animals in my Tracy Eaton mysteries: Buddy, whose appearance was based on that of my old dog Jake. Buddy saves Tracy’s life in Dem Bones’ Revenge. Though Buddy shares Jake’s appearance, Jake was probably not together enough to be saving any lives. Still, though he’s been gone for years, the lovable goof will have my heart for the rest of my life.
I also put a cat in Dem Bones’ Revenge named Harriet Houdini, which I based on my cat Morgan. I actually gave Harriet some of Morgan’s most infuriating habits, such as her ability to hide in the most impossibly small places. I didn’t give that character-cat any of Morgan’s more endearing qualities. She was the only cat I ever had, or ever knew, who would sing to herself when she felt especially contented, in this weird little waa-waa, sing-song voice. It was and still is one of the happiest sounds I’ve ever heard.
I put lots of dog and cat business into that series, but the issue of whether they ate their own food or Tracy’s never came up. Obviously, a reality-omission on my part.
How about your pets? Do they eat your food? Are you your pack’s alpha, or do you share that responsibility with them?