Recently, I became an adult. I mean, a real adult, with a rent bill and a car payment and the whole shebang.
I finally moved out of my parent’s house and in with my best friend. I took my dog and my cat with me. My friend already had two dogs and two cats. And then shortly after we moved in, she took in her brother’s cat, too.
So that’s how I ended up with seven pets. And they’re hysterical. They’re adorable. So I wanted to share their shenanigans with you all in this new column series.
To start, let me introduce you to my seven-ish year old rescue beagle, Princess Leia. Leia came into my life six years ago when my mom’s friend picked up a stray dog in an Illinois farming town, brought her home to Indy, and decided to re-home her. Mom’s friend posted a picture of her on Facebook, 15-year-old me tagged my mom in it and asked if we could get a dog, and my mom – to everyone’s surprise – said yes.
And Leia became my dog. I wanted to name her Amidala, after a different Star Wars character, but mom said no. If we’re naming her after a Star Wars character, it has to be Princess Leia. And I complied.
We discovered very quickly that Leia, who the vet said was probably a year old at the time, was raised by cats. My sweet dog would not bark (like at all), rub on our legs, try to lay on our shoulders, and even purr. It took us a minute to realize she was purring, not growling, but when we made that connection, we realized she thought she was a cat.
Leia had never really gotten along with other dogs, either. She would run up and down the chain-link fence that divided our yard from our neighbors, trying to get their pit bull to chase her, but that was the only time she’d ever gotten along with another dog.
My mom took her on a trip to visit friends in Florence, Kentucky, and they have two dobermans and a pug. I was not on that trip, but I heard Leia avoided the big dogs and would try to nip at the pug. So mom decided she was not a dog-friendly dog, and we kept her away from other pets.
We even lived downtown Indy for a while, and when we walked her on the canal, she would growl at other dogs just because they existed. Yes, she is the jealous type.
But when mom got a new apartment and I decided to move in with my friend, I had to take Leia with me. So I took Leia over to meet my best friend’s dogs – a giant German Shepherd and some-other-giant-dog mix and a regular-size pitbull named Rocko and Blue, respectively – and prayed they would get along. I did not want to have to re-home my sweet dog.
Leia surprised us all.
She and Blue’s relationship started off pretty rocky. Blue wanted to play, and Leia did not know how to play like a dog because she thought she was a cat. Blue wanted to wrestle, and Leia did not understand how to wrestle. But they eventually both realized they like to cuddle and now they can share the couch peacefully.
And Leia fell in love with Rocko. Rocko is probably a good 80 pounds, very tall, and Leia is 23 pounds and pretty small. So he lays down to play with her, this way he can be on the same level.
Rocko and Blue taught Leia how to be a real dog. In the three weeks since we moved in, Leia has learned how to play rough with the bigger dogs. She has also learned how to bark at strangers walking by the window.
Watching Leia learn how to behave like a traditional dog has been absolutely hilarious. She learns by mimicking, so she often observes the other dogs’ behaviors before she gets involved.
For example, the other dogs wrestle by jumping up on their hind legs and clashing into each other. They play with their mouths, trying to go for each other’s faces gently (I don’t want to say “bite” because that’s not the best way to describe it, but think something like that). Leia observed this for a while, then jumped in and would roll over on her back, belly up, while Rocko would go for her ears.
And when she would roll on her back, she would wait for the other dogs to initiate the next play action. The other dogs did not understand what Leia was doing, so they would stop playing and wait for Leia to initiate the next move. So none of the dogs would move until Leia would roll back over and cock her head all the way to the side in a confused expression. Then Rocko or Blue would jump at each other again and the play would continue.
The mimicking also extends to barking. We live on a cul de sac so the only time an unknown car goes by is when the mail truck comes. Our couch was in front of the front window, so when the mail truck would come Rocko and Blue would jump onto the back of the couch and start barking incessantly.
Leia observed this a few times over the first two weeks. Then, last week, the mail guy came, Rocko and Blue executed their daily ritual, and Leia watched for three seconds, then she, too, started barking – except it was howling, because she’s a beagle – and the other dogs were stunned she could make noise.
So thanks, Rocko and Blue, for teaching my quiet cat-dog to suddenly bark at anything outside the front window.
Leia has retained some cat-like qualities. She still purrs when she lays in bed with me at night. And we have four cats, so just like with the dogs, Leia will watch and mimic the cat’s behavior too.
A couple weeks ago, I was playing with my cat, Alex, using a toy that has a squeaky mouse on the end of a string. Leia was sitting on the floor across the room, observing intently, head cocked to the side, ears drooping photogenically, as Alex would crouch, do the butt-wiggle calibration thingy, and pounce on this toy mouse.
I dragged the mouse away from Alex, unintentionally toward Leia, and while Alex was wiggling herself into position, Leia suddenly pounced on the mouse the exact same way Alex did. I burst out laughing, and Leia looked so confused – the look on her face expressed a “Why are you laughing at me? I did it just like the cat,” sentiment. So I kept playing with my cat-dog and my actual cat.
And all of the animals go nuts over the laser-pointer, but that’s a story for another time.