Back to Nature (Published on - Feb. 2, 2006)
Wild animals in our midst?
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
This little Siamese comfortably rests perched upon the back of a couch, perhaps dreaming of a sunny vista from high atop a rocky ledge.
Lions, tigers, bears – oh my! Back to nature is in the habit of discussing the wild creatures of the wilderness, forests, woods and feeders, but we receive letters from time to time requesting information on what to do with the wild creatures that live in our homes.

No, I don’t mean those giant-sized Palmetto bugs, earwigs or silverfish. We’re talking about Bad Kitty and Naughty Dog.

Although scientists haven’t concluded exactly how long dogs have been “man’s best friend” we do know that it was probably around 100,000 years ago.

The origin of cats, big and small, can be traced back approximately 50 million years. It is estimated the ancestors of our domesticated cat arose around 10 million years ago. As long as these creatures remained outside our cave doors and warmed themselves around our fire pits we seemed to live in some sort of balance and harmony. Once our fires were moved indoors, so did our pets, and we had to face the obvious problems of who does what, where and when.

It is instinctual for animals to be clean and to live in clean, unspoiled quarters. Animals will groom themselves in the wild or groom one another. It’s when we take animals out of their natural habitat inside our homes problems begin.

There are no trees to climb or holes to dig in the living room. There are no fresh pools of water or scratching logs in the kitchen. If we want to cohabitate peacefully we, in a sense, must “think” like the animal. What most often happens is we “expect” the animal to think like we do and quickly we become frustrated when we are rewarded with negative results.

Industry statistics state there 37.7 percent of households that have at least one pet cat, and 43.5 percent of households have at least one dog. That translates to 90.5 million cats and 73.9 million dogs living in American homes. Ask the statisticians how they came up with .5 cats and .9 dogs, but no matter how you look at it that’s a lot of dogs and cats.

It is estimated that Americans spent $35.9 billion last year on the pet industry. It is also estimated that America euthanizes more than 10 million animals each year. Thousands of these pets are homeless, but many are castoffs, unwanted animals that have not adapted to our domesticated demands.

Consider your pet’s wilder side. What would she do if in the wild? Animals, including humans, are very territorial, but animals can’t build fences, put locks on their doors or design laws to keep people out of their territory. Your dog may not understand your reasoning for picking up the food bowl when they’re not yet finished with the food inside that bowl. Your cat may not understand why they must share one food bowl and one water bowl with two other cats.

Animals can’t speak. We must follow their clues. If your cat is unexpectedly soiling furniture and you’re beside yourself, to the limit, packing kitty’s belongings for the nearest shelter. Stop. Assess the situation. Is kitty eating normally? Has there been a change in foods, litter or housemates? Have you eliminated the possibility of health problems?

Animals associate pain with inanimate objects. If a cat has a urinary tract infection, for example, they may associate that pain with the litter box and absolutely refuse to use it. When my dog came home from having surgery my veterinarian coached me that I would need two beds. One a throwaway bed and then another new bed, for when her pain subsided, because she might associate her pain with the first bed and refuse to use it. She did. After a couple of days she’d walk a wide berth around the first mat, as if to say – you’re not going to get me this time.

A mistake many animal owners make is punishing an animal after a dastardly deed is committed. Then the owner calls to the pet, “Come here, Rusty. I’m angry with you. You tore up my garden. I’m going to give you a swat for that.”

Now he’s thinking, “Everytime I go to her she swats me. Think I will avoid that pain and run in the opposite direction next time.”

There are many books and informative Web sites to research your pet’s particular problem. But don’t overlook making a visit to your veterinarian and asking for her advice. She may be able to offer suitable solutions, behavior modification and medical treatment or perhaps recommend an expert that specializes in your pet’s problem. Most problems can be dealt with facilitating humane solutions.

Imagine the view Rusty or Fluffy has on our world. Imagine a world where you have to “ask” to go potty – or worse – you are left home alone for hours on end with no where to relieve yourself but know if you do you will be punished. Or imagine a dirty kitty litter box that you must share with your roommates. Take a moment to view the world through their eyes.

If we rethink our situation and modify our behavior, our pets will respond to our insight with appreciation and accord – back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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