There is a popular series of photographs, taken in Churchill, Manitoba, by renowned nature photographer Norbert Rosing. The images depict a majestic male polar bear as he approached a pack of sled dogs tethered to a kennel. The bear appeared to take an interest in one particular dog, and much to the photographer’s surprise, the dog responded by wagging his tail. Instead of becoming the bear’s lunch, the dog became his friend and the two animals began to tumble and play in the snow like litter mates. For 10 days, the bear returned to play with his new canine pal, and soon the photographs and story of this unlikely friendship went viral over the Internet.
Since then, there have been all sorts of stories circulating—and books published—on unlikely friendships in the animal kingdom. These stories appeal to us for several reasons. They suggest that different species of animals may have much more in common than previously thought, and this commonality of emotions and behaviors evokes warm and fuzzy feelings in all of us. We enjoy seeing a dog and polar bear play for the same reasons we like to see a cat and dog curled up together. These relationships rekindle the archetypal dream of a peaceable kingdom.
In our own lives, we probably won’t need to facilitate a friendship between a dog and bear. However, if we want to share our homes with more than one companion animal, knowing how to introduce additional cats, dogs, and other pets to one another is the key to having our own little peaceable kingdom at home.
The best way to introduce a new animal into your home depends upon the kinds and numbers of animals you already live with, as well as their ages, health, genders and temperaments. To get specific advice based on your unique needs, it is best to speak to your vet or a professional animal behaviorist. However, there are certain basic rules that apply to most situations, and following them just might result in some heart-warming animal friendships right in your own backyard.
Before you bring home another animal
• Ask yourself if you truly have the time, energy, patience, and money to add another companion animal to your family.
•Think about the compatibility of the new pet you are considering with your existing pets.
• Consider the personality of your existing pet(s) and be honest with yourself. If your dog or cat is extremely territorial and has issues being around other animals, this isn’t going to change.
• Be certain the new pet you are considering is healthy and without any known issues that you won’t be able to accommodate.
• Until they have had time to get used to one another, do not leave your new and existing pet(s) alone with one another. If they get into a fight, they may never forget it and always have issues.
• When your new pet first arrives, confine him to a safe and isolated place. Let him calm down and get used to the new environment. Let him explore the rest of the house and yard without the other animals present.
• Find ways to expose your new and existing pets to one another’s scent by exchanging toys, blankets, or other items between them. Many animal behaviorists believe that by exposing animals to one another’s scents, the face-to-face meetings will be less stressful.
• The first few times your new pets meet, observe them and watch for signs of fear or aggression.
• Keep the first visits brief (five minutes) and use leashes or other methods of humane restraint in the event you need to break up a fight.
• If fighting does occur, do not scold or punish either your existing or new pets for not getting along. Instead, end the visit quietly by separating them.
• Reward positive encounters with appropriate treats for all the animals.
• Don’t rush it! Even if everyone seems to be getting along just fine, keep the initial meetings short and sweet.
• After five to ten short, supervised visits let them start spending more time together with more freedom.
• Your existing pet(s) still need your love, attention, and their regular routine(s). In the excitement of bringing in a new pet, don’t forget them!
• Remember, it takes time to cultivate a “peaceable kingdom.” Have patience!
BELINDA RECIO, recipient of the Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals, owns True North Gallery (truenorthgallery.net) in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where she exhibits art that connects people with animals and the natural world.